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This is an archived copy of the August 2016 Field Trip Page

Milky Way Galaxy shines on recent Loon Lake Field Trip

The July 7th Field trip to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy over Loon Lake exceeded all expectations from those who ventured out.

Conditions were perfect.  Dark cloudless skys, brilliant abundant stars, Mars glowing brightly in the Southern Sky, warm temperatures and great comaraderie.  It couldn't have been more perfect.

The Five Amigos

Making the trip were: Allen Adler, Bob Baikauskas, Pete Henshaw, Dale Petersen and Brad Senn.

The group departed Lincoln around 10:00 am on a Thursday morning, enjoyed lunch at the Corner Kitchen (about five tables and a counter) in Georgetown and arrived at the Lake via Wentworth Springs Rd and Ice House Rd. around 1:30pm.

After scouting the North Shore of the Lake for camera locations the group settled on a hidden Pond that lay adjacent to the Lake separated by a slab of granite and a few trees.

Having calculated the position of the Galaxy the group was able to predict the location of the Galaxy as it would appear in the nighttime sky and were therefore able to identify camera locations within a span of 10-15 feet.

The Show Begins!

The Milky Way appeared on schedule starting at 10:30 pm on the evening of July 7th and remained visible until 3:37 am on the morning of the 8th.

The group arrived on scene at approximately 9:30 pm and photographed at the Pond until 12:30 am.  The pond was a perfect mirror with stars brightly reflected in the surface. The group then moved to a secondary location that gave them an overlook view of the Lake with the Galaxy suspended in the sky just to the left of a point of land that entered the field of view from the right.  A slight breeze rippled the lake causing it to turn to a silky blur as it was captured by the camera sensors using exposure times as long as 25-30 seconds.


The group finished shooting around 1:00am and returned to their campby 1:30am.

The equipment

Shooting the Galaxy does not require super expensive gear.  Most modern DLSRs and Mirrorless Digital Cameras have what it take to capture beautiful images.  

A wide-angle lens will be necessary to be able to capture foreground subjects and enough of the sky to get a large portion of the Galaxy.

​Full-frame DSLRs will do well with a wide-angle of 20mm. Cameras with the smaller APS-C size sensors will need a wide angle lens in the range of 14mm.


Getting the Shots


Camera exposures were pretty consistent among the group depending upon the sensitivity of the camera sensors, and maximum size of the applicable lens used by the individual photographers.

For example, Brad Senn was using the new Nikon D750 with a wide-angle zoom lens set at 28mm with a maximum aperature of f3.5 and an exposure time of 20 seconds.   The ISO settings varied between 1600 and 3200.

Allen Adler was shooting a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a wide-angle zoom lense set as wide as 19mm, and with an aperature of f2.8. ISO settings were approximately 1600 and the exposure time was a long as 25 seconds. 

In general, all exposures were kept under 30 seconds as a longer exposure would cause the stars to elongate and be seen as streaks as opposed to a point of light. Sturdy tripods were used by all.

On a humorous note... the first shooting location's small pond was home to a gaggle of a least six geese.  

Since the location also featured a campsite, the geese had become fearless of humans and actually swam up to us looking for a hand-out.

That evening one or two were sleeping on the bank where we set up our tripods.  They didn't seem to mind our being there with them, but once or twice a couple of our group almost stepped on one.


You could hear loud wispers "don't scare the geese they'll get in the pond and it will take the forever for it to settle down!!"  We got lucky the geese were so accommodating.


A feeling of elation!

The mood with the group was a mixture of joy and amazement at the images we were seeing in our camera displays.  We all felt a great level of satisfaction that we were able to experience such a magical time.


The group awoke at their campsites the next morning and enjoyed a breakfast of eggs and sausages and Starbuck's fresh brewed coffee from a cowboy coffee pot.


When asked if they would do it again all agreed that they would do so in a minute.  

Milky Way Galaxy... how we planned and got the shot.

Sky Guide Screen-shot showing view of the Galaxy at approximately 11:30pm on Thursday July 7th.

Photo Pills Screen Shot 

Scouted Location on afternoon of July 7th

Helpful stuff to make your trip planning easier.

Here is a link to a Google Map showing Loon Lake.  There is an interactive 360 degree panorama image of the Lake available on the Google map:  HERE 

Here is a link to the USDA.GOV Website  for the Lake’s Recreational facilities where you can reserve a campsite ($25).  Senior discounts are 50% for those with Golden Age Senior Pass or other Interagency Pass:  HERE 

Here is a link to a detailed map of the Campgrounds:  HERE 

Here is a link to the North Shore Campground.  Note the sites are available only on a first come, first served basis.  Each site can accommodate 6 people.  HERE 



Sky Guide

Getting there.

The Lake is situated off Ice House Road which is accessed approximately 22 miles West of Placerville off Rt. 50.  The Loon Lake South shore Campground is an additional 31-miles from the Rt. 50 & Ice House Road intersection.

A more pleasurable route would be to take Rt. 49 from Auburn to Cool and turn left onto Georgetown Rd.  From Georgetown Rd. take Wentworth Springs Rd. to Ice House Rd. and on to Loon Lake.  It's a very nice ride with excellent blacktop road through the backcountry and just as quick as the Rt. 50 approach.

The Milky Way was in an excellent position for a great shot on night of July 7th and morning of July 8th.   Bob Baikauskas and Dale Petersen mapped out a plan to get the shot from the North shore of  Loon Lake in the El Dorado Forest. 


Planning for the trip involved picking an initial location (Loon Lake) that would be far removed from light pollution from Reno or Sacrament/Roseville et. al.  Loon Lake fit the location parameters as it is situated at 6,400ft.  

One way to scout for areas of darkness is to use a website such as which combines satellite imaging initially created by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the night lights by NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center.   The site combines the data as overlays on Google and Bing maps.  Below is an image showing the nightime earth over Sacramento and Reno with the lights concentrations.

The Sky Guide App was used to validate that the Milky Way would be in a good position to photograph over Loon Lake on the 7th.  Sky Guide allows you to display a virtual reality representation of how the Galaxy will look at any location on earth for any day of the year.  The Sky Guide screen shot to the left shows the position of the Galaxy and the location of the Galactic Core at 11:30 pm on the seventh of July.

Night Lights Satellite Images - superimposed over Google Map from website. Red pin indicates location of Loon Lake in the El Dorado National Forest. Click Map to enlarge.

Predicting the Galaxy Position with PhotoPills


Using the PhotoPills App to determine where to investigate camera locations on the North Shore of Loon Lake was the next step in the planning process.

PhotoPills is a $10 App that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store.  (Sorry, it is not yet available for the Android platform.)

The App integrates satellite and mapping imagery with an abstract graphic overlay of the Galaxy to present a God's Eye view of how it will be visible from a given point of reference.  (see detailed explanation below.)

With the PhotoPills App it was determined that while there was a waxing crescent moon (about 16%), the moon would be setting at 10:45 pm on the 7th at an azimuth of 283 degrees... offering virtually no visible light pollution. 


PhotoPills also indicated that the Galactic Core visibility would begin around 10:30 pm at an azimuth of 162º degrees and would be visible until 3:47 am on the morning of July 8th.  It also indicated that the Core would set at an azimuth of 230 degrees on the morning of July 8th.  (See the PhotoPills screen shot to the right which is described in detail below).

The PhotoPills Display Explained

The Photo Pills Screen-Shot (see left) shows the arch of the Milky Way Galaxy as viewed from the North Shore of Loon Lake.

The Legend at the top of the Screen-Shot shows the Visibility Timeframe and the Compass Bearings (Azimuth) when the Galaxy comes into view and when it no longer is visible.  Also displayed is the Elevation above horizion at the beginning and end of the Visibility Timeframe.  The thick white line indicates the direction of the Galactic Core. The thin white line marks the orientation of the visible Galaxy from horizion to horizion.

The Map/Satellite View is overlayed with graphics that show the sweep of the Galaxy where it will be visible during the five-hours and 22-minutes of the Milky Way Event.

The light gray line on the right marks the beginning of the Visibility Timeframe and the dark gray line on the left marks the end of the Visibility Timeframe.  The Red Dot is the Camera Location.  The Black Dot marks the location of the South Shore Campground.

The Galaxy is represented as a series of white dots that increase in size to form an arch depicting the shape of the Galaxy with the largest dot representing the Galactic Core or brightest portion of the Milky Way.  If you refer to the Sky Guide Image at the top you will see the Galaxy slanting at a 70-80 degree angle as it meets the horizion. 

At the bottom of the Screen-Shot is a graphic representation of a timeline with a Yellow Dot representing the location of the Sun and and a grey dot representing the Moon at 11:30 pm (both of which are below the horizion).

Validating the camera locations at the Lake

Upon arriving at the lake on the afternoon of July 7th, the group made several stops along the North shore of the lake. They snapped photographs to pre-compose what a Galaxy shot might look like later that evening.  The Photos to the left shows the before and after.

While scouting the various locations the group used another App to validate the position of the Galaxy from a potential camera location.  The App used for this previsualization is called Spyglass.

Spyglass is also available from the Apple App Store for $4.  It uses the iPhone camera to compose a photograph while displaying a graphical overlay of a compass with directional information as well as GPS coordinates and elevation among other information.  The App allows the operator to take a photograph with the overlay information in order to save the photo and information for future reference.  See Below.

Spyglass App photo - taken from the bank of the small pond showing direction of view. In this shot the camera/app is looking in the direction of 178 degrees South.  This would be the position of the Galactic Core at approximately 11:30 pm on the 7th. The group made several photographs of the Galaxy during the course of the evening from this location.  Note the GPS coordinates.  Use them if you want to locate this pond in the future.

Milky Way Galaxy - This shot was taken at 11:12 pm with a Nikon D610 full frame camera with a 20mm f 2.8 Nikon prime lens.  Exposure was 30 seconds at f 2.8 with an ISO setting of 3200.  Tripod was a Bogen Model 3221, with a Linhoff Ball Head.  Shot in RAW and processed in Photoshop.

High Winds add challenge to July 18th Woods Lake Wildflower Field Trip

Sometimes Mother Nature smiles on us; sometimes She don't!

Mother Nature was unkind to the brave souls who left the Orchard Creek parking lot at 3:30am on the 18th of July to photograph wildflowers at Woods Lake.  And for one of the group members The Fates weren't so kind either.

Making the trip were Allen Adler, Jeff Andersen, Bob Baikauskas, Pete Henshaw and Marion Randall.  Jeff's dog Shiloh, a long haired German Shepard, also made the trip :-) She was the highlight of the trip and must have covered 2 or 3 miles running up and back down the trail during the half-mile hike to the meadow.

The group arrived at a chilly Woods Lake at 6:00 am, packed their gear and made it to the meadow to find the wind blowing in the 25-35 mph range. Wind gusts could have been higher... bummer.

Pete Henshaw dropped his Sony mirrorless camera which was rendered

useless and left before the sun hit the slope.  Only Allen and Bob toughed it out and stayed in the meadow shooting until 11:30 am, at which time they headed back to the Lake and home to Lincoln. 

Oh well, better luck next time.  The group felt that we might have been a week too early as the flowers were not quite as robust as last year. 


If you ever plan to make the trip, Woods Lake is approximately 104 miles from the Orchard Creek Lodge. The Lake is situated South of Rt. 88 where the access road is located about two miles WEST of the Carson Pass Ranger Station and the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail.  See links to Google Maps below.

Drive time to the Lake is approximately 2hrs. 20-minutes to 2-hrs. 45-minutes depending upon the chosen route and traffic.

Topographical Map Showing Woods Lake and Trail to the wildflower meadow.

View of Woods Lake - Click photos below to enlarge

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