Labyrinth. (Brad Goldpaint)
You may not know the name Brad Goldpaint, but there's a good chance you've seen his work. His stunning time-lapse video of clouds and stars sweeping over a glowing lake went viral last year, racking up more than half a million plays while getting rave reviews from sites like Wired.com.
Goldpaint, 31, specializes in the art of landscape astrophotography, meaning images that combine the night sky and the terrestrial world. It's a pursuit that often leads him into the Oregon wilderness. Over the years, Goldpaint has come back with breathtaking shots that evoke a wild, luminous, star-filled world that city dwellers rarely encounter.
SKYE recently caught up with Goldpaint, who's based in Bend, Ore., to ask him about his craft.
SKYE: What led you to this kind of photography?
Shortly after my mother passed away, I decided to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010. I wanted to find an escape from the concrete jungle and rediscover myself and grieve. There, high above city light pollution, I rediscovered the night sky. I hiked the PCT for six months, and each night I spent a few hours watching stars dance above me from my tent. When I returned from the trip, I wanted to give others the chance to experience that magic like I did. That's when I started experimenting with landscape astrophotography.
What's the secret to taking long-exposure night-sky photos like these?
A lot of it has to do with patience and knowing your gear. Sometimes I prepare for a single shot for a long time -- how I want to take it and how it's going to be produced. Sometimes it takes me a year to get there and complete it. It depends on what the Milky Way is doing, what orientation the landscape is facing, and how can I mesh the landscape and night sky together. And here in the Northwest, you don't get a lot of clear days. Weather is a huge factor. Sixty or 70 percent of the time I don't come back with anything because it's cloudy or humid.
Do you have to hike into the wilderness to get these photos? Or can you set up a tripod next to your car?
I wish it was that easy. (Laughs.) There's a lot of hiking involved in getting these pictures. Here in the Cascades, we get a lot of snow throughout the year. I like to snowshoe in early in the year, in May or June, so I don't have a lot of interference from other people's flashlights. And I like the solitude and peacefulness.
Take, for instance, the photo of Crater Lake with the bright meteor. That was taken in April during the Lyrids meteor shower. Crater Lake gets sometimes 30 feet of snow throughout the year. To get that shot, I snowshoed in about four miles. I had about 40 pounds of equipment on me, from camping gear to photo equipment. I started snowshoeing at 1 p.m. It was slushy and a brutal walk. It took me about three hours to hike four miles. I set up camp and relaxed. Then once the sun dipped past the horizon and stars began to come out, I just got energized. I was on the edge of the rim. For safety purposes, because there are big snow banks there, I roped myself to a tree. That way, in case a snowbank were to give way, I wouldn't fall 1,100 feet into the lake.
Then I inched my way to the ledge and set up my tripod and that night I was shooting time-lapse. I was capturing constant images. I saw the rising Milky Way from the east and perfect conditions. That night I took roughly 600 images. Each frame was 35 seconds of exposure.
So you're up all night shooting? How do you stay awake?
When the night sky is out I just get amped. There are so many things, from satellites to meteors, that intrigue me about it. I'm not a big coffee drinker until morning. Usually in the morning on the drive home, the adrenaline has worn off, the sun is out. Then I need caffeine to keep me going.
So much of this is related to my mother, too. When I see the night sky I think about her and feel closer to her and relate to her.
You usually go out for a night at a time?
Yeah. Typically, I go out in one night because I have a job to get back to. I have my business teaching workshops and selling fine-art prints through my website. That's been taking a lot of time, plus I have a full-time job as an architectural designer.
What is it about a long-exposure photos that captures peoples' imagination?
Because technology has come so far in such a short amount of time, photographers can go out and capture things that the human eye can't even detect. Another factor is that people are so disconnected from the night sky. When I'm out there, I see the Milky Way stretch from one horizon to the other.
Do you have a favorite among these photos we've published?
I really like the one with the lit juniper tree on the left side and the Milky Way and Crater Lake. You're seeing Wizard Island at Crater Lake. The photo has three different elements. One being the landscape. It's really hard to beat the composition of Crater Lake. It's so powerful. I'm always trying to put some sort of earthy element into my images and having that ancient juniper tree framing the image was a great addition. It's difficult to bring out the texture, but using a technique called light painting, you can bring out those details and colors. That time of year it was a perfect time for the Milky Way. Having the night sky balanced over the two elements made for a great composition, I thought.
Are there other places where you hope to photograph?
One of my main goals is to get to Iceland, just to experience that surreal landscape of auroras, night skies, gorgeous mountain ranges, waterfalls. You name it, they got it.
PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 of Brad Goldpaint's Photos of Earth and Starry Night Skies