Photographer captures once-in-a-lifetime shot of Comet Neowise, the aurora borealis, and Milky Way

The Canadian Rockies have always offered breathtaking sights, but take this dramatic mountain setting and pair it with a rare comet that won’t be visible for another 6,800 years and you’ve got the recipe for an awe-inspiring photo opportunity – one that photographers only dream of.

For an Australian mechanical engineer turned award-winning travel and landscape photographer, this dream became a reality in July 2020.

Comet Neowise, the aurora borealis, and the milky way as seen from a ridge in the Canadian Rockies.

Howling winds atop Tent Ridge on this summer evening did not deter Stanley Aryanto from capturing a trifecta of awe-inspiring natural beauty.

“The wind was so intense that we felt like we were going to get knocked over. We had to take shelter on the other side of the mountain and we were there until 3 or 4 a.m. The camera didn’t stop clicking.”

In fact, Aryanto captured more than 2,000 photos that night – and his efforts paid off tenfold. He has achieved copious awards from the photographs and videos produced that night, including Astrofest 2021 Best Timelapse, the Silver and Bronze Award for International Landscape Photography of the Year by Better Photography Magazine in 2020, and Australia’s Top Emerging Photographer in 2021.

When Aryanto quit his successful career in 2018 to pursue his passion for photography full-time, little did he know he was going to capture a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event within only 18 months. He calls the journey to capture unique moments in life, The Wicked Hunt, and this was one he’ll never forget.

A close-up of Comet Neowise

He recalls this night vividly. He had been living in Lake Louise for a year and a half and when he learned about the pending comet’s arrival, he knew it was a rare and one-of-a-kind photo opportunity that he wasn’t going to miss. While cloud cover obscured all chances of spotting Comet Neowise at the beginning of the night, the weather forecast indicated clear skies around midnight.

At sunset, with an 18-kilogram backpack full of camera equipment slung over his shoulders, Aryanto set out with a friend to climb steep, rocky terrain for three hours to Tent Ridge. This is the gear he took:

The beginning of Aryanto’s “Wicked Hunt” for a unique perspective began with a beautiful sunset.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a photographer is to get out there even when conditions aren’t ideal and have an open mind,” said Aryanto. “I took a chance because heck, it’s not every day a comet is visible to the naked eye. I knew this was my chance.”

But this wasn’t the first time Aryanto had attempted to photograph Comet Neowise. He had one failed attempt earlier that week but that only made him more driven to materialize his wish of capturing a unique photo.

“When we got to the ridge, I set up one of my cameras for a time-lapse. The sunset was beautiful and there were just a few scattered clouds,” he said.

As darkness fell, a faint green band became visible on the horizon.

As the evening evolved, Comet Neowise and the aurora borealis were in view, and this became a “Wicked Hunt” to remember.

“The sun was still out so it was only faint but that’s when I was like, ‘Holy crap. I’m going to have the best night of my life on top of this mountain.’ What I saw was incredible and one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.”

Aryanto said he couldn’t believe his eyes. “This is hands down the most rewarding all-nighter I’ve ever pulled – and I’ve pulled a few all-nighters in my time.”

Aryanto claims it was a combination of things that allowed him to capture this unique moment.

“If I hadn’t decided to quit my career and pursue photography full-time, I would have never witnessed this spectacle.”

When it comes to photography, he stresses the importance of balancing science and art. “The most precious asset in photography is our vision and our perspectives. You can have top-of-the-line gear but without understanding how to use it and having an eye for photography, you’re hooped.”

When Stanley left his engineering career, his mission was to experience and capture unseen perspectives of the world with the hopes of inspiring and helping others pursue their dream life.

“Photography has brought me hope, purpose, and happiness. It has trained me to have a more positive mindset and has taught me to appreciate the beauty in any setting.”

Aryanto says his most rewarding work is inspiring other photographers to develop the same love and appreciation for photography he has. Classes and mentorship are offered through his company, The Wicked Hunt Photography, where he also sells copies of the many images he’s taken around the world.
To see more of Aryanto’s work, visit his Print Gallery and @thewickedhunt.

About the Author

Based in the Canadian Rockies, Kim Logan is a storyteller, mountain runner, and incurable optimist who’s forever exploring and growing with the flow. You can follow Kim’s adventures on Instagram and on Vimeo.