After 30 hours of planning, travel, shooting, and post-production, acclaimed astrophotographer Mihail Minkov came away with the photo he was looking for. The stunning 360-degree panorama, The Eyes of the Universe, shows two double Milky Way arches that are only possible to photograph during a specific time of year. In Minkov's photo, we can see both the winter and summer Milky Way arches in all their glory, rising over a lake in the mountains of Bulgaria.
Minkov had been dreaming up taking such a photo for months and was inspired by the idea of seeing the arches side by side. While this is technically impossible, Minkov waited on location in order to photograph them four hours apart and then, in post-production, blended both arches together for the finished project. Though that may not seem the same as capturing them in camera side-by-side, even being able to see them one right after the other is quite rare.
“This is a panorama that is extremely difficult to capture for a number of reasons,” Minkov tells My Modern Met. “It can be done only in one month during the year, and this month is March because the two arches should be at the exact degrees, not too high above the horizon, so it’s possible to be captured with a camera, and both arches should have the same degrees, so they look equal when I put them close to each other. The other very important thing is to have a clear sky and good weather conditions around the new moon, which I was extremely lucky with.”
Using a program called Stellarium, Minkov began studying the phases of the moon in order to determine the best time to photograph the arches. He then needed to settle on a location without obstructions or light pollution in order to make his vision of a 360-degree panorama a reality. He ended up traveling three hours to the Bulgarian town of Shiroka Polyana, where a reservoir lake high up in the mountains gave him everything he was looking for.
After shooting the foreground, Minkov first captured the winter Milky Way arch during the evening. He then rested for several hours before having the opportunity to photograph the summer Milky Way arch before dawn. Satisfied with what he shot, he then traveled home and spent six hours in post-production perfecting the image.
The final result is a breathtaking panorama that not only includes the two Milky Way arches, but several other celestial bodies and constellations. Orion, the Dark Horse Nebula, Mars, and the Pleiades are just some of what's also visible for those with a keen eye and love for astronomy.
For Minkov, the entire process was well worth it, and he hopes that others will find as much joy in the image as he did in creating it.
“Astrophotography makes visible what is invisible to the eye and reveals the beauty of the starry sky,” he muses. “The peace and seclusion that the night affords me as I shoot make me feel intoxicated by the beauty and mystery of the glowing stars and planets overhead, but also humbled and grateful; it’s like a meditation for me.
“It turns out that many people have never seen the Milky Way with their own eyes, which is infinitely sad. Standing under the Milky Way Arch on a warm summer night, surrounded by the sounds of crickets and the scent of lavender, is an experience that is hard to describe or forget.”