Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Milky Way from the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Milky Way above the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon ~ © Royce Bair
Because the Grand Canyon walls are so high and narrow, there is only about a one-hour window where the bulge of the Milky Way can be seen during the night. This photo was taken two weeks ago, at about 4:30 in the morning. The stars were starting to fade from view, because it was only about 90 minutes from sunrise. A few minutes later, and I would not have been able to capture this scene. I used the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens on my Canon 5D Mark III because of it's ultra wide 114º angle of view, with minimal barrel distortion. This lens is well-corrected for coma aberration, so it is perfect for star photography (not to mention its under $400 price tag). The Mark III gives me one to two stops less noise than my older Mark II at the high ISO's needed for a "nightscape" like this (ISO 5000 • f/2.8 • 30 seconds).

In order to show the walls of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River by starlight, it is necessary to produced a second exposure (4X or 120 seconds) and combine it with the sky exposure.

Here's a panorama of my camera position, taken with my iPhone 4s, two hours later.
Sand in sleeping bag from night storm
Photographing the Milky Way from the bottom of the Grand Canyon was a dream fulfilled when Western River Expeditions asked me to photograph one of their 7-day trips down the Grand Canyon. Preparing for this trip took considerable planning since all equipment had to be protected from the sand and water using small plastic bags, dry bags, and Pelican cases. (Changing lenses during a sand storm is NOT a good idea.) All my batteries had to be recharged several times, so a portable power station had to be devised. Here is some of the key equipment I took on this trip.