Night Lights of the North Coast: Milky Way over South Fork Eel River
Though some of my images are made from multiple exposures, this one is a single exposure, painted with light. The word “photography” literally means “light painting,” and there is something about taking that idea and actually adding my own light strokes that appeals to me. Nighttime gives me the opportunity to make images that are illuminated in ways we don’t usually see, whether from moonlight, artificial ambient light sources, or light that I may apply to an area myself. Let me share with you one such light-painted image from a dark summer’s midnight in Southern Humboldt.
Coursing among giant Redwoods, the South Fork Eel River slipped quietly by the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove, while the Milky Way made its silent passage across the sky. Not a human soul was about that night after midnight, though during the day this Humboldt Redwoods State Park spot on the Avenue of the Giants is very popular. I had seen many people enjoying the river and day use area of the Grove when I scouted here that afternoon to see how the Milky Way would lie at night.
I am drawn to photographing the night because of the chance it gives me to add my own touch in the form of painted light to create something unique. Because it is dark, I have to leave the camera shutter open for extended periods, and that gives me a chance to apply light selectively to areas of a scene, often using a flashlight. Such was the case with this image.
To make this photograph I left the shutter open for 30 seconds, which was a long enough exposure to catch lots of stars, bring out the detail in the Milky Way, and to give me time to use my light to illuminate the foreground and the trees across the river. It can take some time to paint a scene in, particularly when some of it is large and distant like those Redwoods. While the shutter was open I had 30 seconds to run up the river bank a little way and use my flashlight to illuminate both the foreground and the distant Redwoods* across the river. I chose not to shine my light from directly behind the camera’s position because to light the scene from the side would give more interesting shadows, particularly on the small rocks in the foreground.
* Yes, I capitalize Redwoods. I have spoken.
[Editor’s Note: Redheaded Blackbelt publishes images from photographer David Wilson as part of a weekly photo series, Night Lights of the North Coast. Please keep in mind that Wilson’s photos are not always strict photo representations but can be images edited for artistic purposes. You can view more of Wilson’s work at http://mindscapefx.com/]