This story begins about almost nine months ago, on December 31st, 2019.
I had a small group of friends over for the holiday, and at some point we started planning our 2020 trips. The year before (December 31st, 2018) we had talked about going to NY. But since some of them were still settling down in Canada, with new jobs and all, we decided that Easter 2020 would be a good time to go. Everyone in the group would be settled and able to take vacation days by then, so we could spend more time there.
So, on January 1st, we were again at my place, and we started to plan our year. We booked the hotel in NY, we had a spreadsheet with all the day trips we wanted to do, hiking, beaches, ghost towns. And we had this cottage booked for August, in Prince Edward County. But then…
We had to cancel most of our plans, since we were basically locked down at home for 3 months. But then, when the summer came, the Ontario government allowed social bubbles up to ten people to be created, so we could be together despite not being from the same household. And we created this group of friends (the same ones from the New Year’s Eve and two more), and decided to enjoy the summer while we can.
Travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. At least for me, it’s only happening locally, meaning within Ontario, and it should stay this way for the near future. We have been spending a day at the beach here and there, usually driving no more than 2 hours to get to our destination and spending the weekends together at someone’s house. So this time would be different. We would be going to an Airbnb, where we had no idea if someone would be staying there before, if the house would be cleaned well enough before we got there. So we talked, and decided we would go. We would take some cleaning products with us and spend a bit of time cleaning everything and then enjoy the rest of our stay.
So that’s what we did, and I have to say, it was one of the best decisions we made.
We left from Toronto around 7:30am and headed to Sandbanks Provincial Park. Most of the trip was uneventful, however, once we took the road to enter the park there was a huge line up of cars which added over an hour to the first part of our trip. After this really long wait, we were finally able to get in. The price per car is CAD21.00 and I have to say is absolutely worth it.
We have been trying to go to beaches where they are controlling the number of people in and out, which makes easier to keep some distancing from other groups of people without worrying too much.
The park is HUGE. They have camping and picnic areas and 3 different beaches. We didn’t have much time to spend there because of the time we spent in traffic to enter the park and because one of our friends had to work later that day. We went to Lakeshore Beach and OMGOSH. The water is clear and blue (my favourite type), warm-ish, white sand everywhere. It’s one of the best beaches I’ve been in Ontario.
So, after Sandbanks we headed to the cottage, which is situated in Price Edward County, Consecon Lake. What a beautiful little place. Waking up to this view was absolutely amazing.
BUT, the whole point of this post is our Friday Night adventure. When we were planning the trip one of my friends found about this Dark Sky Viewing area in Addington County, about one hour north of where we were staying. Visiting a dark sky site to see the Milky Way was something we were trying to do for a while but it’s not an easy task.
The best dark sky sites are as far away from big city lights as possible. This one, which is the closest one to us is a 3-hour drive from Toronto. It’s really hard to drive 6 hours in a day let alone if you are coming back in the middle of the night.
By definition, these places don’t have any big cities close by, so you usually have to camp, which is NOT my thing. I know I have done some crazy things for a good picture, but camping is not on my list at least for now. HOWEVER, since we were going to be in Prince Edward County it would be only a one-hour drive. Way easier, even though it was still a stretch.
So we decided that, weather permitting, we would go. There are a few things you need to consider if you would like to take a picture of the Milky Way:
- First thing is a really dark sky, so depending on where you are in the globe, this is not possible during summer, which makes things difficult because add a colder weather to all the items I will list below. Best time of the year to do it is late spring or early fall.
- You need a clear sky. So no clouds. And I mean NO CLOUDS AT ALL. Even if you have only a few clouds, due to the time of the picture exposure you risk one of those tiny clouds ruining your pic.
- You need no moonlight. That’s right. So the best time is a new moon but a waning moon (which was what we had is enough if it’s closer to the new moon than to the full moon).
- Preferably, no wind. Unless you have a very heavy and steady tripod, which I don’t
- You need a good Camera. Doesn’t need to be a professional one. Mostly all DSLR cameras will do. You need one that can do at least a 30 seconds exposure.
- A wide-angle Lens is very important (which I also don’t have). They have less elements and let more light in and you will also be able to capture a more wide image of the sky.
- A red light so you are able to see where you are waking without interfering much on other people’s pics
- A lot of patience
Also Worth Mentioning:
Another thing to consider is that in the northern hemisphere, the Milky Way is generally only visible from April through November, and ideal conditions occur from May through October.
And OMG, believe it or not, we got most of this checklist. We had almost no moon, good time of the year, it wasn’t cold, the sky was 100% clear, there was no wind to interfere with my not so heavy tripod.
My current camera is a Nikon 3300 and I have two simple lenses. A 18-50mm and a 55-200mm. So, not ideal. But in any case this is what I used and it kind of worked:
ƒ/4.5 30s 18mm ISO 12800
Meaning a aperture of f/4.5 which was probably a mistake here, exposure of 30 seconds and ISO of 12800 and a manual focus set to infinity which is the easiest way to do when you can’t see anything.
I must say I’m NOT satisfied with the result. It’s not completely on focus, because of the aperture I used, but it was my first try and will definitively NOT be the last. I will try that again until I get the perfect pic.
From the Pale Blue Dot
In his book, Carl Sagan called planet Earth the Pale Blue dot referring to an image of our planet taken in 1990 by the Spacecraft Voyager 1. And that image makes me feel so small. Not in a bad way, but it puts things into perspective. It shows how our entire world, something that is still a mystery for us in so many levels, is so small when seen from a distance.
Seeing the Milky way from the pale blue dot made me feel the same way, though. It’s one my the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Ok, I’m a geek and completely in love with astronomy (please don’t mistake it with Astrology… nope, don’t) and astrophysics. But even if you are not a geek head, this is still mesmerising, isn’t it?
Anyways, that was what I can call a perfect weekend by the lake with amazing pictures on my camera (and on my phone too) with some of the best people I know.