Ben Canales offers up not only stellar night photography, but also a humble and inspirational spirit that encourages other photographers to try it out. Here are 10 examples of his phenomenal work, his thoughts about light pollution and its impact on our understanding of the environment, and a great video where he teaches us the techniques he uses to get these shots.
I mean really... how often do we get to see something like this in person, let alone in a photograph? Nope, this image hasn't been photoshopped to high heaven to get that milkyway mirroring the mountain. Sure, there's some post-processing involved, but much of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time, and knowing what to do with your camera, as Ben Canales most certainly does.
The power of the stars to inspire awe is something too many of us have not experienced thanks to light pollution and atmospheric pollution. Ben took the time to talk with me about his own "awakening" experience that in no small part has influenced his choice of subject in photography.
About 90 percent of my night shots come from the wonderful landscapes and dark skies of Oregon, but my love of the stars started young in my home state of New Jersey.
It's sad and funny at the same time, but growing up in conglomerate suburb of Philadelphia, New York City, and Atlantic City casinos- the city lights all but obliterated most view of the stars. A deep, starry night was seeing only the Big Dipper, Orion, and a few other stars in total. I knew about the Milky Way, but it was something studied in science class, not seen in the sky.
It wasn't until I was backpacking in Australia in my early 20's that I saw the Milky Way with my own eyes. The experience was so shocking, that I still remember it vividly.
In the middle of the night, I stepped out of my tent to find a bathroom amongst the trees, and while taking care of business I was just looking up at the stars. It was almost a perfectly clear, cloudless sky except for one cloud. As I stood there, the cloud stayed in place amongst the stars. This was odd because a stiff breeze was blowing that should have been carrying the cloud along. It was such an odd sight, a cloud staying still in heavy wind, and a cloud unlike any I'd ever seen, I stood staring for 5-10 minutes watching it, waiting for it to blow away. Then suddenly it smacked me like a ton of bricks, "That's the Milky Way!!!!!!" I was in awe. I stayed up for the next two hours just staring at the sky.
Ben's experience is probably not that rare for those who grow up in urban areas and head out camping for the first time. I remember camping as a little girl, looking up into the sky and having an "ah ha!" moment realizing for the first time why cowboys say they sleep under a "blanket of stars." They were so thick, they almost felt like they had weight, pushing gently down from above me.
Yet we're amazingly good at forgetting the profound beauty of nature a short time after we come up with technologies that erase it, slowly or with one fell swoop. Luckily, the stars are something that will come back under the right circumstances.
Since that experience, I realized my light polluted night sky back home in New Jersey did not have to be the standard. Beautiful views of stars still existed in far away places. My hunt for dark starry nights continued over the next couple years with captures of views in New York state's Adirondack Mountains, then many nights while working overseas on a small, Italian island of Sardegnia, and again a heart stirring view of the Milky Way while on a ship out to sea doing loops around the island of Guam.
I carried all theses experiences as special, rare memories from far away trips...until I moved to Oregon.
In Oregon, I've found the stars are still intact and the night sky is still beautifully viewable only an hour or more drive away from our largest city of Portland.
Here, I am like a kid in a candy store. It doesn't take international trips to Italian islands, Australian tablelands, or cruises in the South Pacific to see the stars. Thanks to wide open spaces, many of my favorite outdoor hikes, swims, and climbs get visited nightly by the most beautiful view of the stars as I had seen before in other countries.
Canales has only been photographing stars for a short time. He has clearly poured passion into bringing the stars to life infront of our eyes. Sometimes it takes more than one shot -- for example, this image is a combination of about 50 exposures, stacked together in Photoshop.
However, for most images, a single long-exposure shot is all it takes.
The shot above seems like every adventurer's dream -- to be sacked out at the top of the world. Ironically, Canales states, "Shooting this scene took on less of an epic, mountain top adventure feeling; but instead it had a seemed more like a treasured visit to the Wise Man on the mountain. After many Summer months chasing the Milky Way in completely dark, Moonless night skies- this evening was truly a needed treat"
Getting the milky way AND a milky waterfall in the same shot is quite a feat. Canales says that the only post work "was a slight tilt adjustment and WB tweak!" -- that is truly impressive.
Having come from the dense suburbs of the Northeast US, growing up under a light polluted sky and now living so close to dark sky views here in Oregon, I feel grateful to know that the views of the stars are still possible. And, I am honored to be able to take pictures of these experiences and share them with others that don't have the opportunity to leave the thick light polluted nights of the cities.
I believe it is in all our interest to protect these unpolluted empty places and, at the same time, make effort to peel back the light pollution we have already created in existing communities.
Unlike many other forms of pollution, such as atmospheric, ocean, etc- light pollution can be reversed effectively and immediately by placing simple light guards on existing lights and putting new ordinances in our building laws for future lights yet to be installed. The International Dark Sky Association has gone to great lengths to design new light shields, provide education for the public about light pollution and reclaim our view of the night sky.
Indeed, the organization has even given weight to areas without light pollution -- for example, declaring the island of Sark the world's first "dark sky community" after efforts to reduce light pollution as much as possible.
Light pollution is a tricky thing to stand up against. We can't really defend that we are getting sick from it, as if it is causing cancer. We can't point to it and say fish and game are diminishing because of it. We can't go to Congress and argue the national deficit is being affected by light pollution.
So, it's a difficult thing to nail down why it is a worthy cause to trumpet against.
But, as a kid from Jersey that now knows what the REAL view of the stars can be, I will say we are losing access to a great source of inspiration for us as a race. We are willingly giving up access to what has historically been a reason to dream and hope for something better, simply from lack of understanding that our night lighting can be designed better.
When a current top-40 song sings, "Can we pretend that airplanes/ In the night sky are like shooting stars?/ I could really use a wish right now/ Wish right now, wish right now" In my opinion, this is a tragedy.
We've done more than lose sight of the stars, we are losing ourselves.
But, fortunately, the damage isn't permanent, and it can all be reversed and changed. Hopefully some of the images I capture under the beautiful dark skies of Oregon will be reason to think about bringing back these possibilities to the rest of our communities by simply changing a light.
In July, Ben found out he won first place in the travel photo competition for National Geographic, which included a 2-week trek for two to the British and Irish Isle aboard the National Geographic Explorer. If that isn't a prize to covet, I'm not sure what is!
Here is a wonderful timelapse of the night Ben took the winning shot:
And if you're curious about how to take your own jaw-dropping night sky photos, Ben divulges details in this tutorial video:
You can also catch more of Canale's work by following him on Facebook.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this