Dazzling Photo of the Milky Way Glitters Over Death Valley’s Famous Racetrack Playa

Milky Way at the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley

Photographer Paul Cheyne‘s creative juices start flowing a night. When the sun goes down, he sets out to take photographs in both urban and rural settings. During the pandemic, he became fascinated with astrophotography as he spent his time camping in the deserts of Southern California. It was on one of these excursions that he executed his first successful astrophotography shoot.

The resulting image, taken at the Racetrack Playa in California's Death Valley, shows the photographer staring up at a night sky filled with the Milky Way. The light from his headlamp makes a small pool of light on the ground, while the sky is full of stars. Shooting the foreground and background separately with his Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera, Cheyne then merged the photos in post-production for one seamless shot.

Racetrack Playa is an ideal setting for the photograph due to its isolated location. It can be a challenge to arrive at the scenic dry lake, which is nestled in the Death Valley National Park. But those who do will be rewarded, like Cheyne was, with skies free of light pollution that make it the ideal setting for astrophotography.

For Cheyne, the successful Milky Way shoot has inspired him to delve further into photographing the stars. Recently, he's begun using a star tracker mount, which allows his camera to move along with the Earth's rotation. This will allow him to take longer exposures without having to worry about star trails.

He hopes that his work will encourage others to also go out and explore the night sky. “When looking at my Racetrack Playa photograph, I hope the viewer becomes curious about the universe and how sublime it feels to lie under the stars and wonder about our place in the galaxy,” he tells My Modern Met. “If you ever make it out to the Racetrack Playa be sure to take your shoes off and walk around barefoot, trust me.”

Discover more of Cheyne's work, which covers a wide variety of subjects, on his website.

Paul Cheyne takes incredible photos of the night sky while camping throughout the deserts of Southern California.

Astrophotography in Joshua Tree by Paul Cheyne

Astrophotography by Paul Cheyne

Astrophotography in Panamint Valley by Paul Cheyne

Paul Cheyne: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Paul Cheyne.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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