NEW ZEALAND’S SOUTH Island crosses 58,000 square miles of magnificent, lush terrain. But nothing on the floor surpasses what is in the sky. The area is home to the biggest dark sky observatory in the world, glittering with countless stars and spectacular views of the Milky Way.
Photographer Paul Wilson resides on South Island and is a fervent star gazer. He spends countless hours traveling to far-flung corners of the island to point his camera in the heavens. “If you get out of any town, you can see the Milky Way here.”
Wilson fell in love with the cosmos (and photography) four decades back, when some astrophotography friends invited him to give it a go. He now makes multiple long-exposure pictures, stitching them together to make one huge photo sometimes over 500 megapixels. Wilson typically shoots between February and November when the nights are longer, cross-referencing light pollution graphs with Google Maps to find the best stargazing spots. It is how he discovered Hickory Bay, about two hours south of Christchurch where he resides. “It is very remote,” he says.
He nabbed this specific shot of the bay on a still, clear night in February. It was about 3:30 am, the tide was going out, and the Milky Way was just starting to rise in the eastern skies. He left 25 20-second exposures–five down and five across–to capture the whole scene. Later, he digitally stitched the photos together from the app Autopano Giga.
The last 113-megapixel photo captures the galaxy shimmering above a tumbling shore and reflected at the dark water. However, for Wilson, the real issue is no less magical. “When you are under the Milky Way you feel really insignificant,” he says. “I’d hate to live somewhere I could not see it.”