Expectations in Photography

A good friend, with a rather negative outlook on life, once said to me, “The problem that you optimists have is that you are often disappointed. You’re always expecting the best, and when it doesn’t pan out, you are let down. I, on the other hand, never expect the best, so I am often pleasantly surprised!”

There is, I suppose, some truth is what he said; though he still didn’t convince me to move over to the dark side. I continue to expect the best and, truth be told, things usually do work out pretty well. There are exceptions, of course.

I was looking forward to traveling west with my wife late this summer. It is a part of the country that we have rarely visited, and it happens to be where our son and daughter-in-law live. We were obviously looking forward to seeing them, and to the opportunity of doing some camping and photography in Utah. I was especially eager to get out under those famous dark skies at night to do some astrophotography. I had compositions formed in my head (mostly rip-offs of things I had seen online, of course, but at least I had a starting point!) and we were eager to camp in conditions far different than we see in the Carolinas.

From a technical standpoint, I wanted to experiment with low-level lighting, since light painting is now banned in Utah’s national parks, and those arches seemed the ideal place to do it. This was going to be my third attempt at astrophotography, and though it was too late in the year for a full Milky Way arch, we were going to be there during the new moon, which meant the Milky Way was actually going to be visible just after sunset.

At least that was the plan.

I am not a meteorologist, nor an astronomer; but I can tell you with absolute certainty that you cannot see – let alone photograph – the Milky Way in the rain. Regardless of what kind of equipment you have, you can’t shoot pictures through those clouds! It rained every. night. we. were. there.

So much for my expectations.

To make matters worse, the clouds disappeared completely as the sun rose each morning, which created less than desirable conditions for landscape photos. We still enjoyed hiking, grabbing what pictures we could and generally taking in the beautiful views and the shared experience.

But on the whole, I was pretty glum about my lost opportunity. Until the last evening. We got back to our campsite just as the sun was setting. I knew where the Milky Way was positioned in the sky. And I knew that if the clouds didn’t show up just as the sun slipped away that I would be able to clearly see it from our camp site. But with the weather conditions I had given up any hope of seeing it. But that night, as we walked up the trail, I noticed that all the clouds were actually on the other horizon. The Milky Way was literally suspended right over our tent. So there, in the tent camping area of the Dead Horse Point State Park, with a pavilion to my left and the light from the restroom behind me, I was able to grab this shot. A small light, mostly covered with a sleeping bag, provides the illumination in the tent for some foreground interest. Within 10 minutes the clouds appeared and the opportunity was gone.

Let’s just say I was “pleasantly surprised.”

Tent under the Milky Way
Milky Way Over Dead Horse Point

No, it’s not the greatest Milky Way shot ever. It’s not even my best. And, yes, it took a little “cleaning up” to remove some unpleasant elements. But I like it. I like the lesson that it taught me, and that I will remember every time I see it.

Set your expectations, but be flexible. You never know how things might turn out!

Nikon D7100
Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16
20 sec
ISO 2000

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