Here's a story of getting uncomfortable, the best place to be as an artist.
Everyday you have the choice to be content with things simply happening to you, or choosing to make things happen. The latter tends to make me happier even when it definitely isn't as easy.
Last month storms were simply everywhere across Texas and up into Oklahoma and south into Mexico and finding a location to shoot some night sky photos with a new moon were incomprehensible. I was checking every weather and astronomical forecast to see if anything would clear up and a tiny place in the panhandle of Texas was clear, Caprock Canyons State Park. I was not excited one bit.
Caprock Canyons is a beautiful area but it has some things that make it kind of tough to shoot for a nightscape image. It has quite a bit of traffic with campgrounds fairly close to some of the best rock formations. Everyone has their flash lights on, cars are driving in and out into the early hours of the morning, and you have, usually, a few people light painting areas of the park. As a photographer that shoots a ton of night landscapes it's everything I try to avoid... and then there are the snakes.
A whole lot of snakes. Tons of snakes. Can't walk 3 feet without seeing a snake amount of snakes. It's like my nightmares come to life.
But there is no where else to go (Las Vegas flights are really expensive if you want to leave the same night you book), so I headed out on a 5 hour drive to Caprock Canyons!
I knew that I wanted to shoot an arched Milky Way image and would have to figure out a composition, hike in, set up, and be ready to shoot within about 90 minutes of arriving. Oh, and set up 2 time-lapse rigs quickly as well so no pressure. The time lapses didn't happen. I scouted quickly, took a pretty good guess at where two images would line up well and the timeline for both, and threw my cameras and equipment into my folding wagon and started walking into the snake infestation that is the Caprock Canyon trails.
I'm at about 30 minutes before sunset and the surrounding landscape has already blocked the rays of the sun and the trail I am moving down keeps getting lower and lower, and I haven't exactly checked the trail maps, but after walking about 15 minutes and dropping down into a ditch about 25-30 feet in elevation below where the trail head was I am finally starting to walk up a hill. I can finally see the composition I want, but the height on the trail is too low... there is a hill to my right though that adds another 10-15 feet. It is full of cactus and what look like gopher holes. They are very definitely not gopher holes. I cry a little on the inside and very carefully make my way up the hill with my bag and tripod and leave the wagon on the trail just within eyesight. For the next 3 or so hours, I operate within about a 4 foot circle around my tripod and keep checking with my red light for any movement or new "sticks" that have moved closer to me. I took this composition with 3 different lenses to maximize my chances of putting this large of a panoramic together. I was worried that either the sky would not stitch or the foreground due to two things, I wanted this to be shot with a 50mm because the detail would be awesome but going this large is a pain with so many images for the scene. Secondly, those people driving into the canyon and flashing their lights on and off in their camps... and randomly lighting up the canyon rocks everywhere. I need consistency in my light direction and intensity, if this is not correct, an image loses all of its impact. I had to reshoot several areas a few times and as this is happening, the moon is getting lower and less intense. I finally took enough equally exposed images for the foreground that I felt I could raise or lower the exposure a tad and not lose the believability of the image, and then the moon set behind the ridge.
Waiting to start an imaging session is always fun because you can just enjoy the sky and the stars. It's incredible when you think that the majority of Americans have never seen the Milky Way yet it's over their heads for most of the year. There's just too much light pollution where they live. Everyone should take a trip out to a beautiful national park and just look up during a summer night. Seeing that ribbon of stars has made me fall in love with photography even more, and it's incredible every time I see the glow of the sky shining down at night.
I dug into my bag and started shooting with several different lenses, again to cover my bases in case stitching with the 50mm failed. The sky is constantly moving and within an hour, this composition would already be changing. I worked quickly and when I finished I was think about two things. That image is going to look awesome, and I'm about to get bit by a snake climbing down this hill. After slipping a bit and falling once I made it down to my wagon and started heading back up the trail while walking with incredible intention and attention to every detail. I didn't see a single snake.
I shot another image in the early morning hours and drove home. I would not have come to Caprock Canyons State Park and created this image if the weather wasn't terrible everywhere else. I wouldn't have been in the panhandle of Texas if every previous new moon weekend was just terrible with rain and cloud cover. I wouldn't have gone out there if plane tickets were a little cheaper. I wouldn't be raving about how this image turned out if I had said screw it and stayed home.
I'm happiest and I grow the most when I get outside my comfort zone. I think everyone should get a little uncomfortable. I totally believe you will grow as a person and as an artist if you do, and you just might experience something extraordinary in the process.
- Star Bridge to Caprock