Photographing the night sky has always been a fascinating adventure for me which I rarely have time to do. Living near a city and running a business has kept me from pursuing this dream. When I look at the Milky Way, I see the big picture and it really hits me how small we all really are as we are standing on this rotating orb in the middle of this beautiful galaxy.
My husband and I planned a trip to the Manistee National Forest in Northern Michigan to a cabin in the woods with no internet so we could unwind with our German Shepherd, Luther. I brought all of my camera gear to do some photography to keep busy. Knowing the area would be extremely dark and away from any major towns or cities, I prepped for some Astrophotography.
We hiked during the day and made it a mission to find a field that had a decent view of the Southern Sky. Equipped with 2 of my favorite Apps, Sky Guide and Intellicast, I knew exactly which night would be clear and what time and direction the brightest part of the Milky Way would be showing. Luckily there was phone coverage or this would have had to be mapped out ahead of time and the weather might have changed as it usually does on a daily basis.
I practiced some long exposure photography on the camp fire at the cabin and out at Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan to warm up before planning a 2 AM excursion into the pitch black forest behind the cabin.
My husband and dog were up for the adventure even though we had heard coyotes singing nearby the night before. There are also black bear and cougars (allegedly) in this same National Forest.
It was a beautiful clear night and 65 degrees. it was a little unnerving walking through the woods in unfamiliar territory on a narrow path. The ferns were very dense in the area and I had visions of the foggy scene in American Werewolf in London! If I had heard a growl, I would have been up the nearest tree!
When we got to the field I had my pen flashlight in hand so I could see the settings on my camera, while my husband had a bigger flashlight. I was doing 30 second exposure times and so when I said, “Go”...we turned off all flashlights and the shutter button was pressed. 30 seconds is a log time to wait in pitch black so as soon as we heard the shutter click, on came the flashlights! That’s when we saw the eyes glowing in the area in front of us. Luther was on full alert but wasn’t growling, so I bravely put us through 4 more 30 second black-outs. When the photography was done, we scooped up the gear and headed back on the 10 minute walk to the cabin. The eyes were there twice, but were not showing when we left. It was a fast paced walk back up the hill. We could feel ourselves being watched and I kept telling myself that whatever animals were out there, they were more scared of us, blocking out the fact that cougars attack hikers, and coyotes surround their prey.
We arrived back to the cabin and caught our breath. I had noticed that the stars were bright right above the cabin, so I went back out about 5 feet from the door and took a couple more shots. Hearing some rustling around the side of the cabin, I scooped up my tripod with camera attached, quickly backed into the front door of the cabin and locked the door! As soon as I set down my gear, the coyotes started singing outside and they were closer than before and coming from all directions! Luther started barking at that point! It was an exhilarating night and experience! I know all you woodsmen out there are probably smirking at my cowardliness, but I am a fan of Horror and Thriller movies and that is probably what sent my brain into overdrive! Maybe I should start watching more chick flicks instead…..or maybe not.
p.s. I forgot to mention the ticks…they are in abundance this year in Northern Michigan and we counted 9 between the three of us, 2 being on my husband. Be careful out there if you go hiking.
The Cabin was a great find on Airbnb.com called The Aubert Den, you can find it on airbnb.com by searching Branch Township, MI.
All Photography copyright by Robyn Porteen
This adventure has prompted me to visit all of the Dark Sky Designated Parks I can in the next couple of years! Stay tuned, I will have some astrophotography tips to share!