It’s that time of year when you see lots of photographs of the Milky Way. This past weekend the Perseid Meteor Shower was getting started, the moon wasn’t visible and the sky was remarkably clear. The direction the meteors appear to come from is kind of sorta to the north.

The downside for me is that’s the south end of the Bay Area — a massive metropolitan area. “Dark” isn’t a thing when I point north. I chose to go to higher ground where I knew I had options. The downside was the emotional roller coaster. This spot was absolutely clobbered in the CZU lightning complex wildfire nearly a year ago. So here I was Milky Way spotting in fire country.

Choose the spot

The spot I chose feels pretty remote. Where this road ends is where the Santa Cruz Mountains backcountry begins. To the south was a mixture of somewhat healthy trees and some that barely survived the fire. To the north by mere yards is destruction.

I shined my flashlight around looking for light painting candidates. Light reflected off trees on the south side of the road. Very little bounced back from the trees on the north side. They were all charred by the fire.

Light painting

I spotted a grove of trees that framed nicely the south side. The bonus was the bright center of the galaxy was visible between the trees. A little light painting with my favorite LED flashlight provided a little character. My go-to setup for this is my Canon EOS R with an adapted Samyang 14mm f/2.8, 25 seconds, at ISO 3200. You can safely argue that this is a touch too long since there are some star trails. I honestly don’t mind so much.

The light painting was done in three sweeps. The final image is a composite of four exposures. One base image for the position of the stars. Three more exposures for the light painting — camera left, right and center.

Milky Way from the Santa Cruz Mountains
The complete composite with Milky Way and light painted trees

I spent some more time looking for compelling views to the north. This perch shows the nearby San Lorenzo Valley below, Santa Cruz at camera right\ and San Jose at camera left. It was worth the stop since I don’t have a lot of vantage points with views to the north nearby.

View of San Jose from Ben Lomond, CA
Night view toward San Jose