Each time I photograph a night sky, I’m awestruck by the staggering magnitude of the universe with its billions of galaxies, and creating Celestial Arch was no different of an experience. For people who are like me and passionate about admiring our Milky Way, I strive to create images that not only showcase the starry sky but also the natural land formations, especially with natural heritage sites.

I wanted to capture the arch of the Milky Way with a natural land bridge so that they would exemplify the symmetry that can be found throughout nature. My search for the right location and the right time of year led me to Pont d’Arc in the Ardèche department of France on a summer night. Geologists believe the arch was formed as the Ardèche River broke through a narrow escarpment. This 60-meter (196 feet) tall natural bridge is the gateway to the majestic Ardèche Canyon, which is about 30 km (18 miles) long. Once a passage to cross the river, the site is currently one of France’s most famous natural heritage sites.

This particular spot at Pont d’Arc not only gave me the composition for which I was looking but also had the bonus of the tranquil river in the foreground, creating an alluring reflection of the arch and emphasizing the grandeur of the landscape. That night I was also lucky enough to have a beautiful wooden boat docked in just the right place, adding to the sense of scale and depth of the overall image.

I decided to light paint the landscape to accentuate the features of the natural land bridge. Five of the 172 images I captured with my Fujifilm GFX 100 on that clear night were used to light paint the arch. 160 of the images were used to create a relatively noise-free night sky with beautiful pinpoint stars and a dark violet background, and the remainder were used to bring up the details in the shadows of the foreground.

A benefit of creating a VAST image of the night sky with a more than full-frame camera is the additional faint stars that are recorded. When you see Celestial Arch at its full resolution you are immersed in the vastness of space and begin to appreciate the bountiful stars. When you look closely you start to see all the faint stars that don’t show up in a regular photograph.

This image was nominated as a finalist for the 14th Annual (2020) International Color Awards in the Nature Category.