tokina 11-16mm

Step 1: Leave home at 6:30pm, arrive in Grand Rapids at 9pm to pick up a friend.
Step 2: Head north to Traverse City, continue north until you reach the Mission Point Lighthouse on the lake shore at 11:30pm.
Step 3: Take pictures and stargaze in the cold for 1.5 hours.
Step 4: Depart for Grand Rapids at 1am in the morning. Drop off friend at 4:30am.
Step 5: Turn east towards home, arrive at home at 6:30am.

650 miles in 12 hours to go see stars. The trip wasn’t an absolute success; I had never been to Mission Point Lighthouse before, and didn’t know if it was too close to Traverse City — it was, and the light pollution, while low, was still noticeable — and if the lighthouse was dark — it wasn’t, as there was a street light right outside the lighthouse on the street that I wish was turned off — so I rolled the dice on shooting at a location that I hadn’t scouted out before and hoped for the best. Still, the clouds eventually cleared up and I spent about an hour looking for shots. Another pair of photographers showed up, and we bumbled around for a while talking gear, stars, and the fact that we both decided to arrive at this lighthouse at the exact same time to shoot stars. This was the nicest shot I took of the lighthouse under the night sky. Photo taken with a Nikon D7200 and a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, lighthouse was light painted with a video light.

The group of friends with whom I used to do “Top Gear and Tacos” (back when the British Top Gear was still chugging along with Jeremy, Hammond, and May) most every Tuesday of every week did something called the 80’s Turbo Challenge one year. The next year, we attempted to do the same, but due to lack of planning, it turned into more of a “Top Gear and Tacos Goes Camping by a Neat Lake, Not Quite the 80’s Turbo Challenge.” Since we were in northern Michigan, I took a camera and a tripod and did some shooting in the woods near the campground. This watch tower, no longer used for watching for forest fires but still standing, sits against a Milky Way backdrop. Photo shot with a Nikon D7200 and a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens.

Before I moved to Michigan, in 2011, I took an epic solo road trip in my 2009 Mazda MX5 Miata from Illinois to California and back. Along the way, I stopped by Arches National Park, arriving late in the afternoon, later than I had planned. Still, I wandered about the park as much as I could, trying to see everything. Before I knew it, the skies had become dark, and I was astonished to find out that there were no lights in the park, making it a great place to stargaze.

This was the first time I had ever seen so many stars in my entire life. I was awestruck. I attempted to take a picture of one of the arches against the stars, and this picture of my Miata waiting in the parking lot underneath the dark sky, and failed pretty miserably on all counts.

This was the best picture I took from that evening. As an image, it’s unremarkable, but as a milestone, it’s huge. I was off on a quest to shoot the night skies, and vowed to return to Arches National Park to shoot a nightscape shot worth printing. Five years later, I would return to Arches National Park in my ’66 Mustang.

Photo shot on a Nikon D7000 with a Tokina 11-18mm f/2.8 wide angle lens.