Chase The Milky Way – The Return to Hume Lake

A year later, Stanley Harper revisits a photo he took in the Sierra.

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My Milky Way photography can be summed up in this quote:

“Photography is a journey that is much more than just creating images. It is about chasing light, experiencing new places, and finding ourselves.” -Unknown Author

THIS IS MY CHURCH

That statement fuels with me more and more as I run up and down roads doing Milky Way photography. Freeways, state highways, and winding backroads that take hours to traverse. Some photographers wrap themselves into gear, others relish the social media circus, and some will be knee in the technical process.

Driving to Kings Canyon to do some Milky Way Photography.
The drive up to Kings Canyon is a winding, uphill climb into Sierra goodness.

For me, yes, the images matter, but the journey takes center stage. It could be about meeting new folks in some iconic New Mexico hotel, or it could be about revisiting my past on the banks of the Colorado River in northern Arizona. This particular story is about a journey I started last year and closed the lid on it just a few short months ago.

If you go back and read my report on Hume Lake last year, you might sense that I felt that the trip was a failure. That trip was one spoiled egg among a carton of fresh ones. About a month prior, while in Utah, I suffered a camera drop. The drop damaged my Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 glass. I had planned on confirming that damage when I returned home, but that did not happen. All of my gear pretty much sat inside my MindShift FirstLight 40L for a month.

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big rock
King’s Canyon National Park is a hidden gem in Central California.

RETURN TO HUME LAKE

When I arrived at Hume Lake and did my initial scout, I found a neat little dock that would serve as a great subject for an image. I saw up my Neewer LED CN-160 panels, locked in my Nikon D750 onto my Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT tripod, and was greeted by garbage. My Tokina was trash. Granted, I had my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 with me, but for this particular shot, I needed a wider focal length. I was able to walk away that night with a decent image, but the dock shot burned me. I vowed to return to get that shot.

No Milky Way Photography yet - first an interesting sunset. Shot from last year's trip to Hume Lake.
Shot from last year’s trip to Hume Lake.

Fast forward to 2020. June rolled around, and I was already behind with the Milky Way image creation. I had a trip to Carrizo Plain washed out due to clouds, and while Bixby Creek was okay, that image was more stressful than it was fun. My return to Hume Lake would be fun.

This time around, I decided to make a day trip out of it. I studied maps of Kings Canyon and found some locations I wanted to check out. Waterfalls and meadows. Kings Canyon can probably be accurately described as an economy Yosemite. While the views in Yosemite are more scenic, that is where the crowds go. Because of COVID, my personal disagreement with Yosemite photography policies, and the masses there, Yosemite is not on my radar.

CHECKING OUT KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK


Kings Canyon National Park, though, is. A lot fewer people, there are some world-class landscape views within the park. My first task upon my entrance to the park would be to check out a couple of waterfalls. Being a flatlander from popcorn fart dry Oklahoma, waterfalls are not in my lexicon. The two I found, Grizzly and Roaring River, were must-sees. On top of that, the Roaring River oriented in a direction that could be used for Milky Way photography.

My first stop was Grizzly Falls. Checking in at 80 feet tall, Grizzly Falls is approximately 76 feet taller than any of the waterfalls in my photo gallery. I took some quick video, put my tripod in the water, and took a glory shot just to say that I did. Then it was off to Roaring River Falls.

Grizzly Falls
Grizzly Falls

ROARING RIVER FALLS

Now Roaring Falls is a beast. The runoff from the falls is in a depression, and the power from the falls creates so much turbulence that it was quite windy from the viewing point. I did another glory shot with my camera. While the falls are in a good position, there is a small and clear opening to get the sky in, but from where the camera has to be placed, the danger factor is pretty high. In my younger days, I would attempt a night shot at Roaring River Falls, but at this point, I will pass.

Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls

After Roaring River Falls, I continued down the road until I reached the end at Zumwalt Meadows. I walked around a little, checked out the river, and then started my trip back to Hume Lake. It was during this return trip that I spotted a dirt road across from Roaring River Falls and went down it a little way. I found a place to park and got out to explore a little bit. It was here that I found the inspiration for another Milky Way shot. Unfortunately, I would have to put it on the back burner because the distance from here to Hume Lake was far enough that I did not want to endanger losing my shots.

I'm pretty sure it's scenes like this that have reignited my trout fishing motivation.
I’m pretty sure it’s scenes like this that have reignited my trout fishing motivation.

But do not fret, there is a soon to be published follow up that will cover that location.

BACK TO HUME LAKE

As I turned off to Hume Lake, I found a meadow that would be an excellent place for a shot, but do not worry MWP fans; I DID NOT put a pickup out there for the subject matter.

Once back at Hume Lake, I waited for the sun to disappear. Breaking out my camera and tripod, this would be the first time I would use the Lume Cube 2.0 lights for scene lighting. I have had these lights for a while, and I will be doing a review on them soon. I attached the lights to a couple of light stands and headed off to the dock.

SETUP

I set up the lights at angles to the dock to try to feather the Lume Cubes. Since they are Bluetooth equipped, I was able to control them from my phone. Lume Cubes come with CTO panels that are magnetically attached, so I was able to use my trusty 3800K White Balance preset. What I did not know though was while the Lume Cube lights are awesome, I was not able to dim them enough to get a true Low-Level Lighting process. I ended up taking a series of shots for the Milky Way itself. The exposure settings had to be adjusted to make up for this.

A couple Lume Cubes illuminate the foreground for Milky Way Photography at Hume Lake.
It took some work and post processing magic, but I was able to blend in an illuminated by LumeCube foreground in with a Milky Way sky.

I messed around Hume Lake for a little longer, then headed off to the meadow to finish up. My $20 LED flashlight came into play to light up some trees. Again, I took a series of shots that I used as a foundation for my Milky Way photography to stack later in Sequator.

No pickups were parked in the meadow for this shot.
No pickups were parked in the meadow for this shot.

CONCLUSION

All in all, I am happy that I was able to right the wrong. My dock shot came out, and I was able to move on with my Milky Way photography life.

My next article is going to be a follow up to this as I returned to Kings Canyon just a few short weeks later to enjoy another Milky Way Photography location. I have a nice little list of articles that I will be creating about my photography trips this year. As it stands now, it looks like I’ve finished the long road trips. Not only should you expect the Kings Canyon follow up, but I recently met up with Aaron King in the Eastern Sierra. I have some gear reviews on tap, and I’ll include some vehicle-specific material. If you have a question for me regarding the locations I visit or my process, drop a comment down below.

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