Your comfort zone isn’t helping your photography

The galactic core of the Milky Way makes its first appearance of the year over a frozen Lost Lake, Oregon.

The galactic core of the Milky Way makes its first appearance of the year over a frozen Lost Lake, Oregon.

I took this panorama in January of 2015, one of the earliest calendar year captures of the Milky Way’s galactic core I’ve made over the past 6 or 7 years, particularly in Oregon, where the winters are rainy and cloudy. A thin layer of ice covered Lost Lake, which was pretty exciting, because at the time I’d never really seen any night photos of Lost Lake in the winter (and this is still true to some degree). I’m glad that on this particular morning, I forced myself to get up at 1 am and make the drive.

Sometimes getting outside of your comfort zone is the best possible thing.

Doing things that aren’t particularly fun is often rewarding, purely because no one wants to do them. Very few of us are good at getting up at 1 am and gathering our photography gear, trekking out into the cold and unknown, and taking good technical photos in bad conditions.

But, looking back on this moment three years ago, I don’t remember my irritating alarm clock buzzing me awake. I don’t remember the long drive to the trailhead; I only remember that the drive was filled with uncertainty about how I would get to my destination. Was the road even going to be open? What if there was a tree down blocking the road? How far would I have to walk?  What if there was a tree that fell down behind me, trapping me on the mountain?

Luckily, the journey up there wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. And despite the cold of that night, sitting in the dark and taking photos was actually pretty pleasant (mostly thanks to what feels like thousands of dollars spent on high-quality outdoor clothing). This isn’t always the case, of course.

Just last month I found myself moonless-night hiking on an ice and snow-slicked trail to get to a destination for a shoot that was a bust. I was by myself, and I had slipped a few times, stretching some muscles just a bit further than they were meant to be stretched at my age. I was out of my comfort zone: weighed down by equipment, sweating, unsure about predators and nervous. Just plain uncomfortable.

I guess my point is that it’s getting harder to create original nightscape photos, as more and more photographers enter the landscape astrophotography game (which I advocate for, by the way). It’s harder and harder to find and photograph unique landscape under unique conditions, to carve out a unique niche and to be your own photographer.

But it’s not impossible.

And it often starts with doing the things that no one else wants to do.

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