North Tahoe landscape photographer explores the interstellar world
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Long after the sun has set and the night has given way to an inky, star-studded sky, Phil Mosby sees the world in photographic wonderment.
The Truckee-born, North Tahoe-bred local was captivated by the vast depth and strangeness of the universe at an early age, but it wasn’t until the last five years that he started to hone in on the night sky.
“You find yourself arranging your schedule around the moon, tracking what time it will rise and set, knowing when it’s the brightest, and when the sky will be the darkest,” the web-developer-by-day, landscape-photographer-by-night said.
When the high-altitude air is clear and the moon is barely visible, Mosby will set an alarm for 3 a.m. and crawl out of bed to chase the starry sky with a camera and tripod in tow.
“To shoot a landscape photo that includes the Milky Way, you can only have the tiniest sliver of moon, or no moon at all,” Mosby said. “There are times when the moon doesn’t rise until the early morning, and those are the nights when you get the most vibrant sky.”
DARK NIGHT RISES
Perched on a pier at the edge of Lake Tahoe, Mosby looked out at the sweep of blue water that has colored most of his life’s memories, and described his introduction into classic film photography while attending North Tahoe High, where he dabbled in the dark room and excelled at exercises in light exposure.
“Photography was the one thing that made school bearable for me, but right around the end of high school, my camera was stolen at a party and I kind of let the interest go for a while,” Mosby said.
Nearly a decade passed before Mosby picked up a professional camera again, and the obsession clicked back in immediately.
“If there are two things you can learn online, it’s web development and photography, so at this point, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a degree in either one in order to pursue them,” Mosby said. “Plus, photographers — for the most part — are geeks who love to talk about technology so they freely give that sort of information out, and I’ve learned to pick up tidbits here and there, especially with the nighttime stuff.”
SHOOT FOR THE STARS
By focusing on these pieces of information, Mosby was able to master his craft in capturing the layers of the solar system blanketing the Tahoe Basin.
“I love to look at every detail in a photo,” said Mosby, a smile leaping off his face. “It makes me wonder about this amazing world that we live in, especially the world we can’t see with the naked eye, and that’s what I hope my photos do for people, too.”
Sure, the bighearted, easygoing 33-year-old has shot scores of landscapes aglow in sunlight, but it’s photographing the star-raddled sky and the dusty ring of the Milky Way that mesmerizes Mosby with its improbability and other-worldliness.
“I love to do daytime shooting, too; those are the golden hours where the moments are fleeting and the colors are vibrant, more special than any other time of day,” Mosby said with a glint in his eye.
There’s perhaps a boyish-nature about Mosby’s enthusiasm for astronomy, yet his knowledge and vernacular never cease to indicate the level of intelligence he modestly possesses.
In fact, Mosby’s approach with nighttime photography is considerably scientific, in that he doesn’t just point his camera and take a shot in the dark; rather, he uses a star tracker – a moveable axis that mounts to his tripod and aligns with the North Star, allowing for longer exposures, in which the camera continuously calibrates to the movement of the stars.
“Star trails are cool, but I want to shoot super-crisp star dots,” Mosby said, “Without a star tracker, you can’t really achieve those results because the earth is moving and that’s going to produce star trails.”
FOCUS ON INNOVATION
Some of Mosby’s photos have received as many as 2 million views on Reddit, a user-generated online hodgepodge of ideas and information.
“I think the reason some photos become popular is that so many people have been to Tahoe and they have this memory in their soul of how wonderful it is here, and a picture is able to bring back the spark of that memory,” said Mosby.
On Wednesday, April 22, Mosby will be rolling out a new kind of image — one that combines his passion for nighttime photography with his propensity for astronomy by incorporating constellation maps in his photographs using Photoshop.
“This is what I want to do with my life and – much like every landscape photographer – my idea is to become self-sustaining by taking cool photos and giving them an educational element,” Mosby said.
It’s an innovative form of photography that he has yet to see duplicated elsewhere, and for Mosby, there’s no time like the present to pursue this astronomical dream.
“People do all kinds of crazy things to try to get to a point where they can live out their dreams in a place that’s as beautiful as Tahoe,” Mosby said. “But time is the only real commodity we have, so you can’t wait for that day to come, the time is now.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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