Is the best music to listen to for a couple of minutes in the middle of the desert. It was on my bucket list. Listen to Chopin under the stars. And it happened last Friday. Four humans, Wayne, Mr Wonderful, Jim Rogers and me slipped away from town to the West Mesa. Just outside of Las Cruces. I had one goal: photograph the Milky Way.
Wayne Suggs, Las Cruces based builder/photographer took us on an outing, and I was eager to learn. Mr Wonderful came along to kill dragons should there have been dragons. No dragons, but other strange creatures, beetles and snakes. To be taken seriously. Wayne had a couple of chaps in the car that I could borrow.
Made me look like a true American South West woman I thought, but then who asks for my opinion. I did feel a little safer and only screamed a couple of times at the sight of yet another millipede. A finger thick and 5 cm long, sort of a black Mr Michelin guy, too gross to even take a photograph of it.
Wayne is a pro, has been shooting the desert from the moment he got out of his crib at four months old, so he definitely knows what he is doing. A compass to check out the heavens and some parameters. I used my good old iPhone with SkySafari, an app to find the Milky Way. Strange, without Steve Jobs I might never have found it. Between Steve Jobs and Wayne Suggs I had it covered!
We arrived at the golden hour, when the sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon. Time to set up gear, find a spot without millipedes, in the surroundings of the car. Jim seemed to know the desert pretty good also, I was in good company.
I wanted to have an escape route in case bugs became too overwhelming. The spot near the Carrolito mountains was littered with sunflowers, smaller then in Europe, but as pretty.
I used both iPhone and camera to snap, still testing out how far the phone can go when nature is a bit iffy. Between light an dark, Entre Chien et Loup (between dog and wolf) as the French say, is a good time to experiment. We were in time for a marvellous sunset, with the light slowly but steadily vanishing behind the far horizon.
Between sunset and total darkness was the time to have dinner, we brought sandwiches and water, lots of water. At nine in the evening the temps were still over 90 degrees. In Belgian speak over 30 degrees. Mr Wonderful took a couple of working shots of me, and no wonder I look totally overheated, because I was.
What a special experience it was. Who would ever have guessed that I would be galavanting in a dark desert infested with creepy crawlies on a summer’s night. All set up to grab shots from the skies and in particular the Milky Way. That cluster of stars and nebula telling us that an universe is out there. And how small humans in fact are.
Tripod and camera were in stand by, all that was left to do was take test shots and make sure settings were to the point. Mumbo jumbo with numbers, aperture, speed, lens, bulb, rather technical, and we all know how my brain works with numbers: it’s not. But with Wayne’s help I could set up my camera to the correct position. Funny enough, Wayne vanished on his own to the spot he scouted out for himself. All we saw from him after that was a little head lamp moving now and then in between the grasses and flowers. I had wondered in advance whether we were all going to end up with the same photographs, but no. Good shooting buddies know to let go and find their own spots.
I felt totally in sync with stars, mountains, flowers. Even a few bats flew by. It became darker and darker, and later and later, waiting for the Milky Way is not over in five minutes. We spend four to five hours in the hidden spot at the foot of the mountains. Finally for the first time in my life did I see the sight that I had marvelled over since being a kid. I spotted the milky way and photographed it. The sky is the limit, now I need to learn how to not be afraid in the dark. So I don’t have to rely on other people to go treck. To be honest, I don’t see myself going out by myself at night to marvel at constellations and clouds. Too scary. Without further delay: here is my Milky Way shot. Thanks Wayne, Jim and Mr Wonderful for taking me on this trip. I enjoyed every second of it. Thanks!
That was my Christmas in August! On to more and better nightshots…