I have had an extraordinary year and a half, photographically speaking. I traveled a bit and I've really taken a lot of photographs, many documentary in style, and I have yet to blog about these experiences. I'd say 80% of those images haven't seen the light of day yet. So I recently started cataloging and editing and getting all those images ready for this blog. I want to start with California, my most recent trip, and also my favorite place on this earth.
I led a photo group out to the deserts of California a couple of weeks ago. We were to focus on sunsets and night skies, with the Milky Way being our primary goal. Most of the participants had never been to the California deserts and it was quite rewarding to see a student teary-eyed at sunset and when asked if she was ok, she just replied that it was just so beautiful and she never thought she'd be able to make it here to see in person. And really, at the end of the day, that's what it's all about for me. Yes, helping students get a good picture is part of it, but helping someone realize their dream or experience something they never thought they would and seeing that appreciation is by far the greater reward of what I do.
The Joshua Tree National Park encompasses both the Colorado desert and the Mojave desert. They are at different elevations and support different flora and fauna but the one thing they have in common is their night sky. Even though Joshua Tree is only 2 hours from Los Angeles, it is dark. You can easily see the Milky Way with your bare eyes (and also more airplanes than you may ever see in your life in one night).
I must admit I was surprised and a little disappointed with the amount of people out shooting the night skies this year. I have been venturing out to the Joshua Tree area for almost 4 years now and this year was by far the busiest I have ever seen it. Busy isn't bad in itself, but the fact that many of these photo meet up groups lacked any sense of photo etiquette ruined it for a lot of us. We got our shots, don't get me wrong, but many shots were foiled by people lightpainting without asking and walking right into shots with headlamps on. But the part that was the hardest for me was the noise level and the disregard for others who may enjoy a more quiet approach, not to mention the people actually trying to sleep in the campgrounds.
I'll never forget the first time I went out to shoot in the late night at Anza Borrego, California. I am from Louisiana and we simply can't see the stars like you can in California. We have way too much humidity, for starters. In the desert that night I couldn't see a foot in front of me until my eyes adjusted, and then I could only see what was faintly lit by the stars. And there were billions of them; I had never seen so many in my life. And it was quiet. And it was still. It was just my husband and me and we were the only people out there. The only noise we heard was the rustle of some small reptiles or mammals every now and then. I remember wanting to lay down and just look at those stars all night, until the sun came up. I could have and would have too, if my husband hadn't wanted to leave after a couple of hours or so. It was hard to peel me away from that night, from that experience. It was one of those moments where you really feel alive, when your brain is free of all distractions and all you can think about is how vast this universe is and that all you need to do at that moment is press the trigger again, once your long exposure is done. It is the definition of being present in the moment for me.
And so, this past experience shook me to the core in a way those who have never experienced a quiet and still night sky may not understand. And maybe it's good they hadn't because they enjoyed the night, the banter, the laughter. I don't want to take that from them. But I do hope, as night photography becomes more popular, that photo etiquette is once again a priority for those of us shooting together. I know it has motivated me to discuss this in EVERY class and workshop I teach from now on.