Night Sky in Northwest

March 15, 2015  •  3 Comments

I was invited to Mt. Baker Camera Club to make a presentation for [Astrophotography] experience especially in Northwest. The presentation took place on the 7th of March, 2015 as a part of Annual Photo of the Year meeting at Agua Room, Cascade Natural Gas Bldg in Mt. Vernon. Monthly news letter of Mt. Baker Camera Club can be viewed from below link in PDF.

Presentation was very well received and I got many positive feedback. Following is my presentation material as a set of slides and entire scripts. I hope this could provide useful information for Night Sky Photography in Northwest.



Good evening. Thank you very much for this opportunity to share my images with members of such a prestigious Mt. Baker Camera Club. I am very honored and appreciative to be able to make this presentation.

I am going to show some of my images taken at night sky in Northwest. I will share some my experiences together with images of Full moon at Picture Lake, Mt. Rainier and Milky way, Mt. Baker and Milky way, and Mt. Baker and Northern lights.

My name is Yoshiki Nakamura, doing business as Seattle Digital Photography. I have a strong passion to capture beautiful Seattle and its surroundings.

Throughout this presentation, I will display the photo image, and then show camera settings like this example. Also, I have provided a PDF copy of today’s presentation to the club and will become available to you so that you can re-visit some of data or information.



I met with Mr. Sonny Richardson 7 years ago at exact spot I was shooting this image. He has been my mentor and inspiration since that time.

His wife Nancy notified me two years ago in this time of year stating that your camera club member will go to Picture Lake to take full moon with Mt. Shuksan. I could not make it since I had prior plan to go to Palouse that weekend. But it inspired and motivated me to challenge full moon photos at Picture Lake. This image is the result of such inspiration.



I often create a plan sheet, which outlines the expected shooting. In the top box, I draw resultant photo image.

Then write down whatever it comes to my mind for that shooting. In this case, I researched the angle of Mt. Shuksan and Nooksak Tower relative to the moon trajectory.

The moon size relative to Mt. Shuksan is very small and inside pattern of the moon is not important any more. At the time when the moon comes close to the mountain, the moon is very bright relative to surrounding scene. I noticed that the small aperture creates beautiful sunstar (moonstar). Similar moon trajectory is expected on April 5th but with lower rising angle.



Mr. Rainier and Milky way.

Milky way is a visible pattern of our Galaxy.

The core or center part of Milky way rises on south-west sky in summer.

As Mt. Rainier stands southwest direction, Sunrise area is good location to capture Milky way and Mt. Rainier together.

Milky way rotates 15 degrees per hour.

Moon light could enhance or could disturb the scene, and we must pay attention to the moon maturity and position.

My setting is using Manual exposure, Manual focus, Manual WB.

In clear night, typical setting is ISO2000~3200, f/2.8~3.5, 25~30 sec, WB 4750K.

I am using Star Walk for Milky way position and TPE and Google Maps/Earth for Sun/Moon/geographical position/angle.

I’ve encountered many incredibly fortunate shooting occasions, which is impossible without help of my photo god.  A Plan Sheet helps me in communicating with my photo god.



TPE shows graphical illustration of Sun/Moon position/movement over various kinds of map. In this example, shooting point is at Silver Forest Trail and target is Mt. Rainier, also showing the moon maturity is 41.9% and rise time is 12:15AM from 64 degree Azimuth angle.

Star Walk gives us precise position and movement of stars as well as Milky way by time and location. This screenshot represents that Milky way is up in South-west-west where Mt. Rainier stands. This image was taken around 12:30AM where the moon is in very low angle and warm color.



We found this place when we were hunting a shooting spot for Milky way. This place is approx. 15 minutes of easy hike from the parking lot of Sunrise area. Please note that without some level of moon light, the foreground could be too dark cannot be seen in the photo. You can find the exact location with the Lat/Lon figures through Google Maps.



This image was taken from Silver Forrest Trail. It was incredibly fortunate that all clouds went away,

and moon light shed the area when Milky way comes to the desired position.



When I was planning Mt. Rainier Milky way project, I wanted to capture entire Milky way through a fisheye lens.

In order to understand how the image could end up being, I use my imagination and visualize rough resultant image and put it on the plan sheet. This star trails image was taken at Sunrise Point where it is 10 minutes drive down from Sunrise area.


Let me show you a short video which is made from timelapse images taken at Sunrise point. I want you to look at the overall sky how the clouds cleared up. Also I want you to look at the movement of the Milky way. This timelapse was taken from 10:30PM through 12:00 midnight.

[#09 Video] <Click the image to view the video>



This is the last image of timelapse and you can see that almost no cloud in the entire sky.

Some clouds still remained at left lower corner where Mt. Rainier stands. We went back to Sunrise Silver Forrest trail immediately after this.



Mt. Baker and Picture Lake.

Reflection is one key element on Picture Lake. 

Mt. Shuksan is at 124°(Az)/10°(Alt) from Picture Lake.

Nooksack Tower is at 117°/8.1° from Picture Lake.

Milky way rises south-west sky.

Lighten blending is used for the star trails (StarStaX).

Swirl (Star trails) is around North Star (15°/hr).

North Star is at 0°(Az) 47°(Alt) in our area at Latitude 47°.

Star trails become arch shape (Southern Cross -47°).

Northern Lights appear on northern sky.

Bluish sky remains for 1~2 hours after sunset (8:57PM).



In this photo, the sky remains blue 80 minutes after sunset time.



Star trails in south do not construct swirl but arch shape. It is amazing coincident that the star moving pattern and the mountain outline shape is matching.



Milky way becomes visible about one hour after sunset time.

The red color in Mt. Shuksan was the reflection of northern light behind me (which was not visible to me that time).



Take a look at the star moving pattern and mountain line on the right.



This is about 2 hours after sunset time, and the bluish color is almost gone.



Milky way arch at Picture Lake.

Milky way shows up every night but moves its position.

There are limited dates when the best balanced angle of Milky way at Picture Lake.

On the day I took, 31st of August 2013, Milky way runs across almost straight up to us.

I needed to cover 200 degrees horizontally and 150 degrees vertically.

In order to capture this ultra wide view, I used 5 horizontal and 3 vertical shot with 14mm lens.

It takes about 40 seconds multiplied by 15 equates to 10 minutes per one set of image.

I am using PTGui panorama stitching program to combine those 15 images to one.

Photoshop [Warp] function is used to straighten the horizon line.

Moon should not be visible during this shooting attempt.



In my plan, I intended to scan 3 by 3 total 9 taking 6 minutes, but I found 5 by 3 necessary which took 10 minutes per set. In my plan scanning order is as shown but found it is better to scan left to right for all 3 rows. I used a Pano-head and worked well. Due to the nature of shooting, I feel 3 photographers are maximum at the same time period to avoid interferences. Since success rate of stitching is very low, I would suggest to take as many sets as possible.  After stitching, image distortion process by using Photoshop [Warp] function is necessary.



This slide shows the sequence of shooting and post processes.


I like to show a slide show which illustrates this shooting event.

[#20  Video] <Click the image to view the video>



This is the final image, which consists of 15 images stitched together. In this photos,

we are looking at tremendous amount of past time. Not talking about yesterday, or a month ago, but thousands of years ago. >>

The core (center) of Milky way is 30,000 light years away.

Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. Just amazing.



Northern Lights.

My information source of Northern lights or aurora borealis is [].

The level is shown as Kp number and we may be able to see the northern lights when Kp number is  4-5 or higher.

Kp number was 4-5 on July 14th of 2013 evening.

Northern lights are bright when it explode and I’ve set exposure time to 10 second instead of 30 seconds.

I found a good view point in between Picture Lake and Artist point.

You can find exact location by using Lat/Lon date through Google Maps.



There is a small view point at the hairpin curve facing north.

I’ve researched this point through Google Earth and found it very accurate.

Since we can see big sky pointing north, this spot is good for star trail image.



During Milky way shooting, after we saw red color in Mt. Shuksan, we realized the northern light activity was very high and we quickly moved to the view point where we can potentially observe northern lights. I was so lucky to be able to capture this series of images.



This star trails image was taken with exposure time of 10 seconds and shooting interval time of 11 seconds.


My secondcamera was set with a 50mm lens intending to capture less distorted and close up images.


Next time-lapse video will show you how the northern lights danced.

[#27 Video] <Click the image to view the video>



This star trails image was created with [Comet Effect] feature of StarStaX. It is an incredible artwork creation by the nature and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to capture this. I don’t think I could take this without help of my photo god and very appreciative to my fortune.



Thank you very much for viewing and listening. Please visit my website:

If you have any questions or comments: please e-mail me to call me at 206-465-3719.

Thank you very much.







College Paper(non-registered)
Dismissing the way that our present government has taken a not all that dreadful action of applying the blueprint of no beating to the understudies, I don't think so this standard is being applied. I am up to this point review the news that the instructors are beating their understudies which should be avoided.
Murali Narayanan(non-registered)
Absolutely TERRIFIC!!!! Need to thank Google for bringing me to your wonderful site. ZI plan to shoot the Milky Way from the trail net to Sunrise Visitor Center and your presentation was immensely useful. You are an inspiration to me. Thanks & all the best.
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