24th May 2011
Taken from the surface of the Earth using a digital camera, these beautiful images show the Milky Way in all its awe-inspiring glory.
Created by up-and-coming photographer Bret Webster, they are all the more remarkable because he has been taking pictures for only three years.
But since one of them – called Balanced – appeared in National Geographic magazine, his life has taken a new direction.
Though his photos of our galaxy look more like something that would be captured by sophisticated equipment aboard the Hubble Space Telescope, Mr Webster takes them using the simple digital camera his wife gave him and a tripod.
An autumn evening over a collection of hoodoos in Goblin Valley National Park in Green River, Utah. Haze in the air adds colour to the Milky Way near the horizon
Using the night skies of the national parks of his home state of Utah in the United States as his canvas, Mr Webster has created stunning images that highlight the relative insignificance of the Earth in the cosmos.
‘I feel a deep affinity for the Utah desert and I have always been in awe when visiting the Arches National Park and Canyon Lands,’said the 51-year-old, who has worked for 27 years as a rocket engineer and solid-fuel propellant specialist for US defence firm Northrop Grumman.
He said his new career took off when he borrowed his wife’s ‘new Nikon camera three years ago and having been a return visitor to the national parks of Utah I know where some of the best spots are’.
‘For me,’ he added: ‘the pictures that bring (together) the ancient American native rock paintings and the Milky Way are the most powerful.’
Our galaxy: The Milky Way, again seen through a close-set pair of natural arches in Arches National Park
Some of the paintings that inspire him are believed to have been created by an ancient people called the Western Archaic Culture up to 8,000 years ago.
‘In my pictures, I like to make it clear that the view when these paintings were made would have been similar 8,000 years before, and will be similar 8,000 years hence.
‘Our existence is just part of this huge Milky Way.
Now working with a Canon 5D MK2 on a tripod pointed at the sky and using a 30-60 second exposure, his images rely on the quality of the camera equipment.
‘Digital cameras have become so advanced that it is now possible to take these pictures from the surface of the Earth and use their sensors to capture thousands of stars in the night sky.
‘Southern Utah is one of the darkest parts of the United States and the camera amplifies the light available from the Milky Way.
Spectacular: The Milky Way rises above the Landscape Arch on a cold November night after a storm
Stunning shots: Mr Webster used special illumination and the Milky Way galaxy to create his vision of an alien landscape at Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah (left). The beautiful Milky Way provides the background for Native American art on a rock (right)
‘I use very wide and very fast lenses, sometimes even a 15mm fisheye, which helps capture the full Milky Way with 180-degree panorama.
He adds that he enjoys the natural elements that remind him of the passage of geologic time and tries to bring this out in his pictures.
‘I see the universe at work all around in the canyons. The erosion of the rocks, the wind that blows through the canyons, and the wildlife that roam the plains.’
‘I am just trying to capture a little piece of the story.’
As he has to shoot in temperatures of -12C and hike for hours to elevations of 6,000ft or more to take his pictures, his passion for photography is evident.
‘I know where all the secret spots are to capture the beauty of the Milky Way at night. To see our place in the scheme of things is what makes my spine tingle when I take these pictures.’ he said.
The Holy Ghost Panel rock painting in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in San Juan, Utah, photographed with the Milky Way in the background