My photography buddy Scot Mangold had the idea to capture the Milky Way above this old abandoned truck at Cordova Pass. I didn’t even know the truck was up there, but when he told me about it, I thought it would make a fantastic Milky Way shot. We planned to go up there at the end of June, but the skies turned cloudy that evening, and we ended up waiting a full month before we had another opportunity to get up there.
Cordova Pass, on a gravel road about 6 miles above Cuchara Pass, is at 11,248 ft and is in a really remote area with completely dark skies and no light pollution. The conditions were absolutely perfect on the night we picked with clear skies, fairly warm temperatures, and no moon.
However, it was completely dark, and even brilliant as the stars appeared, they didn’t provide any light on the ground. I had never tried light painting before, a technique where the photographer uses a light source at night to light a subject. I decided to try lighting the truck using an external flash unit. With some experimentation, we found that setting the flash on its minimum power and using 2-3 pops at different angles provided a really nice light on the truck as well as the grass and trees in the foreground. Since the flash is daylight-balanced, it provides a neutral white light that complements the colors of the Milky Way.
We created some added interest by placing a dim light inside the cab of the old truck. The button on the back of my headlamp glows up green when the battery is attached, and provided a perfect light source. It was so dim that we couldn’t tell it was in there, but in our long exposure photographs, the lamp provides an eerie glow coming from within the truck.
After we finished shooting the truck (with our cameras), we took a few shots of the Milky Way and trees before some clouds started to roll in forcing up to pack it up for the night. Overall, it was a lot of fun with some real challenges trying to work in complete darkness, but we came away with some fantastic images!