Haleakala Twilight

Haleakala Twilight

After a two years of a full blown global pandemic, it's not hard for anyone to understand how excited I was to finally get back out to shoot on-location and not be limited to the views from my backyard.   In early February 2022, I was fortunate to take a wonderful trip to Maui, Hawaii.  During my time there I knew I wanted to experience the "bucket list" scene as dawn broke on the summit of the Haleakala volcano.   

Haleakala National Park Entrance

Rising rather early at 1am, I made the long drive from where I was staying on Kaanapali Beach up to 10,000 feet above sea level.  The path was politely lit by a nearly full moon and rather uneventful other than a near miss with a small herd of Axis Deer.  Technically, a reservation is needed for entry to the park between 3am and 7am to control the crowds during sunrise.   I did have a reservation, but arrived to an unmanned entry gate just before the 3am hour.  Paying at the automated machine, I proceeded up the road, arriving at the summit shortly after 3am.  

Mine was the only car in the lot!   Nothing like having a place like that to yourself, so I quickly unloaded my gear and headed out to the observation platform.   As I walked up the stairs the ruddy Moon was just sinking below the western horizon.  At that point, it was like someone flipped off a light switch and turning around, the rising Milky Way was clearly visible rising above the distant peaks on the Big Island of Hawaii, some 80-100 miles away!

Scanning the full scene, it was like being in an alien environment up there.  The lava rock landscape, a carpet of clouds below me, and distant horizon where the stars disappeared right into the horizon, were all a sight to behold.   The scientific telescopes were visible just to the south of my location.    I was lucky to have landed a night with almost no wind (no small feat for a place that exposed to the elements).   The 44 degree temperature felt very cold after sitting on a tropical beach for days, but ... I am from Michigan so it was business as usual !

I set up my equipment, a Canon 6D with Samyang 14mm f/2.4 lens, riding on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mount and a MeFoto Roadtrip travel tripod.   I use a simple intervalometer to control the camera and began by taking exposures of the static ground.  I then flipped on the star tracker and took exposures of the sky.  These sets are combined later in post-processing and allow me to get a crisp view of the entire scene.  

What I didn't count on?  TOURISTS!  

Shortly after I began shooting, the crowd to watch sunrise kept arriving.  Flash lights, car headlights, people ... everywhere.   The rest of my time under the pre-dawn sky was spent shooting from various vantage points but always dodging these "obstacles" in my photos.

I'm sharing my favorite image so far from the session which shows the sky shortly after astronomical dawn.  This is the point where morning twilight begins.  The Sun, still 10-15 degrees below the horizon, begins to illuminate the upper atmosphere.  The horizon starts to glow in hues from red to gold and the sky lightens into magentas and blues.  

As the sky illumination increases, it does make astrophotography a bit more challenging.  The hues of dawn tend to wash out details and features within the Milky Way.  I did my best to preserve these but also let the image retain its natural gradients and tonality.    A nice feature visible here which is something I have never seen is the Zodiacal Light.  The sunlight reflects off the dust in the plane of the solar system, sending a spear of light up.  Visible as a faint wash of white light from the lower left corner up to the top center (almost spotlighting the brightest part of the Milky Way, the galactic core).   The planet Venus appears along side the Milky Way, the brightest object in this image.

This was a surreal experience for me because everything on the right side of the image isn't visible from northern latitudes.  I have never seen, or photographed anything on the right side of this image.

I took many other "touristy" shots during my time up here, but I certainly hope you like the twilight view as much as I did.   I'm so glad I could bring it hope to share!

 

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