I belong to places like this. There are a few roads, but they wind invitingly through the mountains. They beg for you to go just a little bit farther, just a little bit higher, because they know what is around the corner and they know you need to experience it. Flowers abound in an array of color that you would not dare imagine. They bob their head in the breeze like lazy dancers on a hot summer day. If the flora are rich and thick, the fauna are wild and free. From the tiny Voles that help aerate the soil to the Great Grey Owls that hunt them from the air or from the Mule Deer graze in the meadows to the Grizzly Bears that dominate the food chain, this is a truly wild place. There are vast meadows lined with stately Fir Trees. There are rocky precipices and ponds which reflect the grand landscape better than any mirror. There are dense forests protecting unseen wildlife and there are windswept alpine ridges where stunted flowers take shelter behind the rocks.

During the day, the whole mountain range is alive with wildlife and plants doing what they must to continue the existence of their species. Forget-Me-Nots sway in the breeze, Bee’s zoom about, Moose browse the willows, Beavers inspect their handiwork, and Birds sing a melody fitting for such a glorious place. It is good to sit for a spell and just absorb the tranquility.

Now, I am usually an “early to bed, early to rise” sort of a guy, but when you’re up here, you feel compelled to stay up to watch the stars come out. As the last shades of sunset fade to black, the stars begin appearing on the stage of night. It is a show that you do not want to miss. On top of the mountains, there is no such thing as a bad seat. Tonight would be a grand show indeed as galaxies, planets, and a phenomena known as airglow would be headlining the show. It is exciting to stand in the dark and wonder what creatures may be watching you. Up here it could be just about any animal that calls Montana home. As lightning flashed far to my north and the sliver of the crescent Moon ducked behind the storm clouds, I began to capture the images needed for this panorama. While the camera certainly enhances what is there, I could see this scene with my unaided eyes. I didn’t even need a flashlight to see around me, although I did admittedly shine a light around occasionally to make sure that I would not become someone’s midnight snack!

Wild places, be they at sea level on a rocky California coastline or high above tree line in the Montana Rockies, make me happy. A place where every living thing has a purpose and is permitted to carry out that function. A place where the stars are as visible as the flowers and I can take the time to admire them both. A place where I can witness the Sun greeting the morning with its glorious rays and watch it sink below the horizon on the other side of the sky. Ahhhh, wilderness, a place where I belong.

Specific Feedback Requested

This is probably my favorite of all the images I have captured. Airglow is a phenomena that I had seen in other’s photos but not seen with my own camera until this night. I need to learn how to do composites and do a longer exposure at lower ISO for the foreground and then merge that with the sky. I’ve done multiple passes with the brush tool in Lightroom Classic CC to reduce noise in the foreground. I tried Topaz Denoise but it seemed to freak out at a file this large. The tiff file of this image is 2.9 GB! I had this printed at 20x60 and he edited it a little darker. It looks a little more realistic, but I kind of like being able to see more details in the foreground. I’d be interested in hearing what you all think of lighter vs darker night sky images.

Technical Details

Is this a composite: No
Nikon D850, Sigma Art 20 mm 1.4
ISO 6400, f/2.8, 10 seconds
7 image pano, each image is 10 lights and 30 darks stacked in Starry Landscape Stacker and processed in Lightroom Classic CC


Totally wild. Looks like a completely different planet. The colors are wonderful and the noise looks pretty well controlled. The only thing I see here that seems a little out of place is the light halo at the base of the blue mountains in the far background and the mountains on the far right. That a very small element in the the overall image though, and I didn’t see it until I looked at the larger version. I’m not sure what the “airglow” is, though, so maybe this halo is that. Not sure.

Thanks Tony, the airglow is the green bands in the sky. The halo is an artifact from lightening the shadows with the brush tool. It seems really pronounced in this version…I dont think its that bad at full resolution. I can see I need to enlarge and rework that area though! I appreciate the comments!

Sweet looking image, Paul! The processing sure does sound like a lot of work, but I have to say the end result is flat out gorgeous. I can certainly see why this might be your favorite image and I love the narrative that goes with it. No suggestions from me other than what @Tony_Kuyper already mentioned. This had to be wonderful to witness first hand.

Great detail in the sky clarity in the scene. The air glow is amazing!

Is the green colour cast in the foreground from the airglow?

Thanks Nathan. The green color cast in the foreground is probably more from me trying to get the color right than from the airglow. July is the height of Spring at this elevation (over 9000’) and I was attempting to get that accurate. If you look closely at the full res version, you can even see areas of purple from flowers. The road is definitely not that greenish color though! There are some minerals in the ground there that give the soil a more yellow tint. This is why I want to learn how to do a blend of a longer exposure of the foreground with the stacked sky.