I have an itch for exploration. It's often hard to find places close to my home that I haven't been to before, but every so often, I find a spot that's new to me. Most of the time, this involves driving great distances and hiking quite a while until I find remoteness and solitude. But the other night was an exception. Following a road I had only been on once before, I ended up in a barren cul-de-sac dotted with eerily rustling trees and shared only by another car minding its own business. The marine layer had already started to work its way in by the time I got there, so my options for photography were few. But I managed to capture a couple of images with my Sony NEX-5 that seem to do the landscape justice. I can only hope that places like this still exist in a few years, before the creep of expanding housing developments overtakes what is left of the region's immediate wilderness.
This is the picture. The fabled photograph that has eluded me for the better part of two years. It all started in the summer of 2008, when I first wanted to capture the milky way out in the Anza Borrego desert. While I made it out there in August of that year, my camera at that time could only muster a grainy image, and my results were far from ideal. Fast forward to 2010. My goal of capturing this image came back to me a few months ago, and was first attempted in the form of a failed back-of-a-motorcycle ride that was abandoned before it even started. Attempts at camping trips timed correctly with the lunar cycles and good air quality all proved unsuccessful over the next few weeks and months, until a window of opportunity finally presented itself. Taking only my Nissan packed with as much gear as possible, a quick camping trip finally allowed me to capture this image last Friday night.
Yes, it's still grainy. With my current cropped-sensor camera, it's literally the best that I can do. But this hasn't stopped me from calling this photograph a success. And for ISO 6400, you have to admit that it's not too terribly bad either. Unless a stranger randomly donates a Canon 5D Mark II to my cause, I'll just have to be content with what I've got. It's not the best Milky Way photograph I've taken, but it's the one I've most anticipated. And I'm glad it could finally happen.
In most circumstances, photography is 10% skill, and 90% luck. I've been saying that for years now. The main difference between an average photographer and a truly good photographer is how he/she reacts when luck does finally present itself. Those who have trained and practiced instinctively know how to respond in most any situation, allowing them to capture these rare scenes when they finally occur. Though I don't claim to be a truly good photographer by any means, I often find myself in circumstances where I am given an amazing opportunity to capture a moment. And when all the elements collide, I know I am in for a treat.
The photograph above is one such occurrence. Quite frankly, this photograph should not have happened. My original plans to go on an adventure last night were first challenged when I couldn't find anyone to take with me. Instead of letting it stop me, I went ahead and decided to go alone. Though my original destination was an overlook that looked quite promising, I was blocked by a series of closed gates and "Private Property" signs. My plans had changed, and I figured my chances of getting any photos that night had gone down the drain. Instead of turning around and going home, I checked the map on my phone, and found that I could keep going down the road I was on to eventually get home. The narrow and windy road took me on an awesome adventure down the side of a hill, where I decided to pull over at the spur of a moment and set up my tripod. After capturing a couple of fairly uninteresting starlit shots, I set up my camera for one last exposure. When I pressed the shutter button, there wasn't any trace of a car in sight. But right after the exposure started, I heard the faint sound of a lone car speeding down the switchbacks. As luck would have it, it entered the frame about halfway through the exposure, and exited the shot right as my shutter snapped shut. It was incredible and impossible to predict timing, and it resulted in a shot like nothing I had even expected.
Sometimes life surprises you. When I set out that night, I wasn't even sure if I was going to get a single interesting shot. But all of the factors aligned just right, and the outcome was far better than I could have ever imagined.
Every so often, you experience a night that you'll never forget as long as you live. Last night was such a night, consisting of a loosely-planned drive out to a point overlooking the Anza Borrego desert in San Diego County, and culminating in a race to the top of a hill on the other side of the county to catch the sunrise, with absolutely no sleep in between. It was the first all-nighter I've had in nearly two years, and it gave me the perfect chance to test out all that the new Pentax K-x is capable of. I managed to make some truly unanticipated photographs, due largely in part to the camera's great image quality in the higher ISO range. I'll be posting more photographs later on, including my first ever photograph of a shooting star.
This is one of the last images I ever took on my Pentax K2000 (K-m), which I am now selling to a friend. My new camera, the Pentax K-x, is a marvel of technology. I haven't had the chance to use it much since it came yesterday, but I can say for sure that the ISO performance is unbeatable in its price range. The image quality even beats the Pentax K-7, which sells for twice as much. Regardless, the K2000 was still a great camera with a strong feature set, and I'm sort of sad to see it go.
I wish this photo hadn't initially slipped past my radar. I found it marked "rejected" in Lightroom in one of my folders from my Colorado trip this summer. This shot was taken from the back porch of the house I stayed in while a thunderstorm rolled in from the prairies. It was the test shot from a series of lightning photographs that I've previously posted. I disregarded it at first because of the wide angle, which captured the suburbs and a passing car as well as the thunderstorm. What I failed to originally notice was the starry night sky hidden behind the swirling mass of clouds in the sky. And while I also failed to catch any specific lightning bolts hitting the ground in this shot, lightning in the cloud lit it up in a majestic manner. All of the adjustments in this image were performed from within Adobe Lightroom.