I made my first attempt at astrophotography in a less-than-ideal location: the backyard of my parents’ home on Central Florida‘s Space Coast. My results were predictable: way too much ambient light, especially while attempting star trails. Encountering photographic lemons, I decided to make lemonade; rather than delete the files from my computer, instead I would make a fun, just-for-the-heck-of-it completely made-up, fantasy UFO composite. The image you see here is actually a simple composite made up of three images: the moon, the aircraft (a B-2 stealth plane, I think), and the stars/trees. I typically don’t make pictures like this, preferring to do as much as I can in-camera with currently-confirmed elements. I don’t know much about Photoshop, or how it could have been more effectively used to improve this image. But the making of it was fun, and I am actually mostly pleased with the result.
As photographers and image-makers, we get very caught up in perfections: finding the perfect subject in the perfect light, presented in the perfect position or situation. Talk about stress! Isn’t what we do supposed to be relaxing? The perfect job, the career for which everyone envies us? I am happiest when I am outdoors with my camera, searching for visually wonderful opportunities. Why so much pressure to be the best? We need to remember that we have to enjoy it first, and perfect it second. All those moments we spend agonizing over what could have made our image better are wasted moments that could have been spent appreciating the experience.
I remember being at Turkey Creek, near Sebastian, Florida, with my now-former in-laws, and we were watching an osprey dive on a school of mullet in the river. I had a slow 75-300mm lens on my camera, and the bird was so far away, it would not have been more than a speck in my frames. Now remember, these were the days of film, and we were poor. I did not want to waste frames on something that I just couldn’t see being worth it. While the other photographer in our little group put on a high-speed burst every few seconds, I stood and watched the osprey make dive after dive. My in-laws asked if I was just going to stand there, or was I going to take pictures. I answered that I was just enjoying the moment, rather that shoot (for all the reasons listed above). They looked at me like I was making a mistake, but honestly, I still believe I was right, 13 years later. I remember the details, like the oaks dripping their Spanish moss over the river; the osprey diving, then lifting, stooping, and diving again; the sun on my arms, its intensity burning the back of my head. These are the impressions I have of that moment, not looking at more wasted film. If the bird had come closer or the background been more conducive to a pleasing composition, sure, I would have raised the camera.
Most times, even then, we would take the shot and hope for the best, because you never know what might work, even when you think it hasn’t. Digital takes the guesswork out of this now, and I would probably shoot a couple of frames just to see what would come of it, if faced with the same osprey situation now. No harm, no foul. But I still like to be an observer first. If we get so caught up in shooting, or finding the perfect image to make, we lose the wonder that first attracted us to that subject anyway.
So have a little fun with you images, if you don’t already! I admit, I am one of the purists, and even making this image above, I felt like I was breaking some sort of rule. I never corrected my images when I first got my DSLR in late 2007. But the more images I expose myself to, made by other photographers who aren’t afraid to bend–or even break–the “rules,” the more I realize that just by having fun with an image (or six) can produce interesting, exciting, and even satisfying results. Which is what our whole profession is about anyway. So make whatever you want. (Just be sure to label it properly.)