Jake and Jo Scott-Gardner, aka South of Home, capture the beautiful nights of New Zealand in fascinating photographs. This couple of astrophotographers, based in Queenstown, spent the winter photographing the sky, capturing the Milky Way, shooting stars, meteors, auroras australis and thousands of stars. You can discover all their photos on their Facebook page.
We Spent Winter In New Zealand Photographing The Incredible Night Sky
We are Jake and Jo – astrophotographers based in Queenstown, NZ who spent this last Winter photographing the night sky in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful locations. We are passionate about shooting the stars and often stay out till dawn in freezing temperatures to make the most of a clear night.
On our adventures we have managed to capture meteors, the Aurora Australis, zodiacal light, air glow, satellites, shooting stars and of course the milky way. We are constantly trying to find new locations and planning our next adventure – we never thought that we could become obsessed with chasing the stars!
~ Jake Scott-Gardner
And you should read stories behind the every photo.
The Aurora Australis in all it’s glory. Last night was the first night we saw the Southern Lights and what an unforgettable experience it was. These lights have a habit of disappearing just as quickly as they appear but last night the bands of light seemed to dance across the sky for hours.
The majestic Milford Sound! When you see this place in person you understand why they call it the eighth wonder of the world! This photo was taken near sandfly point and you can probably guess where the name comes from. There is nothing better than watching the first light of the day wash over the imposing Mitre Peak! The best way to see the sound is by boat so hop on a cruise with Real Journeys and prepare to be amazed!
Moonrise over the Richardson Range! This shot was actually unplanned. We had just finished a delicious lunch at the amazing Kinloch Lodge and headed down the road to catch the sunset by Lake Wakatipu. That’s when we saw the moon slowly rising to our right just as the last light of the day was washing over the peaks. We quickly ran into position and managed to get this shot just before the light disappeared. Sometimes the best moments are the one’s you don’t plan for!
Milky Way in the Matukituki Valley. There are a lot of back country roads throughout NZ that lead to some pretty breathtaking places and this road into the Mt. Aspiring National Park is one of our favourites! This photo is a shout out to the Queenstown Lakes District Council who maintain our back country roads so we can access NZ’s most amazing locations all year round. Keep it up guys! P.s thanks for parking the grader in perfect position, right under the milky way!
Star trails at Moke Lake! We setup and waited in the cold for a few hours to be able to put this together, totally worth it in the end! We had a lot of delays because our lens kept freezing, definitely not a problem we ever encountered back home in Australia. This is over 100 shots at 30 sec and f2.8, ISO 3200 @ 14mm.
Glenorchy Jetty! We have been wanting to shoot here for a while and we finally got the right conditions the other night to get this selfie of both of us. Getting to see places like this is exactly why we moved to New Zealand back in March and it was the best decision we ever made. This photo perfectly represents the journey we have had together since we decided to pack up our lives and move overseas. We had to take a risk and step into the unknown …and we haven’t looked back.
Milky Way from Coronet Peak! This was taken when we had that last burst of aurora activity at a little after 5 am, you can make out a very faint glow on the southern horizon if you look closely. We saw this pretty cool little rock while we were walking around and thought it would make for a nice composition with the Milky Way about to set in the West. It was pretty awkward to sit on so Jake is sitting at a strange angle haha. 10 shot panorama, 30 secs, ISO 8000, f/2.8 @14mm.
Throwback to our road trip around New Zealand! This was taken at the awesome Purakaunui falls in the Catlins. Can’t tell you how many times we slipped on the rocks trying to get into this position but it was worth it for the this view of the falls. We loved our time in the Catlins, it was a really rugged and wild place with some pretty amazing scenes and wildlife. We definitely want to head back and explore more of the area. This was 1 frame @35mm, f/16 for 90 seconds using the little stopper
Queenstown time fade from sunset to moonrise! This week we decided to head up the Skyline Queenstown to take some photos of the incredible views looking over Queenstown. We have seen many amazing photos taken from this spot so we wanted to try and do something different. That’s when we came up with the idea of creating a time fade from sunset to moonrise blended into the one photo. Having never done this before, we really underestimated how hard this is to do! In total we took 15 x 21 shot panoramas @35mm from 4:30 – 8:30PM. When we tried to blend each time of the afternoon into the one image we discovered the issue of colour banding. Apparently this is unavoidable when creating images like this – so we had to crop down the sky to get rid of the areas that were affected most. We would have liked to include more sky but at this stage we are just happy to be able to put it together for our first attempt. Although it was time-consuming, it was a rewarding feeling to be able to achieve what we originally set out to do.
Southern lights at Moke Lake! This was another shot we took back on the 8th of July which we have finally got round to posting. After receiving the alert from the Aurora Service – Australis on our mobile, we quickly drove out to the lake front to see the beams of light. We may have left the lake a little early though – right after we got home the aurora hit a Kp of over 5 so we missed the best of it! We didn’t worry about it too much though, just getting the chance to see and shoot the aurora at all is enough for us :) We also caught the headlights of another aurora chaser on the way to the lake but luckily it didn’t effect the scene too much. 1 frame, 30 sec, ISO 8000, f/2.8 24mm.
Gimme shelter! We took this photo on the weekend on our epic adventure to our favourite place in NZ – Mt. Cook. We trekked out to this spot around midnight in the below 0 temperature, walking through snow and ice on the Hooker Valley track. It is always difficult trying to find new and interesting compositions in this area as it is photographed so often. We always loved this hut with the path leading in and Mt. Cook in the background and thought it would look great with the milky way rising above! The hut was pretty bland in the dark so we placed our headlamp on one of the rafters inside to light it up and make the scene look more inviting. By the end of the night our bags had frozen and we were completely wrecked from getting no sleep two nights in a row. We would do it all again though – there’s no better way to experience Mt Cook than under the stars! 40 shot panorama (cropped)
Tasman Valley Milky Way! Here is another photo from our Mt. Cook adventure – this was taken on our way back from the Tasman Glacier. We loved the look of the green mossy foreground contrasting with the rocks, snowy mountains and the milky way arching above. The moss makes the landscape look like we are on another planet! We put Jake in the foreground standing on one of the rocks with our head torch to provide a focal point. Shortly after he discovered just how comfy the mossy ground is to nap on :P This was originally a 360 panorama but we decided to crop it in slightly. It took around an hour to shoot and 133 photos in total. The file came out massive – 16 metres on the long side and 1251 megapixels!
Galactic View! The Crown Range is quickly becoming one of our favourite spots to shoot the Milky Way, there are countless areas to explore and find new and interesting compositions. We had seen this area of the mountain a few times before and thought it would look awesome with one of us on top, looking out into the centre of our galaxy. We worked out what time the core would be in the right position and headed back there when the condi
So we are still going through all our photos from Mt. Cook! This is the last panorama that we took in the Hooker Valley on our way back from photographing the hut. It was around 3AM and we were completely wrecked having spent both nights out in the cold taking heaps of photos. The milky way was starting to set so we needed to get the shot before it went behind the mountains. We are pretty stoked that we didn’t have to do any noise reduction on the foreground – in fact we had to darken it slightly because it came out too bright! Think we have finally figured out the right settings & lens combination for our set-up! We had such an awesome time out at Mt. Cook and there is so many more photos we want to get out there so we will be back! The landscape is just so amazing and unique – it’s a photographers dream
We thought this would be a good time to share a recent pano we got out at Skippers road in Queenstown! For anyone who has never heard of Skippers, you enter the road about half way up to Coronet Peak. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world (especially at 1AM)! It is really narrow and muddy with big drops down to the bottom of the canyon. The landscape out there is really rugged and you can find so many awesome photo spots. We pulled up at one of the stopping bays and hiked out to this ridge running through the middle of the canyon that looks back towards the road. We originally looked at this spot for a sunset but saw that the milky way sits perfectly above the mountains so we came back for a late night adventure. Hope you like it!
Snowy Range! On our adventure out to the Crown Range, we hiked up one of the mountains from the side of the road and took a big panorama from the top. It took about an hour and a half to hike through knee deep snow to get up there. Feeling like legends for making it that far, we soon came to the sad realisation that there wasn’t a lot in the foreground since we were so high up (only a lot of snow!). There was so much going on in the sky that night though – air glow, shooting stars, zodiacal light (we think?), a vivid milky way and Magellanic clouds. Although we couldn’t get the best foreground, we knew we still had the capture the incredible sky that we were witnessing. We were reminded of how important it is to plan your compositions out during the day – otherwise you will spend hours hiking in the dark for a composition that you’re not 100% satisfied with. Ah well.. at least it means more late night adventures to the crown range so we can eventually nail this shot!
This was definitely one of our favourite nights of shooting astro – we had great conditions, colourful night sky and we were at a magical location in Mt Cook National Park! Having trekked out to this spot in the afternoon, we found that the milky way rises right above the mountains, ice bergs and glacier! We were extremely excited to come back at dark to capture this image which we were envisioning. We wanted to have lots of ice bergs in the foreground so we had to do some climbing across the boulders on the side of the lake. There was some wind around so the ice bergs kept crashing into each other – luckily we had lots of overlap for each photo so they didn’t come out all blurry! We are happy with how the foreground came out quite bright so that we could get some detail out of the ice bergs and mountains. Being able to photograph landscapes like this under the night sky is exactly why we moved to New Zealand
Sooo, we went back to Mt.Cook again! We knew the cloud was set to clear after dark so we couldn’t resist the temptation to get the Milky Way over Mt.Cook and the Hooker Glacier. We were hoping to get a lot of icebergs at the shore of the lake and luckily for us the whole thing had basically frozen over which made us feel like we had travelled to another planet instead of 3 hours from Queenstown. This is a shot we have been wanting for a long time and all of the conditions came together so we could finally get this shot in the bag!
Well here is a location that has never been done before…said no one ever :p It would be interesting to see the first photo ever taken here, I bet he or she had no idea how popular this spot would become over the years. We went out the other night to try and hunt down some clear skies, the satellites were saying that Wanaka was looking good so we set off for Mt. Aspiring National Park but the forecast was wrong (shocking I know) and there was cloud coming in from everywhere. The only area that was clear enough to get a little bit of Milky Way action was, I’m sorry to say, the good old Wanaka tree. We still had a cracking night even though we didn’t come away with too much, just being out adventuring is always fun and at least the Milky Way was in a cool position. This is just a single frame from the 14mm, you can really see the drop in quality between this photo and the 35mm used for the Mt.Cook photos. I have to say though it was nice to be able to quickly take a few frames between clouds instead of a huge panorama for a change.
So we made a quick trip to Mars…I mean Clay Cliffs last week for some astro action! Just a fun fact for all you science buffs out there, apparently the cliffs are made of layers of gravel and silt deposited by rivers flowing from glaciers existing 1 to 2 million years ago. In other words…this place is EPIC! We were half expecting to run into Matt Damon filming the Martian 2! We really wanted to show off these incredible cliffs so we opted for a 360 panorama, which, after including all of the additional frames we needed so we could focus stack, came to a solid 101 shots.
WHAT A NIGHT!! We thought we would go on a spontaneous mission down to the Waipapa Lighthouse last night to get some astro at the coast instead of the mountains for a change. What a call that turned out to be (We are patting ourselves on the back as we write this :p) because the aurora was going off BIG TIME! It looked so good to the naked eye that we almost forgot to take photos because we were too busy staring at it. When we finished drooling we managed to get a lot of cool shots including this pano from in front of the lighthouse. We met a whole bunch of aurora chaser’s from Invercargill and we all had a cracking time enjoying the show.This was one of those nights where everything went our way. Totally worth the 6 hour round trip drive
Waipapa Aurora! Here is another shot from a different angle of the Southern Lights behind Waipapa lighthouse. It gives you a better idea of how big the aurora actually got that night! Having only been in New Zealand for several months, we’ve only seen the Southern Lights a handful of times but this was by far the best show that we have witnessed..
Have to thank my mate Christian for showing us this epic waterfall on the Mt. Crichton loop track just off Queenstown-Glenorchy road. We were pretty blown away by how good this hidden gem really is. We thought about walking the plank while we were there but we were having a hard enough time trying not to fall on the wet rocks so we chickened out in the end.
It has been a while since we have been to Mt. Cook and we have started to get some pretty serious cravings to get back there! This is another composition we got while we were there on our quick adventure a little while ago and we got lucky to get a good amount of airglow in there. This national park is still one of the best places we have been to shoot astro, I know most people go for a quick day trip but we definitely recommend seeing it after dark on a clear night with little to no moon. The night sky out there is guaranteed to blow you away!
There’s nothing like kicking back under the stars with good friends and a fire! We went on an adventure a while back with Christian and Christianne to the dart river to shoot some astro and chill out by the fire. There was a lot going on in the sky that night, the moon was starting to rise, we were getting some zodiacal light behind the mountains and we had a few patches of air glow which created a strange mix of colours. Couldn’t resist getting that cliche shot of us around the fire under the milky way.
Here is a single shot from our quick Glenorchy road trip with Christian and Christianne back in late 2016. The shot is pretty average but kicking back under the stars with friends and a fire made for an awesome night! You can see that the moon is starting to rise in this image from the light that is hitting the mountains and how the sky is starting to turn quite blue. Ideally, we shoul..
Looks like I’m casually exploring Mars instead of the Clay Cliffs in this shot. Jo grabbed this one of me last year while I was in the middle of shooting a pano at this epic spot. We didn’t think much of it at the time but after looking back over it we really liked the scale of the shot so we thought we would share it. It’s just a single shot at ISO8000, f/3.5 for 25 seconds with the trusty Samyang 14mm.
Rocky Mountain Summit in Wanaka! We have previously posted this image as a VR but thought it also looks pretty sweet as a flat image too! It looks a lot like a composite because the foreground is so bright, but it was all taken during the same time of night with no moon. It’s always surprising how much detail you can pick up using ISO 8000 at F/1.4!
Good old Tasman Glacier, we have big plans for this area during the MW season this year so we cant wait to get back there. This shot was from one of our trips earlier in 2016, the icebergs weren’t very close to the shore so we missed out on getting them right in front with the MW down the middle of the frame. This was a pretty big panorama made up of 71 shots that we cropped right down in the end. This was all taken at the same time of night with no moon and doesn’t involve any blending.
This was taken yesterday afternoon down at Kinloch, it is actually an epic place on the way out to the start of the greenstone track. If you are ever around the Queenstown-Glenorchy area it is definitely worth a look.
A big vertical panorama from the Crown Range! You have to click through to see the full image
A Sea Lion kicking back on a vast and empty beach down in the Catlins! We had come across a lot of fur seals before but never a sea lion, it is hard to tell from the photo but this guy is HUGE! It was a great moment for us to be able to get a few shots and watch him as the sun went down
Plenty of mood at the Glenorchy willows! This spot is definitely nothing new but it is still pretty awesome to shoot when you don’t really have a plan in place. We went for a slightly different edit than we did on instagram, experimenting with the hues of the trees a little more.