I could hardly wait for midnight.
One of my son’s goals has been to see and capture the center of the Milky Way, something that’s challenging, if not impossible, for those living in the city. So, during a family Spring Break trip to Las Vegas, we chose a night to trek into Red Rock Canyon National Park, Nevada to make it happen. Knowing that our chances of getting everything right were slim, we took every measure to research the location and to secure the necessary gear.
Springing up before my 12:30 am alarm, I began adding hot chocolate to a classic Stanley thermos that’s about the size of a bazooka (small exaggeration). DJ emerged from his room with focused composure, knowing that, not having previously done astrophotography, we’d have to embrace the learning process quickly if we were to achieve any level of success. Our backpacks laid open for us to confirm where everything was located—camera (plus my old backup), lenses, headlamps, thermos, laser pointer, batteries, emergency gear, etc.
Leaving the lights of Las Vegas was unsettling. Living in Los Angeles, we are accustomed to noise and light 24/7, so exposure to the vast open space and having (hopefully) no one else around, our senses were heightened. A thumbnail moon dropped behind the mountains, forcing our eyes to search the landscape and the rustling brush. Needles to say, we were filled with caution. Sweat rested on my brow. At one point, we could hear something trailing us, but we never made visual contact. And there was also the occasional hoot from a couple of owls.
Ambition drove us forward. The two mile hike with our gear through the wind-ripped valley took us about 30 minutes to reach our predetermined setup point (thanks to the PhotoPills app and scouting the otherwise unknown location the prior afternoon).
Cold. Windy. Fun.
Setting up, we quickly began experimenting with the Sony A7R IV camera‘s 60 megapixel sensor, tweaking the ISO and shutter to reach what we felt was the ideal look from the Sony 24mm 1.4 aperture lens. To reduce blur/travel of the stars, we varied exposure times from 15-20 seconds. The wind was relentless, so the two of us huddled together on every shot, forming a human wall by the camera to keep it from being shaken. Very soon, we were amazed at the captured details and saturated color!
Time for hot chocolate.
Hiding behind a nearby shelter, we took occasional breaks to escape the wind. While enjoying the warmth of our hot chocolate, conversation turned to the size and beauty of the location and the sparkling blanket of the universe overhead. While our smallness was felt with the majestic terrain, the night sky totally dwindled us down to nothing! Truly, it’s amazing that the infinite Creator of all of this could pursue a relationship with tiny little us!
Beyond the photos we were able to capture, we both interacted with the environment in what I would describe as a progression of fear, focus, awe, joy/exuberance, and gratitude.
The focus we had that night is a memory I’m sure we will carry with us for many years to come. Neither of us was checking his phone for social media posts, email, or even wondering what might be happening in the news. We had zero distractions—only focus. We were simply engaged in the moment!
As Jesse Itzler, author Julia Cook, and others might put it, “Be where your feet are.” The sand of time doesn’t stop falling, so choosing our priorities and remaining present in them helps us to maintain the proper focus while keeping from getting distracted.
I’ve started to ask myself this question, “Where can I make my greatest impact with the talent and time I’ve been provided?”
Enjoy viewing the medium-rez pic from our pre-dawn adventure! For others, be sure to check out my Instagram feed (@donjschaffer).
Glad to discuss, so submit any questions or comments.