Minnesota and the Milky Way

Ellingson Island and the Milky Way - Milky Way Photos | William Drew Photography

On Saturday, June 20th, I made a rash decision that ended up in a night of photography that I will never forget. I have been spending time recently studying how to take Milky Way photos as it is something I have a great interest in. Living in a big city, I don't ever get to see the Milky Way unless I hop in my car and drive for a few hours. I have actually only seen the Milky Way a couple of times in my entire life. Around 7 PM back on June 20th, I went to a website to study some more techniques on photographing them and at the end of that particular webpage was a calendar that showed the best nights of the year to photograph the Milky Way. It has to be a night where the Milky Way actually shows up, and also a night when the moon doesn't appear in the night sky. And as I looked at that calendar, it showed June 20th as one of the best nights of the year. I then looked at the weather up on the North Shore and saw it was a clear night without much wind. That is the best possible combination. 

I debated for all of 5-minutes and then quickly gathered my gear and made myself ready for a drive to the North Shore. Now, before I get to the next step, it's a 3-plus hour drive for me to get from my house up to Split Rock Lighthouse. Since it was already 7:30 PM at this point, that meant that I wouldn't arrive up there until close to 11 PM. And if I took photos for an hour or two, I would then have to drive home in the wee hours of the morning. But one thought kept pushing me out the door and make the trek: You have to take risks to get the best photos, and staying home never gets you the best photos. 

I made the trip. I arrived at Split Rock Lighthouse at 10:50 PM, stepped out of my car, and could not see my hand in front of my face. It was that dark, which was perfect for what I wanted to do. I looked up to the sky and was blown away at how many stars I could see. I grabbed my gear and made my way to the beach. I chose a spot where I could see the lighthouse to the left of me, and Ellingson Island to the right. To start with, I pointed my camera towards Ellingson Island and took my first test shot. That first test shot is what you see up above. The glow above the island is the city lights from Duluth, MN. The Milky Way was poking its head out from above some clouds, and you can see a couple of objects that left some streaks in the sky.  I never saw those objects, but my camera picked them up, so I do not know what made them. Not bad for a first-ever photo of the Milky Way, if I don't say so myself. 

I then took a dozen other photos facing all different directions capturing the Milky Way, Lake Superior, and the Split Rock Lighthouse. It was a great experience and a spectacularly beautiful evening. I was completely shocked that I was the only photographer on the beach on what seemed like a perfect night to be photographing the Milky Way. After the beauty of that first photos, all of the next group of photos showed my inexperience at photographing and editing the Milky Way. But that is alright, we all start somewhere. I packed up my gear and headed back to the trail to get to another area of the beach. As I was walking along that trail, I got to a point where I was just blown away by how the Milky Way looked with the treetops. So I took the photo that you see below. You can see Lake Superior at the bottom of the image above. It was such a perfect spot to photograph the Milky Way. 

The Milky Way and Minnesota - Milky Way Art | William Drew Photography

After getting this photo, I made my way back to the other part of the beach and made sure to get to a position where the Milky Way lined up perfectly with Ellingson Island. And once I did that, I was able to capture this scene:

Jupiter and the Milky Way Over Ellingson Island - Milky Way Photographs | William Drew Photography

That bright light in the photo is the planet Jupiter. This was the last photo that I took, and I then made my way back to my car. It was now 12:20 AM and I was about to start the 3+ hour drive back to Minneapolis. 

Even though I arrived home after 3 AM, it was absolutely worth it. This was one of my all-time favorite nights of taking photos. It was just magical standing there on the big lake, seeing all of those stars, and having the place all to myself. It was a peaceful, quiet, and magical evening. An evening I will always remember. 

Thank you for reading! 

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William Drew

William Drew lives in Minneapolis where he loves photographing the colors of the city at night.