Lightning in the clouds behind Bakersfield, California

Mt Pinos and Bakersfield, California

Camera: Nikon D800
Lenses: Nikon 24mm 1.4G, Nikon 70-200 2.8G
Location: Mt. Pinos, California

Over the years the words “Mt. Pinos” have come up on an almost regular basis, whether it was referenced as a place to play in the snow during the winter or as one of the best vantage points for star gazing in Southern California.  Located near Frazier Park, California, it isn’t exactly the most convenient place to travel to hoping that something might be worth photographing.  At nearly 8,900 feet above sea level, it offers one of the most potentially clear skies in Southern California, second only to perhaps San Gorgonio Mountain, which is more than 150 miles east and significantly less accessible (and significantly less picturesque).

Lightning in the clouds behind Bakersfield, California

Taken from Mount Pinos (near Frazier Park, California), lightning illuminates the clouds behind Bakersfield, California.

When I recently acquired my Nikon D800 and (amazing) 24mm 1.4G lens one of the first things on my docket was to shoot the milky way.  I have seen so many stunning images of the cloud of stars I wanted to have a go at it and see if I could produce something of my own!  I met up with fellow photographer Khris Griffis (Google+) in Santa Clarita, California at about 9:15pm, stopping by Starbucks and Whole Foods (it is prototypical suburbia) to load up on snacks for the long night.  We arrived at the parking lot in Mt Pinos around 10:00pm and looked around for any clue as to where we should shoot.  On Google Maps I saw a trail that led up from the parking lot, which we eventually found in person, that would lead us to the summit — thankfully on this practice run the moon was nearly full and we didn’t need our flashlights for the majority of the hike (even though we still used them — aren’t bears and mountain lions scared of flashlights?).

The Milky Way as seen from Mount Pinos, California

The Milky Way as seen from Mt Pinos (near Frazier Park, CA) with an almost full moon in the sky!

We had no idea how far up we needed to go and eventually decided on a cleaning near the top of the mountain; as it turns out we were only about 200 yards from the actual summit but Khris brought every piece of gear he could, upwards of 50lbs, and hiking in skate shoes!  It turned out he wasn’t completely insane, however, as he did get some spectacular images between his three digital Nikons and a medium format Yashica TLR (haven’t seen the film yet but the digital test exposures were pretty solid).

Towards the end of the night (around 3am), as Khris was shooting some digital timelapses and long exposure film, I sat looking across the San Joaquin Valley and started to notice some lightning in the clouds behind Bakersfield.  Nothing was touching the ground, and we couldn’t hear the thunder, but the lighting was coming regularly and created this incredible Blade Runner-esque scene.  I quickly asked to use Khris’s 70-200 zoom and started shooting away using the D800’s built-in intervalometer (producing this little 6 second timelapse in the end).

In the end I captured the image you see at the top of this story.  This scouting trip was a resounding success and will lead me directly back to this peak the night of August 17th, when the next new moon will leave the sky completely empty and ready for some amazing images!

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