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Milky Way Landscape Photography and the Perseid Meteor Shower by Eugene Louie

This was my first attempt photographing The Milky Way galaxy so I drove to Arches National Park, one of the darkest night skies in the country, to capture the galaxy hovering above the dramatic rock formations. This is Broken Arch. I used it to provide a reference point that even the most amazing Hubble Telescope pictures do not. I wanted to inspire my audience by creating a “scene setter,” which gives the viewer a feeling this scene could exist on another planet. Utah’s stark Moab desert was a perfect backdrop. Scientists studying what the likely conditions of a manned voyage to Mars use the red rocks of Utah to emulate condition on Mars for a possible manned mission to the red planet.

Capturing the Milky Way galaxy over Broken Arch was my original goal, but the experiment became enhanced by an accidental meteor streaking toward earth, probably part of the Perseus meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower is the most famous, dependable annual meteor shower, producing on average between 60 to 90 meteors per hour, at peak observation times. The real show doesn’t start until after midnight, but meteors can be seen earlier staring around 10pm, a couple hours before the moonsets; the crescendo does not start until hours after midnight when the skies get darker as night turns into day. The prime viewing dates are: Aug. 10th, 11th, and 12th. Fortunately in 2016 observers will enjoy a longer viewing period as the moon is cooperating, setting earlier as it will be in a waning gibbous moon phase.

Visibility will be best for folks living in the mid Northern Hemisphere. All you need do is find the darkest spot possible, as far away from city light pollution, set up a comfy adjustable lawn chair, kick back and make sure you have a wide open sky above you, as meteors will come from every direction. If you are an intrepid meteor watcher be prepared to pull an all nighter.

double cluster casiopeia

Where Do These Meteors Come From?

The Perseid meteor shower look like they come from the constellation Perseus. The Perseid “shooting stars” are bits of space debris made of debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Each piece ranges in size from a tiny piece of dust to about 10 meters. They are called meteoroids when traveling in outer space. They become meteors upon entering earth’s atmosphere, and if the meteor strikes the earth, and remains intact, it is called a meteorite. If these pieces of comet are larger than 10 meters they are called asteroids. The Comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 and takes 133 years to make one trip around the sun. Astronomers use the term “radiant,” to describe the line that leads back to where the visible meteor seems to originate. The last time Swift Tuttle reached perihelion, the closest point to the sun, was December1992. It will do so again in 2126.


Smart Phone Apps to Locate the Perseus Constellation:

To locate the Perseus Constellation iPhone users can download “Sky Guide,” a free app available through the Apple Store and Android phone owners can use “Photo Pills,” which
cost about $10. Both are excellent and easy to use to locate The Milky Way, deep space objects constellations, nebulae, planets and more. I prefer “Sky Guide” because if you touch an object on the screen information about the object appears in an info box. This satisfies my need for immediate gratification. Sky Guide provides both scientific and the origin of the mythology behind the naming of the objects.


Technical Info About the Making of this Milky Way Landscape:

The newest camera technology allows photographers to use higher ISO settings in combination with exposures 30 seconds or less, just long enough to record points of starlight before the stars begin to leave light trails. If you enlarge the photo you can see stars, located in the upper corner of the frame, begin to leave evidence of light trails as they move across the sky even with a 17 mm wide-angle lens.IMG_0932

I used a 15 – 35 mm f/2.8 Canon zoom lens with the focal length set at 16 mm, ISO was 16,000, exposure 12 seconds long with the aperture set at f/2.8. Color temperature manually set to 3900 degrees kelvin. I prefer a bluer night sky and from trial and error discovered that 3900 degrees kelvin is my sweet spot to begin photographing. As the Milky Way moves across the sky and it gets closer to dawn I will raise the color temperature. Generally, I do not go higher than 6400 degrees kelvin, and only when the night passes closer to dawn. 6400 degrees kelvin produces a warmer sky. The color temperature is all personal preference so experiment to determine what degree of cool and warmth works for your sky. The camera was mounted on a carbon fiber Gitzo tripod with a Really Right Stuff ball head. At the bottom of the tripod’s center column, I installed a metal hook and hang my backpack on it to steady the camera during the 12-second exposure.

radiant perseusI stood behind my tripod making exposure after exposure. By luck I watched a bright streak of light appear above me while the camera shutter was open and was delighted to find the meteor trail recorded on the preview screen. My initial intention was to capture our Milky Way galaxy with an unearthly object, but I got the bonus meteor because the picture was made during the prolific Perseid Meteor Shower. In August the most dependable meteor watching nights occur during a moonless night. There is no way to predict if it will be a terrific or boring display.

I forgot to bring a cable release. Instead I used my finger to gently trip the shutter with the camera’s self-timer set for a two-second delay to eliminate mirror slap. Capturing a 40,000-mile per hour streaking meteor moving across the heavens is honestly a game of chance. Many Milky Way photographers will use an intervalometer attaching to a digital camera, resembling a cable release, and allow the camera to be placed on autopilot. The intervalometer will open and close your camera’s shutter automatically as well as start the next exposure, according to the parameters you decide. To ask questions about this blog please send an email to this address. I will respond as quickly as possible.

Canon and Nikon manufacture their own brand of intervalometer but are expensive. A less expensive work around I used was buying the Vello brand, a third party timer, which works very well and is less expensive.





American Photographer Magazine nominated Eugene Louie as a “New Face” in photojournalism when he was just 26 years old. That same year, Louie’s photographs helped Washington’s Longview Daily News win a staff Pulitzer Prize for covering the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. The volcanic eruption, equivalent to 400 million tons of TNT, toppled 20 square miles of forest in six minutes. Louie’s prize-winning images were horrifying and stark. Gritty ash covered most of Washington and neighboring states. The rooftops of multi-story houses became the new high ground. Previously gentle Cowlitz River overflowed with icebergs the size of cars that had broken from melting glaciers and sped down streams.

The San Jose Mercury News recruited Louie during the after-glow of Pulitzer Prize fame, when he also won a bronze medal in the Photographer of the Year Pacific Northwest competition. Fast forward to 1989; Louie’s photography contributed to a second Pulitzer Prize win, this time for The San Jose Mercury News’ coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the aftermath.

“The Ansel Adams Yosemite Summer Workshop gave me the privilege to learn the famous landscape photographer’s “Zone System,” which in simplistic terms, gives photographers a way to communicate visual and technical issues with each other,” Louie said. For Louie, this skill was filed away to pursue a public service career in photojournalism.

Louie set out to become a psychologist and during his senior year completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology decided to pursue photojournalism, in the tradition of Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith, which became Louie’s photographic hero. The late start at California State University Long Beach makes Louie’s rapid rise all the more notable. He didn’t have a degree in journalism, and competed with hungry photographers in a competitive field. “If you are meant to accomplish a specific goal, I believe, you will find a way, “ said Louie.

In 2010, during his first winter to Yosemite National Park, Louie experienced an epiphany. “Winter’s misty fog drifted around granite cathedrals altering the color, intensity and direction of light, in ways I never saw during the summer, Louie said. “That Yosemite winter quieted my mind like no experience before. Photography became a meditation. I realized the purpose of my second career is to photograph the natural world, with the same passion I felt for journalism. Today I look back to the Ansel Adams workshop for renewed inspiration. As Robert Frost is so often paraphrased, I have returned to “the road not taken.”



Perseiid Meteor Shower: NASA meteor shower, Animation; 2015:

How to Photograph the Milky Way Galaxy, Photography Tips: Photograph the Milky Way in 12 Steps;


Arches National Park: Broken Arch Loop Trail:

Kelvin Light Color Temperature Explained:Lowell EDU:




“PECK CANYON is heavily patrolled and the terrain rugged.”
Few saw that the US-MEXICO BORDER would tear apart families or tribes whose cultures and languages are threatened but the cities that sprang up on both sides were predictable the division created entrepreneurial opportunity which sprung from the law, culture and needs of society. The international border became a way of life, a geological oddity (like the Grand Canyon) right in their own backyard, if their property had backed up to a great viewpoint they would have set up a pay parking lot and required admission.
The fence or border brought traders who provided the needs of the locals, like Sasabe Merchantile sells both parlor and kitchen stoves all wood-burning and priced for a population where electricity and gas are a new world commodity. Until recently, places like the San Miguel Gate, (a strip of no man’s land) became a row of boxes and traders on Saturday mornings who tried to sell goods to folks who needed their products from either sides of the border.
Recently I spoke with a young man who grew up in the Peck Canyon corridor and he believed crossings may be down “but business was being done, and if a load needed to go, it went and arrived intact! Business has been conducted through Peck Canyon since the day when Geronimo used those foothills’s perfect cover as he made tracks for the border. In our last posting, a local deer hunter said, “all border traffic was being funneled into Peck Canyon” much of this because of the high-tech sensing equipment elsewhere and the high profiles of the National Guard and additional manpower to the Border Patrol.
Unique to Peck Canyon, is the mixing of wilderness and residential, its close proximity to dense high
desert terrain and I-19, which is next to the large Border Patrol Checkpoint on I-19. I thought it would be quite easy for drug cartels to own several houses along I-19 where folks could move north from one house to another, for $5000 a head, many things are possible, like tunnels. Locals can think of four or five houses that might fit that description or have, from time to time. Likewise, the bandits who prey on crossers and smugglers alike, they probably live right there and know the terrain like the back of their hand and could be watching TV while border patrol searches.
Maybe, these Border businessmen started out young as mules! Perhaps, in the beginning they carried marijuana on their backs into the US, for $200 a pound, forty pounds equals $8000, 50 pounds or $10000, whatever they could carry quickly. Once in, they drop their load in a remote spot and hotfoot back to Mexico. When they drop their packs a man on a hillside watches and carefully telephones “his crew” who he directs to the load and they bring it further north. For decades, people have stuffed their doors and wheel wells full with pounds of grass and more than 200 pounds might be stuffed into a single ride to travel north without a second look. Driver of a loaded car might make $2000 traveling between Rio Rico and Tucson where the keys are passed to new driver to take the car on into Phoenix. This practice limits anyone person having full knowledge of the network. Lots of stolen or borrowed cars end up abandoned in the desert and they are quickly stripped by yet other border entrepreneurial opportunity. Living on the border separates families and social responsibilities can collide with professional responsibilities may result in a phone call home where an agent tells his wife he is stopping for bread on the way home. That might mean he will not be on a certain mountain and that route will be open for cousin Jaime to bring his load through. Some people living on the line, say “it business!” and others, call it “family”. Anything is possible, here. If a load needs to go, it does so successfully!
Here are some links to recent articles on the Peck Canyon and its every growing violence and how the cartels are pushing back against Mexico and USA …
A Border Patrol swat team member was shot and killed Tuesday night in a gun battle with suspected bandits south of Tucson. Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was killed when his team exchanged fire with a group of five people about 11 p.m. in a remote area west of Rio Rico, said the FBI. Four of the five suspected bandits were in custody Wednesday morning, including one man who was hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Border Patrol since “have buttoned down the Pena Blanca Lake area” covering all the squeeze points and by placing agents on quads and horseback into the interior they are looking for a fifth member of the group. The shooting occurred in a remote area near Forest Service Road 4197, west of Interstate 19, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. When deputies arrived at Peck Canyon Drive and Circulo Sombrero in Rio Rico, they found Terry dead of gunshot wounds, Estrada said. The remote area where the shooting occurred is an area frequently used by drug traffickers and people-smugglers.”All these canyons in Santa Cruz County are notorious for smuggling humans and drugs,” Estrada said. “Obviously, it is a very dangerous situation for anyone patrolling those remote areas, particularly for Border Patrol. There is always that threat.”Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department was only serving in a support role, Estrada said. The FBI is handling the investigation.”Our thoughts and prayers are with the Terry family for their tragic loss,”
Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was shot and killed Tuesday night in a fire fight with suspected bandits near Rio Rico, south of Tucson.

VIDEO: Mexico the War next Door…

Mexican Crime Reporter Speaks Out