The Truth about “Heaven’s Trail”, the Infamous Photo That Captured the Imagination of Millions

Heaven’s Trail is a breathtaking photograph that went viral almost the moment it was published online a couple of years ago. Like most good things on the internet, the original source was soon lost; no one had any idea where the picture was clicked, or even if it was real.

One explanation on the internet was: “There’s this place in Ireland where every two years, the stars line up with this trail on June 10th to June 18th. It’s called Heaven’s Trail.” Many thought that the view in the picture was impossible. They assumed that the photographer had taken two completely unrelated shots and merged them together.

Heaven’s Trail was shared extensively on blogs, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. One blogger wrote, “I feel pretty comfortable calling utter bullshit on this.” The photograph itself is pretty spectacular. I can understand why people would be curious to know its origins. The stairs in the picture lead up to pretty much nowhere. At the horizon there’s a surreal, heavenly light illuminating a man who appears to be running into the stars.

Heavens-Trail

Heaven’s Trail – Photo: Thomas Zimmer

A whole year’s worth of speculation was finally put to rest when the original photographer, Thomas Zimmer, posted on his blog, explaining how and where he clicked the photograph.“Since my initial upload one year ago, this photo has got more than 1.6 million hits,” he wrote on September 8th, 2012. He then revealed the “shocking truth” behind the picture.

It turns out that Heaven’s Trail wasn’t the name he chose for the breathtaking photograph. Instead, he calls it ‘My God, it’s full of Stars’. Zimmer also revealed that the shot was not taken in Ireland, but in Germany – at the west coast of the island of Sylt, North Sea. The whole arrangement of stars was a happy accident, not an event that occurs every two years. Zimmer wrote that he was on the island in November, at sunset. He had taken several great photos until it was dark. There was no moon that night, so he decided to leave the place. The camera batteries were nearly empty, and he was frozen and hungry. So he packed up and started the long walk back to his car.

Milky-Way

The Milky Way – Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons

As Zimmer walked over the dunes in the pitch dark, he took one last look back, and then he witnessed the amazing view. “The Milky Way was right above the stairs,” he wrote. “I almost wanted to give up, but then I made a last effort, and tried a final shot.” The first shot he took looked good, but he felt something was missing. “I tried to light up the stairs with the flashlight,” he said. “Looked better, but not what I wanted. It needed a human being in the image.”

Since no one else was around, Zimmer set up the self-timer and ran up the stairs with the flashlight on. “I did not notice that the shutter opened while I was running with the flashlight on. So the photo had the last stairs illuminated.” He realized his mistake when he returned to his hotel room, but then it looked good, so he let it be.

Zimmer also silenced all those people who thought the photograph wasn’t real. “There is no special Photoshop magic in it,” he explained. “It’s a photo, nothing else. Maybe a good one.” Perhaps all the confusion could have been avoided if Zimmer had explained everything when he first put up the picture?

via Gold Boat


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