A few weekends ago, I had the privilege of going on a photographic adventure to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my buddy, Russell Pugh (an amazing landscape & astro photographer - check his work out at http://www.russellpughphotography.com/ )... The mission was to chase the Milky Way & photograph it over the Bodie Island Lighthouse as well as the Pea Island Coast Guard Station. We caravanned down & arrived to Bodie Island just in time to catch the sunset & what glorious sunset it was - BONUS! At first, I did not think I had ever been to this location but then to my horror... I saw the signs.... UGH!!! (Those of you who know me personally know about my extreme fear of snakes... I admit it's outright comical....) - well... the signs said in big letters, "BEWARE: SNAKES" & displayed an image of one of the terrifying creatures below the warning. OMG!!! Suddenly the memories came flooding back to me! I had indeed been to this place once before! It was on my birthday 2 years ago & I did, without a doubt as the signs had warned, seen a snake - a poisonous one curled up next to the wooden boardwalk path leading to the crow's nest vantage point. UGH!!! I shudder just thinking of it!
Anyhoo - I shook off the heebeejeebees & proceeded down the very same pathway to the crow's nest, making it a point NOT to look in the high marsh grasses flanking the pathway for fear I would undoubtedly see another snake. Now, mind you... some people claim to never see a snake in all their days; however those slithery creatures seem to be drawn to me as if all of the snakes in the world have gotten together & have conspired in some joke to always pop out whenever I am around.... sigh... walk, walk, walk in a hurried pace.... SUCCESS!!! I made it to the crow's nest with Russ & no snakes were seen! woohoo! & just in time to catch the sun dancing upon the tops of the marsh grass & gently caressing the water. I had to take the shot!!! I call it, "Stay Golden."
OK! So I caught the tiger by it's toe, it was time for my lesson from Russ on how to now catch the mystical Milky Way! He gave me some valuable pointers & a pre-lesson as when the real lesson was to begin, it would be pitch black & I would be fumbling around trying to figure things out. We mastered the timing of the lighthouse light so as to get the beams and figured out where we would be shooting from for the best composition - he filled me in on the appropriate settings & such... now it was time to venture to Pea Island to put the lesson to practice. We got to Pea, & alas we had to traverse through some marshy grass which, naturally, I was thinking was a delightful place to curl up if I were a snake... haha - they are ever-present on my mind! So we made it to the Coast Guard Station & the stars began to dance. Before I knew it, there were bazillions of them!!! It was definitely a sight to behold with the naked eye, but when I fired off the first shot in proper exposure, I could see so much more with the help of the lens!!! I had never seen so many stars before - & then.... there it was! The Milky Way - a wondrous sparkling star dust trail in the sky! The reward of seeing this majestic sight was well worth the snake fear, the sand blown face, the bumps and bruises from falling & fumbling around in complete darkness.
Russ grabs me & says, "OK - now it's time for the real show! - the lighthouse with the Milky Way in the background!" We already had our composition in our heads & it was now time to capture it! So back to Bodie we went..... when the realization hit me.... I was going to have to go past the snake signs & down the path by the snake grass in order to get to my vantage point in pitch blackness.... derp!... The pathway was cluttered with the hoards of photographers who took their positions to capture the same splendor... I took a deep breath... "OK - I got this!", I said to myself reassuringly. I was being silly - surely I didn't really need to worry about snakes... besides, I had studied the lighthouse's light bursts & knew the exact timing & rhythm. Every 20 seconds there would be a saving grace burst of light followed by a quick secondary burst! Hooray! The lighthouse has saved my life - or at the least my nerves! haha! I waited for the lighthouse to flash it's savior light & took off walking as fast as I could down the pathway through the maze of determined photographers. When the light went away, I paused momentarily & chatted with a nearby photog so-as not to look strange just standing around waiting for the light to shine once more. The light flashed again & I was off & running down the next stretch of pathway but now I was to the tall marsh grass where I had seen a snake before & there weren't any photographers to deter them from appearing... My nerves felt as if they would pop out of my skin! UGH!! OK - so again a flash - this time I looked hard down the path, studying the lay of the land... then the 2nd burst & I hauled ass down the pathway & up the stairs to my perch at the crow's nest. Whew! I had made it! I could breathe & have a good laugh at my silliness! HA! Snakes!
The rest of the evening was spent focusing on stars & nature's beauty & trying to time shots just right with the strobe of the lighthouse. This was a definite challenge for me & not just because of my reptilian "friends!" But more-so so I can perfect being still & getting everything in tack sharp focus. As a photographer, I am a "farmer" - one who cultivates my composition with careful planning & care. To shoot the Milky Way, you must be a "hunter." You must wait, precariously perched, awaiting the right moment to fire off a shot. It's such a rush! I'd really like to go back - maybe to another spot where I can focus on taking a photograph & not so much about little snakey-poos - & try to get EVERYTHING in focus, which I hear is close to impossible.... but that in itself is reason enough to give it another go! If you find yourself away from all of the light pollution, aim your camera at the brightest light in the sky, gain your focus & shoot for the stars!!!