When I put together my Big Bend trip this year I decided to do so with the possibility of night photography in mind. One of the things I have noticed over the years about trips to Big Bend is I seem to get completely clear sky at least 60% of the time. I decided to time this trip to coincide with the new moon so that if the sky was clear to be able to photograph the Milky Way in the sky above the Big Bend landscape.
The first image that came to mind was the view of the Chisos and Rio Grande from Santa Elena Canyon. Most people who photograph at Santa Elena Canyon do so looking into the canyon at dawn. I do that too. In fact, I have done it many times. It is such a great shot. I would go as far to call it the crown jewel of the park.
However, I also love the view out of the canyon toward the Chisos. In the archives of my Large Format blog are some of my attempts to get the right sunrise image from here. Here is also the best digital version I have been able to get, I hope to one day finally get this one right.
Large Format Patience
Now I decided to try it at night and see how it would look with the Milky Way in the night sky.
I knew the spot I want to set up the image from but still went there in the afternoon to be sure of it before I went back in the dark. I made a couple of images for reference and was ready to get there early.
The next morning I was up and going at 3 AM. As I expected-it was pretty clear although there were just a few thin clouds in the east. I drove down to the canyon and hiked up to my spot. I set up two tripods and two cameras. Night means long exposures and it is the only time I feel one can effectively use two cameras at once. So I set up one with the 24mm and the other with the 14mm. Both shooting wide open to maximize the light gathering.
I would frame up one and start the image and then have 30 seconds to work with the other one. I made several images and worked some slightly different framing.
By 4:45 AM I was ready to move deeper into the canyon and work on another shot I had envisioned.