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In the wild: Finding the bright stars in the night sky
Photo courtesy of Anthony Sleiman

In the wild: Finding the bright stars in the night sky

From photographing comets to capturing the Milky Way in pictures, staff member Anthony Sleiman '18 takes us behind the scenes of his nighttime photography. To celebrate Nature Photography Day on June 15, this week we're featuring Panthers who share the beauty of nature with us all.

June 12, 2024 at 9:55am

Nature Photography Day is June 15. To celebrate, FIU News sat down with just a few of the Panthers who love wildlife so much that they're using photography to share the wonders of the natural world with everyone.

In this piece, we feature senior communications manager and alumnus Anthony Sleiman '18, who is also a photographer passionate about capturing the beauty of the Milky Way, stars and comets in nighttime landscapes. Tune into FIU News this week to read the entire series, spotlighting various Panther photographers and the stories behind some of their favorite photos. Nature Photography Day is designated by the North American Nature Photography Association and is meant to promote an appreciation of nature photography and the role photography plays in helping people learn about wildlife. 

Anthony Sleiman '18 lived among the clouds. Literally. 

In his hometown in Venezuela, Sleiman grew up in a mountainous region enveloped by clouds. After moving to Miami to earn his business administration and international business and marketing degrees at FIU, Sleiman was left yearning to experience nature in his new home, too. He found his way to the Everglades.

“The Everglades changed my life,” he says. After visiting the Everglades for the first time and capturing his first photo of the stars there, he became inspired to explore what many considered a “scary place” under the light of the stars. He also decided to use his photography to educate Miamians to go out to their backyards to stargaze and protect Florida's last dark skies — areas that restrict or reduce man-made light sources or maintain naturally dark night skies. By using long exposure photography techniques, Sleiman captures the beauty of the stars and planets in his photos.

By day Sleiman is a senior communications manager at the FIU Institute of Environment, part of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. By night, he is a recognized photographer who leads workshops in the Everglades, teaching people how to capture the magic of the place through pictures.

Sleiman's work is currently on display in the gallery at the Flamingo Visitor Center of the Everglades National Park. He spends many of his nights (all the way until sunrise) — whether at home in Florida or across the country — photographing wildlife and landscapes against the glowing backdrop of the Milky Way, planets and stars.

“I focus on night photography,” he says. “It taught me not to be afraid of the dark, to be patient, to be curious. It taught me that there are things in the dark that we can’t see, but they are amazing, just like stars.”

Here are some of his favorite photos — and the stories behind them.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Sleiman

Looking into the galaxy 

Sleiman captured a panoramic view of the Milky Way galaxy's core arching over the cypress forest of Big Cypress National Preserve, one of only two places in Florida recognized as an international dark sky location by Dark Sky International.

"This type of Milky Way arch panorama is only possible during certain months of the year due to the Earth's rotation," Sleiman explains. He adds that what appears to be green highlights in the photo is called airglow. Airglow is a faint emission of light in Earth's atmosphere resulting from various processes such as solar radiation and chemical reactions. It contributes to the night sky's perpetual glow, enriching the nocturnal scenery.

Sleiman says capturing photos like this one is a surreal experience. 

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world,” he says. “When it’s just me with the mosquitoes and my camera and the stars... It’s magical. That’s the only word to describe it. Magical.”

Once-in-a-lifetime comet

Some things only happen once every 6,800 years or so. Comet Neowise is one of them. In 2020, Sleiman photographed the comet streaking over the Everglades. It wasn’t easy to capture history. 

It took me two weeks to photograph the comet,” he says. “Every night at 3 a.m., I would drive to the Everglades to see the comet, only to find one single cloud in the sky covering it. I told my wife, ‘If I don’t see the comet this time, that’s it, I am done with photography.’”

That night, the comet changed its position. Sleiman saw it clearly.

“I had to get into the water, hike a quarter of a mile and wait for the light of the sun to leave,” he says. “It was one of the most incredible experiences. It was just me and the comet. You could see it with the naked eye. I looked down, and the Milky Way galaxy was reflecting on the water. In that moment, you realize that you're really small — in a good way. Even though we’re really small, we have the power of decision. We can still do important things and make a difference.”

Photo courtesy of Anthony Sleiman

The  northern lights in South Florida

You’ve probably heard of the aurora borealis glowing across the sky in snow-covered landscapes. But thanks to a strong solar storm, the northern lights were visible right in our backyard this past May.

Sleiman was in the Everglades to capture the moment. Not to be confused with an orange sunset, the sparkling red-pink wave of light in this photo is actually the aurora borealis in all its radiance.