“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera” Dorothea Lange
Truer words were never spoken. I always find it interesting, after I post a photograph that I have taken, that people react as though my subject is something that was somehow mysteriously uncovered by my camera. So many times I speak with someone who lives across the road or a few miles away under the same sky and they are convinced that I must be some sort of conjuror because they have never seen what I see. That somehow, only the camera can see what is in the photo. Certainly, for someone who lives far from the northern reaches of the Aurora, the photos do appear as something they have never seen before. It may become something they now strive to see in person. The camera didn’t magic the Aurora to dance. She was there and so was I. Photography for me is presence. When I am present, I observe the world around me. I spy a reddish glow to the east in the morning, or the west in the evening. Sometimes I grab the camera, and sometimes I just watch with awe and my day has become better for it. The moon is out every day or night of the month except for one. Always at a different time and place in the sky but it is there. I make it a point to look for it. I invariably say “hello moon” when I spot it…every single time. It sparks joy and brings a certain perspective to my life. Sometimes it is extremely interesting if a cloud is strategically placed or it paints a picture in my mind that demands capture. Finding the tiniest sliver of the waxing crescent moon is always a feat…but it is there to be found if you take the time to look.
Local people often say they have never seen the Aurora, and that I must never sleep. Yes, indeed I am out with my camera at ungodly hours, but equally I am out in the early evening. It just needs to be dark, not late. Truly, you just need to look up and towards the North. Before I understood space weather and began to tell by the data when the Lady is likely to dance (disclaimer, she often dances regardless of the what the data says – not unlike the weather here on earth), I made a point of looking out my kitchen window every night once it got dark. I still do, many times a night. Rather than skip through a commercial, I take a look out the window. Grabbing a snack, I peek out the window. Feeding the cats, I look out the window. Bingeing Netflix, instead of skip intro, I look out the window. Heading to bed, I look out the window. Get up to pee inn the middle of the night – you guessed it – I look out the window. I see the Aurora by intention, not with a camera. I discover objects in the night sky by intention – through research and strategically watched websites and social media pages.
People say “oh but the camera captures more colour than the human eye.” This is true. To an extent. I will think I see movement in the sky and will take a test shot with the camera (usually because my eyes have not fully adjusted after standing in front of the open fridge and the camera will catch it without me waiting 20 minutes. When there is a strong show of Aurora, however, all the colours are visible to the naked eye…all the movement – the entire dance is there for your enjoyment – if you’re looking. As you let your eyes gets acclimated to the dark, you will see more. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes for your eyes to become fully accustomed. However, white light will destroy your night vision…just looking at the screen on your phone will necessitate another 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust. (I use a red flashlight if I need to light my way). Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, constellations, the ISS – the list is endless. Meteor showers require a commitment of time and patience. They do not magically shoot everywhere, every second of the night. The Andromeda Galaxy and Orion Nebula are both easily seen with a good set of binoculars. Identification is achievable with a great app called Sky View or Sky Guide which allows you to locate and identify night sky objects simply by holding up your phone to the sky. On the Nasa website you can sign up for alerts for when the ISS is passing overhead (don’t forget to wave!). What used to be “rocket science” isn’t anymore, with information technology readily available to anyone with an interest.
People often say to me “you must have a really good camera”. I reply, “I do, but I taught it everything it knows.” You don’t need a good camera to make a memory. Be present. It’s all there.