Summit County photographer Daniel McVey specializes in shooting the night sky. His work has been featured across Colorado and beyond — read on for a Q&A highlighting McVey’s journey from hobbyist to professional; and click on the photos below to see a slideshow with some of his spectacular night sky images.
When did you first get interested in astronomy?
When I was a child growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a teacher once said that, “There are so many stars in the sky, you can NOT count them all.” Not knowing much about the night sky outside of my own youthful experience, I was willing to take that challenge. To me, there were only the brightest constellations and a lot of dead space.
As a child I was fascinated by astronomy and space travel — so much so, that upon graduating from the fifth grade, the elementary school gave me a science award. In high school, I took a few black-and-white photography courses, where I learned composition and manual settings of a camera, but I lost much of this information over time.
What reignited your passion for night-sky photography?
I moved to Colorado about 12 years ago. The first night I arrived was moonless, and I almost couldn’t find my way into the house where I was staying once the headlights of the car were turned off. I stared up into the sky and saw the glorious Milky Way with my own eyes, and it moved me.
At this same time, I had bought my first digital camera, which was an point-and-shoot. I began renewing my interest in photography and taking photos at a feverish rate. After about four years of this, I drove out to the summit of Boreas Pass to watch my first Colorado meteor shower. I so badly wanted to be able to record the show that I was witnessing — as well as other events such as the mountains under full moon light — I decided that it was time to buy a DSLR and re-learn how to shoot manually.
When did a real understanding of the stars and night sky come into play?
When we moved to Silver Shekel, I became more interested in the astronomy aspect, as opposed to simply photographing at night. With a gorgeous western view of the Ten Mile Range, I began to make simple observations of the cycles of the sun leading to and from the solstice, cycles of the moon, and the motion of the heavens. I was learning to read the sky as a calendar and noticed that if you pay attention, you will be able to predict events to come.
How did you make the transition from hobbyist to professional?
At this point, I thought that maybe I could do something with my photos outside of sharing them with friends and family. I enrolled in Colorado Mountain College (CMC) classes in Breckenridge because I wanted to learn how to prepare my images for print, so I took a Photoshop 1 class taught by Marie Orlin. With the skills acquired in this class I have been able to design and print several calendars, business cards, postcards, and all the graphic work on my website. This was an invaluable class to me in pursuit of my dream of being a photographer.
At the same time I took the Photoshop class, I also enrolled in an astronomy class at CMC taught by G. Siegried Kutter, a former NASA physicist. I really thought that maybe we would learn about constellations and some other things but never did I realize the path he would take us down would be so detailed and helpful in my understanding of how the universe worked. My passion for astronomy was renewed, and I began to attempt to constantly quench my thirst.
Where can people see your work?
It’s now been about eight years since I first shot the night sky. My photos can be seen on the internet at Earthsky.org, Space.com, Scientificamerican.com, Stellareyes.com and more. They have been utilized by local businesses and publications such as Mtn Town Magazine, Petal and Bean, Summit Daily News, Summit Mountain Weddings, and Summit County Citizens Voice.
In person, my photos can be seen at the Denver Photo Art Gallery at 833 Santa Fe Drive in the Denver Art District.
I am excited to announce a one-month only exhibit at the Breckenridge Theatre Art Gallery / Backstage Theatre at 121 S. Ridge St. (Across from Fatty’s) for my first show here in my home of Summit County.
[See below for details of the Breckenridge Theatre opening July 13 and the Youth Presentation July 15.]
Learn more about Daniel and his upcoming shows at DanielMcVey.com.