If you’ve watched any of my vlogs, you may often wonder ‘how much of this is real?’.
The answer is that pretty much all of it is real. I mean, the ridiculous skits where Michael and I almost come to blows and I try to murder him by peanut are all fantasy. But everything else is simply how it happened.
Having said that, even the more ridiculous skits have an element of truth to them.
How The Story Began
Just like the intro to our very first vlog. I did actually get regular requests to put together a Milky Way course. At that time I’d just started chatting to Michael about doing a collaboration. He was a fan of my vlogs and I’d admired his timelapse photography for years but we’d never actually met before.
I figured Michael would be the perfect partner for a project like this but he was concerned that we might not have that comedic chemistry that’s so evident in all of my videos.
His main worry was that Fototripper fans would hate Michael because he’s not Uncle Grumpy. He didn’t want people to think that he was trying to replace Adam – who quite frankly is irreplaceable.
I had no such worries. I believe there’s enough love to go around and I actually can’t wait for the day when Uncle Grumpy and Michael get to face off in a video to see who comes out on top (stay tuned…. it’s gonna happen).
Truth is, I only had one concern about the whole project…..
Sharing a Room with Michael Shainblum
I confess I am a cantankerous old bastard. There’s a 20 year age gap between Michael and I. That means I’ve had two extra decades to develop my crotchety ways. I snore loudly, pee 4 times a night, MUST have a fan blowing on me at all times while in bed. I probably don’t even need to mention the seismic flatulence.
Michael managed to put up with all of that in stride.
I on the other hand, took umbrage to every little snivel Michael did and woe betide if he stayed up too late with that bloody laptop screen glowing.
Sharing a room with me is inadvisable. It definitely gave us some potent material for hamming up the tension in our skits.
Failed Shoots Are Expensive
With a project like ‘Milky Way Made Easy‘, we both put in a financial investment but a much more sizeable time investment. After two whole days of driving, I’d only just reached our first shooting location.
We figured that Crater Lake was a safe bet for our first shoot but that wasn’t to be. It was like a carnival it was so busy. We’d planned on shooting a lot of b-roll and ‘in-field’ instruction but there were other photographers milling about and we were mindful of becoming a nuisance to everyone else. We also didn’t plan for how windy it would be, making much of our audio recording unusable.
In spite of that, Michael did manage to capture a perfect shot of that ancient old tree looming over the spectacle of crater lake at about 1.30 AM. It was at that point that I realized Michael is at his most hilarious when deliriously tired. I committed that little nugget of info to memory.
The crater lake shot turned out to be perfect material for the ‘Single Exposure’ chapter for the course but we knew we’d need to go somewhere quieter to shoot the other tutorials.
So we headed to the coast.
Fog, Fog and More Fog
When it comes to the Pacific North West coast, many weather forecasts are complete and utter bollocks. I believe those forecasts are simply wishful thinking. As a West coaster, I’ve been lied to more times than I can count when it comes to weather forecasts.
We knew we were taking a risk by heading to the coast but we desperately wanted our course material to have inspiring images, not just boring fields with the Galactic Core dwarfing the landscape. We wanted our earthbound subjects to be just as spectacular as that delicious blanket of stars.
We chose the colossal and timeless sea stacks of the ‘Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor‘ in Southern Oregon as the stage upon which to capture our Nightscapes. This was my first time visiting this location and I was instantly spellbound by such dramatic scenery. I wanted this shot BADLY.
It was not to be.
The forecast was 100% reliable in it’s total unreliability. The clear skies we’d been promised turned into a blanket of fog. No stars for us although we did manage to capture a pretty juicy blue hour shot of the fog rolling over Brookings.
Defeated, we retired to our deluxe flea pit of a motel to catch up on two nights of missed sleep.
I Do My Own Stunts
After the crushing failure of the previous night, we were rather delighted when the next day yielded clear blue skies and a more confident looking forecast. We headed straight back to the sea stacks to film our ‘Gear’ and ‘Camera Settings’ tutorials in the day time and got settled in by sunset to capture images for the ‘Twilight Blend’ tutorial.
I was super excited about this shot and we even had time to film the skit where Michael deliberately gets me to walk into a tree branch. I did actually hurt my head on the third take and got a little cut on my forehead that can be seen in subsequent videos. Like a true professional – I do my own stunts 😉
The rest of the shoot went brilliantly so this was a major victory for me. Not only did I get the shot I’ve been after for years but we got some great material for the course.
This was also the night when Michael had me in stitches over the ‘Velociraptor’ scene we filmed at the very end of the night. I laughed so hard I was in tears and it took more takes to film than any other skit I’ve ever done. If you haven’t yet seen that video it’s one of my all time favourites and I highly recommend it.
Back into the Oven
With our coastal shots in the bag we headed back to the heat of the East with Sparks lake as our destination. Due to a perish air conditioning system, temperatures reached 37 °C (98.6° F for Americans) during the drive. Things got ….. pungent.
On the plus side, we had the luxury of a steak dinner made by none other than Nick Page. With a couple of beers in our bellies it was time to film the ‘outburst’ skit where Michael finally looses his temper over my incessant complaining.
Poor young Andrew Studer didn’t realize what he’d signed up for. At one point I ended up spraying him with beer due to the savage ‘deadpan’ face that Michael delivered during the skit while surprising me with the words ”nose plugs”.
After the dinner time shenanigans it was time to get to work, so Michael and I headed back to the beach at Sparks Lake to setup our tutorial for the ‘Star Trails’ section of the course. We shot for hours and managed to bag a couple of great timelapse scenes and great material for the course.
Nick stayed out to shoot and chat with us till about 2AM but we were stuck out there till 3am to finalize our timelapse sequences. By the time we’d finished we were utterly delirious and Michael had managed to ‘rapidly sit down’ 3 times. I wasn’t fooled.
Michael is NOT a morning person. He rarely rises before noon so Nick Page and I had time to enjoy some morning coffee and film an two interviews entirely.
Once Michael had risen from his ancient slumber, we decided to head to Smith Rock as the forecast was predicting stormy weather. Not ideal for Milky Way photography but we simply couldn’t resist the chance of catching epic clouds over a geological marvel such as Smith Rock.
And Oh Boy did we luck out!
Not only did we get some amazing light on the pinnacles of Smith Rock but the clouds that formed above us were absolutely spellbinding. Both Michael and I really felt like we’d hit the jackpot.
The only problem was, we were here to film tutorials for our Milky Way course and these storm clouds meant we’d see very little in the way of stars.
So we decided to stick around for a second night at Smith Rock.
Ride The Lightening
Even though this was our last day shooting together, we still hadn’t filmed an intro sequence for the whole series of vlogs. I figured, why not start here at Smith Rock?
So we filmed the utterly ridiculous skit where I phone up Michael and invite him to do this project with me. We continue a full phone conversation while coincidentally being sat across from one other at the same picnic table. Completely Ridiculous.
The wind made it challenging and we often had people walking past who would sometimes stop to watch, so we’d have to keep starting again because of the crunching footsteps interrupting the audio.
We filmed my parts first and then we filmed Michaels parts, being careful to always ensure that a part of the table was always visible in the frame for the hard core fans to have something to find. The final scene where we dropped our laptop lids was the only part we filmed together.
In terms of the weather, we couldn’t believe our luck. Storm clouds and lightning were predicted for sunset and then clear skies for 11pm while the Milky Way hit the ideal position. We couldn’t have asked for more – or so we thought.
We began the hot hike up to Misery Ridge. Not all that bad if it had been cooler but it was a scorcher of a day and we were melting by the time we reached the summit.
It was totally worth the hike. The view looking South from Misery Ridge is one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen. Both Michael and I were in total awe and within minutes of our arrival at the top, the sky lit up with a blanket of crimson fire.
That does NOT usually happen the first time I visit a world class location. It felt like our luck was holding strong and after capturing not only some stunning sunset shots but also an amazing moon set with dramatic lightning in the distance – we were floating on a massive photographers high.
We had high hopes for capturing an amazing shot of the Milky Way over Smith Rock.
And then it got dark.
After patiently waiting for the moon to fully set, it quickly dawned on us that the light pollution from Bend was simply too much for us to capture that perfect Milky Way image that we wanted for our course.
We’d been hoping to get creative with some light painting so that we’d have a really strong ‘Light Painting’ section on the course with a big bright Milky Way in the sky. It wasn’t to be. Even though we’d done the research and checked the angles, we hadn’t factored in just how bad the light pollution would be.
But I’m glad we didn’t.
The thing is, had we been able to predict exactly how bad that light pollution was, we’d never have bothered hiking up there. Which means we’d have lost out on that amazing sunset and the even more spectacular moon set.
This dilemma highlights an interesting discussion that Michael and I have in the course. We’ve devoted an entire video to comparing planned shoots to spontaneous shoots called ‘Planning Vs Chance‘ and the results are quite fascinating.
At 2AM we began the hike down from Misery Ridge in total darkness. One of the sketchiest moments of my life occurred just a few minutes after we took a wrong turn in the dark and I almost walked off a cliff into a 400ft drop. There’s a clip right at the end of the video below where I show the drop that was bad enough in daylight but at night was a total pants brimmer.
We Parted Ways
Michael and I said a 3AM goodbye and I immediately hit the road for a 12 hr drive back to Vancouver Island.
The story doesn’t end there but for now I don’t want to spoil some of the goodies that we’ve got coming up.
Let’s just say that the tension between Michael and I heats up the next time we meet as Michael shows up with an upgraded vlogging rig – his very own camera man rocking a RED Epic camera. I don’t take his elevated status all too well………
Thanks so much for reading about the making of this all consuming project. Both Michael and I feel really grateful that so many people are interested in what we create and for all of those who purchased our course ‘Milky Way Made Easy‘ we really do appreciate your support. It helps us to keep creating content that hopefully inspires and entertains you while we sneak in a bit of learning too.
Gavin Hardcastle – Fototripper