Star trek: Shooting stars in the Russian sky

Russian photographer and travel aficionado Oleg Gurov is a real star hunter. His journeys across Russia have produced a stellar collection of photographs and stories associated with them. “I often find myself going alone to some far-flung place in the dead of night. As I’m stumbling through the bushes holding a lamp, I sometimes ask myself if it’s worth it. I don’t know what keeps me going. Probably just doggedness and a never-say-die attitude. I won’t give up. It might be scary but the more challenging the route, the better the experience.”

In summer 2015 some friends and I went traveling in northern Russia. We charted the route in advance. Arriving in Kargopol, we were sure we’d spend the night there. But our friend decided to surprise us by inviting us to her home in the small village of Lyadiny (Gavrilovskaya) 50 kilometers from Kargopol. We sat down to dinner with our hostess, Nadezhda Fyodorovna, and her family, and listened to stories about the region and the people who inhabit these parts. That was when I discovered there’s almost no lighting in the village, and everything was surrounded by forest. I knew immediately I wouldn’t be sleeping that night.

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Photo by OLEG GUROV

For contrast, here are some “southern” stars shot in the Caucasus, in the valley of the Tsitse River. This deep gloomy gorge, hemmed in by steep slopes, has no trails at all, either animal or human. We had to go along the river bed, crisscrossing from bank to bank. We stopped in a relatively flat area of the canyon. I decided to take a night timelapse as the Milky Way “floated” above the steep-cliffed gorge. The camera had to be set up right in the middle of the river bed. I put a glass-heating system on the lens to prevent mist from condensing on it and ruining everything.

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Photo by OLEG GUROV

I took this shot in the Caucasus. My friends and I crossed the Guam Gorge on foot, and in the morning I left the group because I wanted to get here to the Eagle Cliffs. Since I didn’t know the precise location of the trail, I knew I had to get my bearings “by azimuth,” as explorers say, from one of the glades on the outskirts of the village. Twilight wasn’t long in coming. The moon shone for a while before disappearing over the horizon. On the moonlit part of the cliff, somewhere to the right, a bird was squawking all night. Eagle Cliffs, so perhaps it was an eagle. My gas lamp was clearly upset about it.

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Photo by OLEG GUROV

A friend told me about the little-known Lake Khyzhi here in the Caucasus, about an hour from Tuapse by bus. When I was setting up the camera, somehow the sky completely darkened and stars began to appear. It was easier to find the North Star and combine it with the tip of a tree. When the camera started rolling, I calmly pitched tent and climbed into my sleeping bag. Continuous shooting is controlled with a special remote for the camera, which can be used to program the required number of frames: this picture is composed of 909 photos taken that night.

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Photo by OLEG GUROV

It was the second day of my trip to Elbrus. Trekking up the steep slope through the snow with a heavy backpack for 9 hours on end was very hard, even with stops. But come the evening, we were in for a superb view of Lake Syltrankel, a wonderful dinner, and dry sleeping bags. On the trail you appreciate basic everyday things. Before going to bed, I decided to take a walk with a flashlight around the vicinity of the camp and do some filming. On the left of the shot there’s a storm cloud. Literally 15 minutes later the heavens opened.

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Photo by OLEG GUROV

After an acclimatizing trip to the Lentsa Cliffs, we had a day’s rest ahead of us. The evening was wonderful. I decided to take a stroll around the camp. The northern “shelter” (tourist term) on the slope of Mount Elbrus is a vast area formed out of a chaotic heap of stones brought by God knows what and when, maybe a glacier or lava flows from the eastern crater of Elbrus. I wanted to capture all this lunar splendor on camera.

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 Photo by OLEG GUROV

Camel Hill is located on the right bank of the Volga River in the Samarskaya Luka national park. The nearest villages are reachable from Samara by boat. The name comes from the unusual twin-peaked shape resembling a camel’s hump. Climbers use it for training. There were trekkers passing by all night, so I couldn’t leave the camera out. The bright blue of the sky is the result of the 3am dawn. It’s barely discernible to the naked eye, but over long exposures the camera matrix picks up far more light than the human eye.

Photo vy OLEG GUROVPhoto by OLEG GUROV

There in the village of Tornovoe in the Samara region I was struck by this abandoned Moskvitch. One photo squeezes in 820 frames. The night was clear, almost cloudless, so the stars are nicely visible. The breaks in the lines of stars are from a couple of motorbikes riding past, and some shots were overexposed and had to be discarded.

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