A Milky Way Masterpiece

"So beautiful, words fail me."

Milky Way from South Dakota
A single image of the rising Milky Way, one of roughly 4,300 shot during May 2011 to capture our galaxy's majestic nightly passage across the sky.
Randy Halverson / Dakotalapse
That's the reaction of one veteran amateur astronomer after viewing a new video of the springtime Milky Way arching majestically across picturesque farmland. It's the work of Randy Halverson, who lives in central South Dakota and has the good fortune to behold a sky full of stars every clear night.

"I've always been into video," Halverson told me. "I've chased storms to create stock photography, but I was looking for something different."

So about a year ago he set his sights on capturing the nighttime sky. The timing was tricky. From spring to fall Halverson is busy growing wheat, corn, and milo. There's more free time during the frigid dead of winter, and that's when Halverson started experimenting with time-lapse videos of the night sky.

As detailed on his Dakotalapse.com website, the optics are pretty basic: a high-end Canon EOS camera, a couple of wide-angle lenses, and a nothing-special GoTo mount.

Halverson's photo setup
South Dakota farmer Randy Halverson uses this rig — a Canon camera on a GoTo mount and a 6-foot-long computer-controlled dolly — to capture the image sequences for his videos.
Randy Halverson / Dakotalapse
But to those, Halverson adds a computer-controlled dolly that slowly runs his rig along a 6-foot-long track. The Canon continuously clicks off 30-second exposures as the mount slowly pans and the dolly inches along. When combined into 24-frame-per-second video, the images condense 2.3 hours of real time into just 10 seconds.

"So what?" you're probably thinking. Why should simply moving the camera a few feet make any difference?

What that motion adds is a breathtaking sense of realism. You're vicariously transported to a pristinely dark site on an upper-Midwest prairie from which, despite the high latitude, the Milky Way climbs directly from the horizon and creates a blazing swath as it arches above you. And Halverson has a knack for composing and lighting the rural foregrounds to maximize visual interest.

His latest effort, titled "Plains Milky Way," debuted just a few days ago, and in three days it garnered more than 100,000 looks. "I'm surprised by how many views it's gotten," he admits, though after viewing his first night's footage last month he knew it was something special. Still, he struggled with unruly weather, fighting frequent clouds and strong winds to capture enough footage.

So have a look at his video, and post your impressions below. You should also check out his first two night-sky efforts, "Orion" and "Sub Zero." (He shot the latter with a wind chill of -25°F — I get frostbite just thinking about it.)

3 thoughts on “A Milky Way Masterpiece

  1. Aivaras Stankevicius

    I adore such kind of videos, they make my heart beat two times faster than usual. The images are great, I like how he took plants also and how they are lighted, its really amazing. I dream of taking such pictures some day myself, for now I just stargaze through my Pentax 10×50 PCF WP II binoculars :) Telescope is on the wish-list.
    By the way it affects me is really similar to Ole Christian Salomonsen video ‘In The Land Of The Northern Lights’ ;)

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