Chasing Milky-Way in Georgia

Chasing Milky-Way in Georgia

Chasing Milky Way in Georgia


Capturing the glorious arches of our Milky way galaxy has always been my favorite journey. They say you have to walk through the darkness of the world to be able to see even the sliver of the light. And that is true in the realm of astro photography. I have wandered – more often at night than during the day – in search of the light, in the quest of the perfect landscape entwined with the dazzling beauty of the Milky Way. I have put together some of the places in Georgia, away from the light pollution of bright city lights; where you can gaze up on the stars and swing with the dazzling hue of celestial lights.

Life never goes according to plan

For starters, it is important to be aware of the weather conditions before heading out. And if you are planning on photographing the Milky Way, please pay attention to the sky cover, as it’s not worth trying when the sky cover is more than 30%. I recommend checking the hourly forecasts on weather.gov or Clear sky Chart. I do most of the location planning on photo-pills which tells me the direction and the visibility of the Milky Way galactic core. And of course my Google Calendar is synced with lunar phases and astronomical events which allows me to plan for the shoot much in advance. You don’t necessarily have to pick a New Moon day. Moonlight is sometimes almost as detrimental to a shoot as city light pollution but it depends on the time it rises and sets. And sometimes Moonlight can also be a great source of ambient light for your landscape. But definitely avoid a Full Moon day.

Dark site finder

Here’s a map of light pollution which tells you how far the light spreads and how far you have to be to get to the dark skies. But in reality, the Milky Way is not visible to one third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and 80% of North Americans. At least that’s what this Global atlas of light pollution study shows.

On the road

Brasstown Bald

Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. The sheer beauty of the night sky views here are just incredible. 4,783 ft above sea level and you are standing closer to the stars. Brasstown Bald is very popular spot for star gazing in North Georgia and the observatory’s location on top of the mountain exemplifies it as one of the best night sky views in south-eastern United States. The hike up to the observatory tower is steep but not difficult. On a moonless night, with clear dark skies, there is no better place to be on Earth than Brasstown Bald, where you lie down on the wooden deck watching stars and constellations.

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 6400.
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Nikon D810. Nikkor 24mm-70mm at 24mm; exposure 15 sec; f/3.5; ISO 8000.

Moccasin Creek

I captured the first ever graceful arc of the Milky Way Galaxy here at Moccasin Creek State Park. Come early March, the heart of the Milky Way reflects on Lake Burton turning the night into heavenly wonders. The park is closed after 10pm, but you could stand on one of the public boat ramps facing the lake next to the parking lot. It’s a two hour drive up north from Atlanta and you still see a bit of light pollution.

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 20 sec; f/2.8; ISO 12800.  Panorama stitch 5 vertical images. Formatt Hitech Grad ND 0.9 Filter.

Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park is located at the base of Blood Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest. The serene lake – as black as night – reflecting thousands of glittering stars ensures magic happens by the lake when the Milky Way comes swinging by. I wouldn’t recommend this place for deep sky astro photography, but if you want to get creative, there’s a spot opposite to the visitor center on Lake Trahlyta Dam close to Falls bottom trail head where you can get great views of the Milky Way. (34.769729, -83.917194)

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 15mm; exposure 15 sec;f/2.8 for Milky-way and f/5.0 for the moon; ISO 4000.
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Nikon D750. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 15mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 6400.

Fort Mountain

Fort Mountain State Park is one of the most scenic places in Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. Driving up north on the serpentine mountain roads at dark is always thrilling. Stand on the edge of the road and enjoy the most spectacular views of our Galaxy with trees shuddering in the crisp mountain winds, and the sky blazing with billions of stars. Fort Mountain is located between Chatsworth and Ellijay. Overlook is on Highway 52 in Murray County just before the Fort Mountain Park road. (34.754328, -84.689208).

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 6400.
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Nikon D750. Nikkor 24mm-70mm at 24mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 3200.

Popcorn Overlook

The look-see at Popcorn Overlook offers great views of the north and is also considered one of the best spots for star gazing in North Georgia. The view of the Milky Way galactic core is obscured as it is facing north, but it also means this place is free from any light pollution (if any) from Atlanta. A perfect setting for deep sky astro photography. I witnessed the great Geminid Meteor Shower also called the “King of Meteor Showers” from this overlook. The night was moist and the mountains struggled to shed the snow they had received the past week. A faint band of the Milky Way was seen hanging in the northern sky as the debris from Phaethon started to lit up the sky. I was entranced. The night I will always remember was one where the sky was full of falling stars.

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Nikon D810, 14 mm; Exposure f2.8 13sec at ISO 8000.
18 images stacked in Nebulosity4 for Milky Way and overlayed more or less 40 images of the Meteor shower in Photoshop with stacked image as the base image.

Nottely Dam

I am not sure about the views of the Milky Way from this spot, but I am pretty sure that it is a dark site with incredible views of the night sky in Union County Georgia. I shot my first ever photograph of the M42-Orion Nebula from here. Located in Chattahoochee National Frest, Nottely is the southeastern edge of the Tennessee River. There is a small parking lot, actually not a parking lot, but just a fine spot on the side of Nottely Dam road. It is facing south east and I bet it would be a great spot for Milky Way as well.

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Tybee Island

Tybee Island in Savannah Georgia is a popular place to watch the sunrise in coastal South Georgia. And it is also famous for incredible views of the night sky near the oceanfront. A near infinite expanse of water, the vast endless universe with a trillion stars and a bright shining Milky Way lane at the end of the ocean; is something to experience once-in-a-lifetime. This is Georgia’s shoreline facing the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the lights coming from the distant ships and Tybee Island pier, the light pollution is very low to aid sea turtles with nesting. The southern part of the island facing the little Tybee Island is incredibly dark on a moonless night.

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.  Panorama stitch 5 vertical images.

St Simon Island

There are plenty of dark sites along the stretch of the east beach from St. Simon Island Lighthouse Museum to the far east access 41, which I believe is the last public access point. The west side of the beach is facing Jekyl Island and the light from the Lighthouse Museum will be blow out any chances of seeing the Milky Way on the south-east direction. Any access point along the oceanside of the east beach with little or no street light, is an excellent standing point for photographing the Milky Way as it serenades across the night sky with rolling waves and twinkling stars.

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 24mm-70mm at 24mm; exposure 8sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.

Boyle Murder Lake

Hmm…a name that’s scary, right? But the views here are to kill for! With the gorgeous views of the night sky, under the thousand stars, it is just a heavenly place on Earth. This is an hour’s drive south of Atlanta towards Augusta. It is such a surreal feeling to sit by the lake at night counting stars. I don’t know why this lake is called Boyle Murder Lake, but it certainly is more prettier than its name. Located on the south side of the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Jasper County (33.455961, -83.729338), it has a parking lot before the Dam with incredible views of the night sky from the boat ramp or the wooden deck next to it.

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.
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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.

Carters Lake

My numerous attempts at finding the perfect spot to capture the Milky Way – with its reflection on the lake – has never been successful yet. I still wander and may discover something new in the coming season. Nevertheless, I did come across the boat ramp near Carters Lake Marina and Resort where the sight of the Milky Way is not to be missed. 34.607073, -84.657092

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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.
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Nikon D810. Nikkor 14mm-24mm at 14mm; exposure 15 sec; f/2.8; ISO 8000.

I hope to explore more in the coming Milky Way season. I am obsessed with it and the cosmic beauty of the night sky, which makes me believe that Heaven is a place on Earth. Subscribe to my blog updates by signing up on the email service down below.

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Written By on February 10th, 2018 in Photography

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