May 052014

Photo copyright Paul Hurd

This is an image I have wanted to capture for quite some time.  For a few years now, I have been fascinated with capturing a subject beyond our comprehension—the Milky Way. I get an incredibly humble feeling when I see our vast galaxy in the dark sky above, so it is no wonder that I love to photograph it!  There is also a level of uniqueness in this genre of photography.  I try to edge away from cliché images, and I feel that this imagery does just that.  In most cases, it is rare for me to take a landscape shot that looks better than what I see with my eyes.  The colors aren’t as saturated, the depth is not the same, and the scene does not have the same feeling when captured in a photograph.  This is not the case when shooting the night skies.  With today’s digital cameras and photo-editing software, it becomes possible to create an image that actually looks more incredible than what the human eye sees.  Using the most light-gathering settings on my camera, the details of the Milky Way pop out.  But for me, the stars alone are not enough to create a memorable image.  I find it best to incorporate a landscape element into the frame.  Some of the best landscape astrophotography shots I’ve seen contain some type of body of water.  After these types of images inspired me, I thought there would be some great photo opportunities at Lake Mary, just outside of Flagstaff, AZ.  After pondering this idea for months, I decided to go out and shoot one night in late March.  There was a new moon, my roommate let me borrow his car, the skies were clear, and the brightest portion of the Milky Way was rising above the horizon at about 3AM.  So, I sacrificed sleep and a warm bed in the wee hours of Monday morning to go see what I could capture.  After dodging some elk on the eerie 20 minute drive to the lake, I arrived to a beautiful sight. I stepped out of the car and looked to the east.  Sure enough, there was the massive, dim cloud of dust and stars above the horizon.  Without further ado, I unpacked my camera and tripod and started setting up.  I snapped shot after shot, amazed at what was appearing on my tiny LCD screen.  But I still was not satisfied.  I needed to somehow get a good shot of the lake and the Milky Way in one image.  After toiling around in the pitch-blackness, I found a small group of rocks and composed the best shot I could.  I set my 14mm lens’ aperture to f/2.8 and my shutter speed to 30 seconds.  I decided to crank the ISO way up to 4000.  While this induces a good amount of noise and grain, I knew I had to make my camera ultra-sensitive to light to grab as much detail as possible from the stars. My exposure looked good and I painted just the right amount of light onto the rocks with a flashlight.  After that, I saw a car coming down the highway and I thought it was going to ruin my shot.  As it turns out, this lit up the trees and actually added more dimension to the image.  The next day, I edited the image in Lightroom and Photoshop.  After adjusting the exposure, white balance, contrast, and sharpening the Milky Way I was satisfied with the final product.  I have some ideas for future shoots like this, but for now this is definitely one of my favorite night-shots to date.

About the Photographer:
I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and got hooked on photography my freshman year of high school.  There, I learned how to shoot with both film and digital SLR cameras. Four years later, I left home to attend Northern Arizona University to get a change of pace and experience a new setting.  Now, I’m currently taking photography classes to better myself as a photographer and possibly make it into a career someday.

My favorite photos are almost always captured at night.  While many photographers pack up after sunset, I start setting up.  Utilizing long exposure techniques, it’s possible to show off the amazing scenes happening in the dark that our eyes are simply not sensitive enough to see. I always challenge myself to produce captivating photos and will continue to do so for years to come.  I hope you enjoy viewing my images as much as I enjoy creating them.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at

  One Response to “Behind the Image: NAU Guest Blogger – Paul Hurd”

  1. Such a stunning photo! You are truly talented at capturing the beauty of the stars.

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