Galactic Coastline - Jason Wilson

Big Sur, California // Photographer: Jason Wilson // Canon 5D MK III + Rokinon 24mm // ISO 10,000, f/1.4, 20"


Radar. Anyone who has owned an iPhone knows that default alarm clock sound. Despite it being 6am on a Saturday, I’m surprisingly not upset with the irritating noise coming from my smartphone, as I’ve been planning this day for months. Today, I will capture a photo of the Milky Way over Big Sur.


The Milky Way can be seen by the naked eye in dark skies from around the globe, but the “galactic center” (subjectively the most interesting part of it) can only be seen during the summer months in North America. It’s virtually impossible to see this spectacle when in an urban environment, as city lights overpower the dimly lit stars. Even the moon gives off too much light, so to truly appreciate the beauty of the Milky Way, you must venture out under the dark skies of a new moon. Weather permitting, this only gives you a window of a few days each month. With the help of a star tracking app, I calculated the exact time that the galactic center would line up over McWay Falls in Big Sur, with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Assuming my research was accurate and everything went to plan, around 9pm tonight the stars would align.


There’s one slight problem, however: I’m nearly 400 miles south San Clemente. After a quick breakfast and a hot shower, I’m off to work for a couple hours before hitting the road north. Adventure is on the horizon.


One of the beautiful parts about living in today’s technologically interconnected world is that we can communicate from afar with ease. I spoke with a friend in Pismo Beach about my plan, and, being kindred souls, we decided to meet up for a photo adventure. As she would be coming from a different city, and knowing there was no cell reception at our destination, we simply made plans to meet at the waterfall overlook at sunset. Funny how the convenience of technology ultimately reminded me of a time before cell phones, where excuses for not showing up were unheard of.


Along the drive, I picked up another friend and her adorable pup to join me on the road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. With the windows down and the music up, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a summer’s day. We parked just as the sun set over the horizon and set off down the path to the McWay Falls Overlook. As I prepped my camera, a familiar voice came within earshot, and I turned to see my fellow photographer arriving right on time.


Shooting the Milky Way can be both exhilarating and frustrating. Having the right equipment is the first step in achieving the photo you want, and knowing how to use it will only get you so far. With perfectly clear skies over McWay Falls, it was time to find the best angle for my composition. Limited to the overlook path, that proved more difficult than you’d imagine. As the sunset colors began to fade, the stars came out and the galactic center was positioned directly above the waterfall; exactly where I wanted it. The light from the fading sun was still too bright to view the true colors of the Milky Way, and as the earth rotates, the stars continue to move across the sky. I captured a few shots of the last light and waited for true darkness.


Big Sur, California // Photographer: Jason Wilson // Canon 5D MK III + Rokinon 24mm // ISO 5,000, f/1.4, 8"


Though the perfectly centered portrait-style shot over the waterfall was no longer possible, I was thoroughly pleased with the results. I repositioned my tripod a number of times, listening to Emancipator and swapping stories with my friends. It was cool to see a number of other photographers show up with the same idea in mind, and new friendships were made. We shared techniques and gear preferences, showed off our favorite photos from other adventures, and gazed in wonderment at the awe-inspiring natural beauty above us.


Big Sur, California // Photographer: Jason Wilson // Canon 5D MK III + Rokinon 24mm // ISO 10,000, f/1.4, 20"


After capturing dozens of images and perfecting the technique to the best of my abilities, I packed up my gear, and we said goodbye to friends, new and old. Some planned to stay up shooting all night, others planned to camp nearby. These were my kind of people. Nearing the parked car, I turned around to look once more at the beautiful environment surrounding me. My combined adoration of photography and the natural environment had led to another memorable adventure. These are the days I live for.


To learn more about how to capture images of the Milky Way, check out my educational blog post here.


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