Cargo Ship Officer Captures Stunning Shots of the Milky Way in the Middle of the Ocean

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

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By day, Santiago Olay works as a deck officer on a large cargo ship. But by night, he explores his passion for photography by taking incredible images of the sky. Combatting vibrations and movement, Olay has perfected a setup that allows him to come away with beautiful photos of the Milky Way.

The Spaniard cultivated an interest in photography from a young age thanks to his father, a true Renaissance man who was an engineer by trade but dabbled in many fields. After switching to digital photography several years ago, Olay purchased a Nikon D750, which now accompanies him as he voyages through the sea. Out in the open water, he often points his lens toward the night sky and the stars.

Though Olay's images are truly spectacular, capturing this type of long-exposure astrophotography on the water is no simple task. “The hardest part of shooting this kind of long exposures is that you have to deal with the movements inherent to the ship and the vibrations produced by the propulsion system,” the skilled photographer shares with My Modern Met. “To deal with this there are only a few things that you can do. You have to wait for
the appropriate weather conditions, adjust the shutter speed depending on the residual movements of the ship and sky conditions, and shoot as many pictures as possible.”

To help minimize movements, Olay holds the camera with one hand while it's mounted on a tripod. This allows him to dampen the vibrations while still giving flexibility in the composition of the photographs. Though he could also accomplish this by forgoing the tripod and pressing the camera against a solid surface, he notes that the ship's design limits the positions of these surfaces and so his composition choices would be quite limited.

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

Olay is also restricted to certain areas of the boat on night shoots, for safety reasons. “We are on a dangerous cargo ship so I can only use the camera from a non-hazardous area,” he explains, “which is designated by means of a specific Hazardous Area Plan, and even then I use a portable gas detector just to stay on the safe side.”

What Olay is able to come away with, given his limitations, is incredible. And while he began taking these photographs to send to friends and family, he's seen the positive reaction they've gained and this has caused him to show more to the public. Now that he's begun posting regularly to Instagram, he's also seen a beautiful connection between his work and his hobby.

“I like the idea of people knowing a little bit more about us seafarers and our life on board, as we are also an important link on the supply chain,” Olay shares. “Our profession is often less known and always subject to old myths, legends, and stereotypes, which are very far from life on board nowadays. Once they see the pictures, many people are curious and will ask questions about our life on board and things of that sort, and I try to answer and explain them as nicely as possible. Their response is always very nice and kind, so my satisfaction is twofold, as they will enjoy my pictures but I also like the interaction.”

The positive feedback has also driven Olay to continue his on-board photography and push his skills, so we're sure to continue to see dazzling photos in his Instagram feed.

Santiago Olay works on a cargo ship by day; and by night, he explores his passion for photography.

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

His beautiful photos of the Milky Way are an incredible feat considering the movements of the boat.

Astrophotography on a Ship

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

Milky Way from a Cargo Ship by Santiago Olay

Milky Way Galaxy

Santiago Olay: Instagram | Twitter

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Santiago Olay.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor 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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