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Jun 17, 2020
I'm usually hesitant to name an image as "the best" — but after a trip through the Ozarks Mountains recently, I'll go ahead and say it: "Milky Way Over Boxley Valley" is my best photo of 2020.
And probably will remain so until the calendar turns to next year.
To capture the Milky Way with all the colors of the gas clouds in a beautiful location like the Ozark Mountains was a chance of a lifetime — and produced an eye-popping photo.
What doesn't this image have?
• The Milky Way: Check
• A cool old barn: Check
• A mountain in the background: Check
• Fireflies dancing in the field behind the barn: Check.
Yep, look closely at the image and you'll see the phosphorescent bulbs of fireflies.
I captured the photo about 10:30 p.m. after a sunset went bust. I had hiked into Hawksbill Crag near Ponca, Ark., with dreams of shooting an epic end of the day, but the clouds dissipated as the sun raced to the horizon.
So I trudged out in the dark, figuring my day was done.
On a whim, I pulled out my phone and check an astrology app to discover the Milky Way was hugging the horizon, which I figured meant I wouldn't see it because of the mountains.
I was wrong. I stopped at a field full of fireflies and decided to try and capture the dancing night bugs — and when I looked at the back of the camera I could see the Milky Way peaking above the mountain that was only about 100 yards away.
Instantly I knew I needed to get to an old barn I had passed earlier in the day because the there mountains were farther away, which meant the Milky Way should be more visible.
And I was right on target.
The trick was that it was late at night, and the landowner's home was 30 yards from where I needed to set up. Every light seemed to be on inside the house, so I was convinced I would probably be run away.
I pulled the truck into the gravel driveway to the barn just enough to get it off the road, and as quietly as possible I gathered my gear from the bed of the truck.
Working quickly and quietly, I set up and made a test shot that really showed the Milky Way. I moved my tripod a bit to the right to make the best use of the barn in the foreground and readied an LED light to balance out the scene with the barn.
When the light came to life, I KNEW the landowner would come out yelling.
I was standing about 20 yards from my camera to side light the barn, using a wireless remote to trip the shutter.
It took about three shots to get the exposure correct, and then I rechecked my focus and shot a couple of frames.
I'll be honest: I didn't even know the fireflies were in the field until I processed the image the next morning.
So will I shoot a better photo than "Milky Way Over Boxley Valley" in the final six months of 2020? Maybe, but it's going to be a challenge.
Fortunately, I'm going to be traveling all over the country and will have ample opportunities to capture a new personal best.
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