The Creative Journey: From Idea to Realization

Ritual is a new work that was created on a warm, summer-like night in New Hampshire during the early October new moon. I had become enchanted by the idea of capturing the alignment of the Milky Way with a stone and wood gazebo located in the White Mountains National Forest. We had seen some great photographs of this spot and we wanted to put our own spin on it.

Our goal was to capture the sparkling array of the Milky Way so that it appeared to be shooting directly above the slightly peaked roof of the gazebo. But how could we light the gazebo in an original way and capture the night sky in the same shot? I wanted some form of faint illumination that would make the foreground - the gazebo and the path leading to it - more than just a silhouette. Given the nearly windless conditions, tea lights seemed to be just the right source to provide a warm glow. Would that work? We bought some and discussed it during the three-hour drive to this spot on the Kancamagus Highway but of course we didn’t know if we could really pull it off - have the final product live up to the vision in my head.

As is my habit – my pre-shoot ritual - I checked several weather forecasts, a few reliable astronomy applications to confirm the timing and location of the Milky Way, my camera gear and drove to our spot. It's always a good feeling when planning, logistics and the weather all come together. We knew where the Milky Way would be in the sky. We knew what time to be at the location to have plenty of time to set up the shot. We knew that the weather forecast was clear and comfortable. But you never really know what's going to happen until you're standing there, troubleshooting and hopefully seeing your creative vision actually coming to fruition.

Luckily, when we arrived Sonia and I had the place to ourselves and there was only a slight breeze. So far, so good.  We hurried to place the candles around the interior of the gazebo and on the pathway leading to its entrance, all the while racing the movement of the night sky to align the shot.

Sonia crouched behind the benches and central post of the structure so she’d be there to reignite any extinguished candles and guard against the spread of any sparks in case of a wayward gust of wind. Meanwhile, I positioned my camera and took a few test shots.

Our quiet conversation and the occasional rustling of leaves was interrupted by the sound of an SUV pulling into the nearby parking lot. I sighed in frustration as headlights lit up the gazebo. Sonia popped her head above the bench of the gazebo and watched the parking lot, waiting to see what would happen. I watched too and took a nervous glance at the position of the Milky Way, hoping the new arrival would quickly turn off their lights. Would I have the chance to get a few more shots before the Milky Way moved out of position?

The occupant of the SUV turned their headlights off and exited the vehicle. We waited. There was the white/yellow glow of a flashlight in the parking lot. No voices. Then we saw the faint red pinpoint light that we quickly recognized as the back of a Canon camera, pointing away from the gazebo. Whether the quiet photographer in the parking lot was going to head our way or not, I had to keep shooting while I could still capture the galaxy, gazebo and lights together. I turned my attention back to my camera, repositioned slightly and snapped a few more shots.

I reviewed the shots on my camera’s LCD screen. I called Sonia to come look and we both cheered the results, knowing we had at least one good shot, if not a few. The glowing path and structure seemed connected to the sparkling stars and made me grateful for dark skies, quiet spaces and the combination of planning, patience and luck. Voila! Ritual realized.

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