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RSW Living Magazine

Capturing the Dark: An unadulterated night sky reveals the Milky Way in all its glory

Jan 24, 2021 12:03PM ● By Capt. Brian Holaway

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

 —Vincent van Gogh

Over the years, I have had the privilege of guiding many photographers from all over the world to some of my favorite locations in Southwest Florida. One of these experiences turned out to be, by far, the most off-the-grid, out-in-the-wild photo shoot I’ve ever been a part of.  

I received a call from Fort Myers photographer Rob Hoovis, who with a couple of friends wanted to shoot photos all night and get picked up in the morning. This is not something I would normally do on my guided boat trips—dropping people off at night and retrieving them the next day.  

“Where are you going to be shooting?” I asked. Hoovis said he had permission to shoot photos at night from one of the historic fish houses in Pine Island Sound.”  

My reply, “I’ll do it if I can stay on my boat all night.”  

“Hell, yeah!” said Hoovis.

So, on a clear October night I took Hoovis and his photographer friends by boat to their destination. As the sun set on the historic fish house and the day became night, they walked their camera gear through the muck to a nearby oyster bar. For those of you who aren’t familiar with oyster bars, they are jagged, sharp and one of the most uneven surfaces you can try to walk on. They set up their tripods and cameras on the oyster bar to prepare for the Milky Way to appear in the dark night sky. Shooting stars began to fall from the sky, and shouts could be heard across the water—“Shooter!” Then another and another shooting star shot across the sky as the night wore on. The photographers were wild with excitement for this opportunity to photograph all night.  

The clock said it was closer to morning than evening, and the tide was rising all night. The water rose over the bottom part of the tripod legs. The photographers sang out, “Water is knee deep and rising!” The images of the night sky and the Milk Way showing up on their camera screens were amazing—the historic fish house in the foreground, the lines of my boat by the mangroves and the Milky Way overhead. The scene felt like we had stepped back 100 years into the silence of the dark night.

According to an international group of scientists who published an atlas of artificial night sky brightness in 2016, light pollution prevents nearly 80 percent of people in North America from seeing the Milky Way in the night sky. Lucky for us, parts of Southwest Florida still allow for stargazing that is unadulterated by too much light.

Sometimes, the stars just align. This trip opened my eyes to a whole other world—the one right above my head, the night sky. 

To check out Rob Hoovis’ work, follow him on Instagram (hoovisyo) or see his work online at Old Sparky Productions (

Capt. Brian Holaway is a Florida master naturalist and has been a Southwest Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His boat charters visit the islands of Pine Island Sound, including Cayo Costa State Park, Cabbage Key, Pine Island and North Captiva.