For the majority of the expeditions I set out on, there's an endless amount of preparation put into beforehand. Without hesitation, every trip begins the same with a general location in mind. Rugged peaks, softly flowing waterfalls, sandy beaches... you gotta start with a little inspiration!
It's from that moment of inspiration when the real work begins with the scouring of topography and sun/moon maps. I'm searching for those hard to find spots which will have the best views and lighting depending on the time of day. Those spots where I'm hopefully the only one, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. And once I've finally found that spot the careful selection of gear is made in order to not only be ready for whatever might be thrown in my path, but to ensure the safety of those traveling with me as well. These expeditions aren't just random, they're calculated! Remarkably though, even with trying to plan for every possible variable, there's a truth among photographers that the best shots captured are the ones never planned for. This could not have been more true when I drove through the night in order to shoot the milky way on the northern side of Mount St Helens.
Last year was the first year I truly had attempted to take a swing at astrophotography. With the milky way season only lasting a few short months here in the PNW, the number of all nighters pulled continued to increase, as did my ever growing frustration for the art. Location, light pollution, clouds, camera settings, editing, etc. the struggle was real. Luckily by the end of my first season I finally was beginning to understand just what it took in order to capture the shots similar to those of so many others I had been in awe of for years.
So when I pulled off the road and began to calibrate my gear I was feeling pretty dang confident, especially after when thanks to the new moon and remote location I could see the milky way with my blind eye. After a few hours of nonstop shooting, someone nearby caught my attention as they motioned towards the opposite direction. It didn't take long for my curiosity to lead me to follow suit, and what looked like nothing at first, quickly began to look more and more like something out of a movie. No way could I possibly be witnessing what I thought I was, I mean this was SW Washington... not the lands of the Northern Tundra.
Nevertheless, minute after minute the northern lights began to shine brighter, eventually creating the famous pillars of light people all around the world travel to see. It was one of those moments where you simply have to pause and step back from the camera in order to allow yourself to fully appreciate what you are seeing... a once in a life time opportunity. And then after a few minutes you race back to the gear and begin to work as quickly as possible in order to capture at least a bit of the phenomena.
Circling back though, never in my wildest of dreams, nor in my hours of planning this expedition, would I have thought I'd see such a sight. What turned out to be one of the largest flares of the northern lights was nothing I could have planned for, yet it will forever be a moment in which I cherish for years to come. And hey.. the pics don't hurt too much either.