It’s true. Every time we press the shutter button, there is a story behind it. Most of the time its boring, often its insignificant, and only occasionally of any interest. Often the “story” is about the patience, hard work, or dumb luck it took to capture the image. Sometimes it’s about the mosquitoes, the fumbles, the people or places. And sometimes it about the mishaps that, despite ourselves, still turn out OK.
Take, for example, this recent Milky Way image. The entire week was a photographic disaster (well, to be honest, family vacations and photography generally end up with someone being unhappy). When it wasn’t pouring down rain, the wind was blowing so hard the beach felt like a human sandblaster. And the nights… I don’t mind camping- it gives the freedom to be near the right places… but have you ever spent the night in a lightweight tent camper in gale force winds?
My hopes had been set high, Ill admit. When you live in the mid-west, the Milky Way can be elusive. The core is only visible for a few months out of the year. It’s only clear when there is no moon. You can only photograph it (well) where there are dark skies (ie. no people.) And it’s only in the right part of the sky, in the right orientation for a short while each night.
So a quick trip to Cape Hatteras became even more enticing when I discovered that, yes, it’s the right time of year, the moon phase is perfect, and the sky south of Hatteras is one of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi. Come on kids, LETS GO TO THE BEACH!
Except I didn’t anticipate clouds. And rain. And wind. As the week progressed, the rain fell, the wind blew, and sleepless nights began to take their toll. Finally, on our LAST night, there was a break in the weather. The sky was clear, the wind had dropped to a manageable level and I set my alarm for 2:00am. Perfect!
Somehow, I forgot that exhaustion trumps intent. When I finally came to with a start, I realized several things: 1) I had overslept, 2) I was an idiot, 3) It was 4:02am, and the sky would begin to lighten in about 40 minutes, and 4) if I didn’t MOVE I would never forgive myself. Grabbing my clothes, camera, and keys I scrambled into the truck and roared out of the campground. (A sincere apology to the guys with the red lights and HUGE telescope set up to catalogue the stars- I tried to turn off my headlights, but I couldn’t…)
Somewhere between the campground, the beach, and getting dressed, I discovered that I had forgotten my GLASSES. There was no way I was going back, and besides, I see pretty well without them…. Except up close. Or in the dark… or when looking at the little LCD screen on the back of my camera without coffee. Did I mention that my best lens for night photography is manual focus? And in the dark it’s hard to compose a shot even when you can see? Or that, for some reason, people like to drive through the old Frisco Pier parking lot at 4:30 in the morning with headlights blazing into the sky?
A lot can go wrong during a 25 second exposure. Condensation on your lens… Airplanes streaking through the frame… Shooting stars… Headlights… I hate wearing glasses, but it sure would have been nice to be able to see the histogram.
Fifteen minutes later, that sky was beginning to brighten and I packed up and headed out to find a sunrise, coffee, and maybe my glasses. Welcome to the life of an amateur… but that’s my story-and I’m sticking to it.