When you get away from city lights and can look at a clear night sky, it’s remarkable how much is up there. Travis Novitsky takes this experience even further with his photography, showing the amazing detail of stars, the milky way and auroras that shine down on our world every night.
TN: I have been making photographs for over 25 years, specializing in images of Lake Superior and the Minnesota North Woods with a passion for the night sky. A self-taught photographer, my knowledge about photography has come primarily from reading books on the subject and from countless hours of experimentation with the camera. I “got my start”, I guess you could say, early on in high school. My first camera was a very basic point-and-shoot Pentax film camera. After that I graduated to a Minolta X-700 SLR film camera which I used until purchasing my first digital camera in 2001. Since then I have used a variety of camera brands including Olympus, Canon, Nikon and Sony. All have helped me create unforgettable imagery. What’s more important than what camera you use, however, is your way of looking at the world around you. How you interact with that world and how you choose to photograph what is around you.
I have always loved the outdoors and my camera has always been with me whether I’m going for a paddle in a canoe or kayak, taking the motor boat out on Lake Superior, going for a hike or bike ride, or just taking the car to the local store. You never know what you’ll find worth photographing or where you’ll find it. I have also always harbored a deep love of the night sky and all the wonders it provides. My first attempts at photographing the night sky occurred in the early 2000’s with my first digital cameras. Those first attempts reflected not only the limits of the technology at the time but also my limits as a photographer. Over time both camera technology and my skill and experience as a photographer have grown by leaps and bounds. 25 years ago I never could have imagined I’d be able to make the type of images that I’m making today.
A life-long resident of the north shore of Lake Superior, my home overlooks the big lake on the shoreline of Grand Portage Bay. I live within minutes of deep forest along the border country between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. I have pretty easy access to countless lakes and rivers, not to mention some very rugged and dramatic terrain with the highest elevations in Minnesota. For a photographer, it’s a very good place to be. Having lived the majority of my life in this area, I know instinctively the when and the where of how the light will play on the land and water.
The type of photography that I do certainly does come with challenges. Probably the biggest challenge is balancing time for photography with time for sleep, both of which need to occur when I am not working my full-time hours at my “day job”, which is for the Minnesota DNR as Manager of Grand Portage State Park. Thankfully, there are resources available now that help photographers make better use of their time, especially when it comes to night photography. Perhaps the single best resource that works well for me is the website www.spaceweather.com. This site is especially useful for forecasting Aurora Borealis (northern lights) activity. In the “old days”, I used to spend countless nights outdoors hoping (praying) that the lights would appear and I would get photographs of them. More often than not I came home unsuccessful because the lights didn’t appear. With the accuracy that space weather forecasters now have when it comes to aurora forecasting, the nights spent outside can be less frequent but far more productive.
Another challenge that has come up since the advent of digital photography is that the world is now saturated with photos more than it has ever been before. This can make it more difficult for your work to stand out amongst the seemingly infinite number of other photos that are out there. For example, there are more aurora photographers and photos now than I ever thought there would be. This can be a double-edged sword of sorts. On the one hand, I think it’s an amazing and wonderful thing that there are so many people venturing outside now and pursuing these wonders of nature. On the other hand, it makes it a little more difficult to go out and have solitary experiences in some of these places. And experiencing that solitude is something that I think most if not all of us, on some level at least, wish to experience for ourselves. But don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my own experiences of the wonders of the night. I will continue to share those experiences in the hopes that I can influence others to stare up at the night sky with a sense of awe just as I have all these years. Doing so helps us better understand who we are and what our place might be in the universe, and helps us to better appreciate on a day to day basis the beauty that surrounds us.
There is a popular quote which I absolutely love that is widely credited as having come from Vincent Van Gogh:
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream”.
That pretty much sums up my feeling as well.
My photos have been published in various regional and national publications such as Lake Superior magazine, Minnesota Monthly magazine, AAA Living magazine, Oceanography magazine, BioScience magazine and Country Extra magazine. Newspapers my work has been featured in include Outdoor News, Northern Wilds, Duluth News Tribune, Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
My work has been displayed in exhibitions at the following venues:
Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, MN
Johnson Heritage Post in Grand Marais, MN
Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder, MN
Betsy Bowen Gallery in Grand Marais, MN
I have a self-published book titled “The Night Sky: Images and stories from a decade of adventures after dark”, which features my images of the Aurora Borealis, Milky Way Galaxy, Lightning and Moonlight. Ordering information can be found on my website.
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