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Can you see the Milky Way from where you live?

I can’t; there’s too much light pollution from the city in which I reside.  Therefore, when I go camping, I make a point to look skyward.

I have always marveled at the beauty of the night sky.  There are so many more stars than I ever expect.  But even more impressive is how the darkness comes alive through my camera with a long exposure.  Our eyes are pretty powerful, but leaving a shutter open to soak in the faintest light proves how wondrous the universe is.

The Big Dipper framed between two trees | LotsaSmiles Photography

We went backpacking in Olympic National Park this weekend – something I’ve longed to do for some time.  The seventeen mile trek from Third Beach to Oil City was strenuous with a lot of up and down, so I was quite tired each night when we set up camp.  However, I knew the summer sky would be undisturbed by light pollution.  Further, the Milky Way is most visible in the summer, and we happened to have a near-new moon.  In a word, conditions for shooting the galaxy were ideal.

But I was so tired.

Before crashing for the night, I was adamant that I would rise a few hours later to shoot the Milky Way. I set an alarm for midnight and snuggled into my sleeping bag.

The alarm never went off.

But I conveniently woke up anyway.

The air was chilly, and everything around me was pitch black. I could see brilliant stars peeking through the trees above. They called to me.

But so did my pillow.

The Milky Way between trees and tents | LotsaSmiles Photography

I didn’t want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. I wanted to shoot the Milky Way. I didn’t want to venture out into the unknown darkness. I wanted to photograph those stars. I didn’t want to deny the alluring sleep. I wanted to capture that magical sky.

I must have debated with myself for a full five or ten minutes.

Would I regret not going out to take pictures? Not sure. Would I regret if someone else in the group did get up and got a beautiful shot of the galaxy without me? Absolutely.

Ok. Getting up.

I shrugged on the jacket I had draped over my prepared camera, already set up for night shots. The irrational fear of some predator lurking in the bushes next to our tent made me hesitate, shining my meager light into the inky depths.

Only silence greeted me, broken by the lulling crash of high tide.

The Milky Way and Mars over the ocean | LotsaSmiles Photography

As I gradually made my way through the quiet camp and emerged on the beach, the hazy cloud of stars yawned above me. And Mars shone so brightly!  I knew I had made the right decision.

Drowsiness and fear of the darkness was instantly forgotten as I settled into the art that ignites my passion and thrills me to no end.

I shot every angle I could think of, trying desperately to trap the sheer magic of the sky in my pitiful pixels. My lens wasn’t wide enough. Fast enough. Sharp enough. I knew it was impossible, but I tried anyway.

And as I was adjusting for another photo, a magnificent ball of fire streamed across the sky. My jaw literally dropped, and I emitted an audible gasp. Even if none of the pictures turned out alright, prying myself out of bed was well worth this moment. Of course this spectacular event would happen the one time when I wasn’t exposing. Oh well.

Me in front of the Milky Way, shining a light into the sky | LotsaSmiles Photography

To add a bit of character to my photo, I decided to try a long-exposure selfie.  Not surprisingly, shining my bright light into the darkness attracted a wayward bug.  I managed to ignore it and stay still for the long exposure, but I laughed when I saw the resulting image, the swirling path traced around my head.

My photographic fingers sated, I finally allowed myself to retire. I passed the sleepy tents back to my own, my happy little stars safely secured on my SD card.

I’m glad I got up; the lack of sleep was worth the pain. I got some pictures no one else in the group did, and I witnessed a magical moment few ever see. Yeah, I’m happy.

Mars and the Milky Way next to a large rock in the ocean | LotsaSmiles Photography

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