Overall, the whole experience wasn’t bad. I was concerned with cloud cover ruining the photography shoot. So, when I got out of bed at 3:10 am, the first thing I did was go outside and checked the sky. A waning gibbous moon was out and very few clouds. Cool. No need for a flashlight, there’s plenty of light to light my path in the desert.
I was out of the house by 3:40 am and on site by 4 am. On site, but not on location. I had to walk a good distance in the desert to find a decent spot. I forgot how spooky it is out in the desert in the dark of night, away from civilization. Yes, I had the moon to light the path. . . to a certain extent. Getting away from the city lights, really took the brightness away from when I first poked my head outside. I should have brought a flashlight, but I could still make out the trail, so I continued on.
The hooting of the owls kept me company, but all the noises as a whole kept the hair on the back of my neck standing up. The rustling of little critters on each side of the path as I walked, the occasional bird getting spooked and flying off within several feet of me, all added to the spookiness. Even my own foot steps in the dirt seemed loud and ominous in the quiet of the desert night. The bats. Yes, there were several bats that would occasionally appear in my eye sight. All flying around, looking for insects.
The birds and bats, I could identify with. I knew the sound of the birds. I saw the bats. The rustling in the weeds, on the other hand, was something else. It wasn’t large noises, but rather subtle swishing. Swishing? That’s the best way to describe it. Not a large enough noise to make a person stop in their tracks, mind you, but it was a noise. So, I chalked it up to possibly small lizards (even though I knew it wasn’t lizards) and kept going up the trail. Still, something else bothered me.
I believe it was the unknown sticks up ahead or off to the side of the trail and wondering if it was a rattlesnake that probably bothered me the most. This also started my mind to think of all the things I couldn’t see. Things that could be hiding in the distance, listening to me come up the trail, smelling me, waiting for me. Yes Virginia, there are mountain lions and bobcats that prowl at night for sustenance. Wait a minute. . . I could be that sustenance.
I kept my tripod in my strong arm, thinking I might be able to defend myself from a mountain lion with it. Yep. A four legged empty stomach with claws of fury. Yeah, a tripod would really stop that. . .
A half mile into the desert I finally found what I was looking for. A nice sized saguaro cactus with arms. Not the best arms, as I was looking for one with larger arms, but arms nonetheless. It was good enough to have in the foreground of the photo. I also had the Santa Catalina mountains in the background and a good sized portion of the sky to capture the meteor shower. After framing the shot, I had half of the frame for the sky and the cactus just to the right of center. Perfect.
I took a five minute exposure. As best as I could tell, everything looked a little soft. So, I played around with the focus, but it wouldn’t move. I tried the opposite way, still nothing. Maybe this isn’t the focus ring. Ah, the new lens. The focus wasn’t on the end of the lens, like my last lens that was stolen. After a minute of stumbling, I finally found it up close to the camera.
I still needed to focus on something. I set it to auto focus and was going to let it focus on the saguaro. For night photography? It’s a trick I’ve used in the past that works. Set the lens to auto focus and after it’s finished focusing where you want it, turn off the auto focus. The focus will remain where you wanted it for the rest of your shots. The problem was, I didn’t have a light source for the camera to see where to focus. So, I tried using my flash in one hand to light up the saguaro, and let the camera focus with the other hand. Still no luck. Ok, let’s set it to infinity. I couldn’t read the lens to see if I was set on infinity, the spot where time elapsed night photography focusing should be. So, I took a guess from memory and started the exposure. It wouldn’t be until after sunrise that I would find out that I was correct.
During the first five minutes of my exposure, I started thinking that I’d never get a sharp photo if I had been wrong. Hold the phones! I started thinking I had a mini flashlight in the truck. A half mile way. More noises. More darkness. More unknown. There was nobody in the desert to steal my gear, so I braved the noises and went back to the truck. Along the way, I missed my turn off and walked an extra football field, only to return back the same distance.
No flashlight in the truck. Ah well, dawn is coming and I better get back soon, otherwise I’d have an overexposed sky. So, I make the half mile trek back to my location. More noises. Even though they were the same noises, they were just as spooky the third time around as it was the first and no tripod to defend against claws of fury. Yeah, like that was ever going to work.
I get back to the camera and stop the exposure. Nice exposure, a little soft focus on the cactus and the sky and exposure looks like I shot it an hour in the future. There’s lots of light from the sunrise that hasn’t happened yet. A 30 minute accumulation of light during my exposure. I captured some nice star trails. But where were the meteor streaks in the sky? I never caught a single one. It would have been a nice shot if I had, as they were going the opposite direction of the stars trails. At this point, I can only imagine how it would have turned out.
Since sunrise was only a few minutes away at this point, shooting another exposure would only prove the same results. So, I pack it all up, and decide to walk further out in the desert, hoping to get a shot of some birds or the sunrise if it decided to be a good one. I took a few shots of a colorless sunrise. Nothing spectacular. I listened to the birds waking up and continued watching bats flutter around, eating mosquitoes that probably had fed on me earlier in the night. The sounds of their echo location was somehow calming and pretty cool to listen to.
My adventure was over. The sun was well on its way to rising over the mountains. People would be arriving soon to do their daily workout of walking trails or bird watching or whatever they do at the crack of dawn. My experience of the meteor shower, albeit wasn’t what I expected, was definitely an experience I won’t forget anytime soon. It’s nice to get up before everyone else and experience the unknown. I got to see at least half a dozen falling meteors in the sky. I also learned a valuable lesson. No matter how well you know your equipment or how well lit the moon is, always pack a flash light. I can honestly tell you, I will be looking to purchase a small, powerful LED flashlight to add to my equipment.
I’ll add my single shot of my experience to the news later this week, after I’ve had time to process it. If anyone managed to capture the Alpha Auragids Meteor shower, I’d love it if you’d share your photos with me.