The Milky Way Descends between Factory Butte and the Henry Mountains

Over various trips to Utah I have passed by the dominate feature known as Factory Butte whether when driving down highway 95 or along highway 24.  Its grandeur makes it an impressive feature and one that I have desired to photograph for a very long time.  This motivation was reinforced by the drone video that plays on my AppleTV devices.  This kept my interest active.  So, as my good fortune would have it, an opportunity presented itself and this is the shot I was able to take after reconning the butte.  In my planning I turned to Photographer’s Trail Notes and noted there were two blog posts at this location.  By the way, this is a pretty good site to reference, if you haven’t.  There I found a post titled Hear Comes the Sun and another titled Factory Butte.  I researched other internet postings to gain inspiration and did a search on flickr.  

So when I hit the road to head to Utah, my trip time table suggested that I would arrive at this location late in the day, meaning the situation was prime to first photograph Moon Overlook.  But that meant that I could do a bit of reconning for the factory butte shot as I drove along Factory Butte Road.  So when I turned off of Highway 24, I turned on my Gaia GPS to place waypoints of locations that I thought might be a potential shot that I wanted to take.  

As shown in the attached GPS plot map, as I drove to Moon Overlook point, I marked three shot locations as shown on the above map.  The next morning after getting my Moon Overlook shot, I went back to Factory Butte Road and headed North looking for shooting options.  There were two waypoints that I didn’t tag with a camera icon and there was one a little further Northward that was promising.  However, it wasn’t till I got further Northward into the Muddy Creek Wilderness area that I found the shot that I want to take, which is the one shown at the top of plot.  What I saw when I turned around to head South and link back up with Highway 24 to make my trip to Pleasant Grove that I started seeing that I could get a nice diagonal of Factory Butte on the right side of the frame with the Henry Mountains in the background.  This particular location would put me a little over 4 miles from the Factory Butte as shown below.  This interesting aspect of this shot was that even though I was that far away it framed out with a focal length of 55mm.

When I started seeing the potential of the location, I began looking for a foreground feature.   As I looked, I noticed several rises in the terrain that had various patterns of flat stones that potentially offered an interesting foreground feature.  After checking out several potential features, I found the below feature that offered a nice positioning to suggest some leading lines to Bull Mountain, which is the Eastern peak seen on the left behind that spire that rises above the midground left of Factory Butte.  Then I noticed how the tallest stack of flat rocks in the foreground leads your eye to the tallest peaks of the Henry Mountains especially Mount Ellen that is 11,522 in elevation.  And as I looked up from the foreground rocks I saw how nearest flat rocks and some others that were close by led you eye to Factory Butte .  So the next task was to check PhotoPills for Milky Ways alignment.  Using this foreground feature I saw the Factory Butte in the upper right thirds with the flat stones creating a nice focal line to Factory Butte that drew the attention to grey soil that dominates the base of the butte.  I also noticed the large triple layer  flat stone lead your eye to the Henry Mountains, whose peaks followed along the  top third horizontal line when framed in a landscape mode.  I also noticed that the highest spire in the East front range of the butte was pointing upward at Bull Mountain on the Eastern part of the Henry Mountains.  I also liked how the road led back to the Henry Mountains.  

So the next step was to layout the shot in PhotoPills.  As luck would have it, I quickly saw that the Milky Way would be descending on the South top of Factory Butte placing the galactic center above the Henry Mountains just before 4 AM.  It looked really cool in Night AR, but I failed to do a screenshot.  As it later became a realization after I returned, this wasn’t the only moment that I failed to take a screenshot.

I did remember to launch Adobe Capture and run the Colors module to get the color theme at this proposed shooting location, which is the iPhone screen shot below.   Of course I knew that the color theme would be different from the daytime color theme shown in that screenshot.  The daytime color theme drew attention to the browns in the foreground.  At night the colors would be darker and more saturated with the browns become more subdue and the blues be more dominate as shown in the after processed image dropped into the Adobe Color website.

For this shot, it was a composite of Milky Way taken using my Ziess 18mm that I blended with my blue hour shot of the mountains and factory butte.  The Milky Way shot was taken at 4:22 AM.  To get the shot I took 11 dark images and two light images that was blended into together in Starry Landscape Stacker that  built this composite image.  Exposure settings for all those images was 1.6 sec at f/2.8 with an ISO 12800.  After  stacking the images in Starry Landscape Stacker the image was denoised using Topaz DeNoise AI and then cleaned up and toned in both Photoshop and Lightroom.  Most of this was to remove a few light trails from non-star objections like planes and satellites.

The landscape shot was taken early during blue hour in manual mode in landscape orientation using the sittings shown in the EXIF table.  In post processing it was determined to change frame format to square to provide more of the milky way over what was initially planned for in the landscape format.  

Shooting the Milky Way with an 18mm lens and the Factory Butte at a 55mm focal length make this a focal length blend.  The technique used would be similar to the one presented in the Digital Camera World web article, How to blend photos taken at different focal lengths for balanced compositions by

Picture Info
April 14, 2024
6:19 AM
Sony ILCE-7RM5
FE 24-240 mm
58 mm
30 sec
No Flash
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