The series of images in my time-lapse video Transcending Dreams Sandstone & Starscapes was shot in Arches National Park and near Zion National Park in Utah in May 2013. This is my first time-lapse video.
I have always been intrigued by the night sky ... the colors between sunset and dusk and from darkness till dawn; the stars and planets shinning brightly; the layers of colors in the atmosphere. And I am always astonished by the number of stars I can see when I am away from the light pollution of the city. As a little girl I remember seeing more stars from my home in Louisville, Kentucky, than I can today. I worry that the next generation of children living in a city will not know what stars look like because of pollution, both light and the pollutants that fill our air.
The hike up to Delicate Arch to photograph the sandstone natural wonder against the night sky was a personal triumph and a spiritual journey for me. It's hard to believe that a year before my trip I spent six months on crutches and in physical therapy after surgery on my left knee. This image and video were years in the making. At age 45, suffering with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, asthma, GERD and esophageal spasms, I hiked 1.5 miles with about a 500-foot elevation gain on slickrock carrying approximately 40 pounds of camera equipment, including two camera bodies and lenes, a tripod, wireless remotes, rain and cold-weather gear, snacks and water and Powerade.
Under the darkness, I am awestruck, when my instructor Brad Goldpaint lights Delicate Arch with a flashlight. The arch resembles the hands of the Earth in prayer to the heavens. It is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. The 46 foot-high arch perched at an elevation of approximately 4,800 feet looks tiny compared to the massive night sky. Seeing hundreds of stars, as well as meteors, iridium flares, a phenomenon caused when an orbiting satellite reflects sunlight back to the Earth and flashes of lightning over and behind Delicate Arch took me back to my childhood and the bewilderment I had with the night sky.
I want my viewers to share my experience - sitting under the expansive sky soaking in the stars, meteors, iridium flares, and lightning and a storm in the distance. Brad light paints the arch for our group of six. Besides flashlights and headlamps there are no other lights up on the slickrock.
As I move into place to start capturing images for my time-lapse sequence, I realize my heavy coat is in my backpack, which is not close to me. I have four or five layers on without the coat. I put on my hat and gloves. I compose my test image and it looks good and sharp. I position myself to protect my gear in case the wind picks it up. The sandstone beneath me turns cold. I shiver as I sit tethered to my tripod. I am terrified to move away from my equipment - afraid that the wind will blow it over. I don't want a D600 and 14 to 24mm Nikon lens to end up 50 to 70 feet away or in the canyon on the other side of the arch. I reach in the pockets of my down vest and break out the hand warmers. I sit almost perfectly still for more than an hour. I am trying not to bump my tripod or camera. It's no easy feat. I am getting spasms in my legs. I massage away the spasms as I soak in the beauty of the starlight.
Every once in while a shooting star whisks overhead and oohs and awes echo through the canyons. The same happens when lightning flashes behind Delicate Arch. Each photographer is hoping they caught it in their frame.
I can see for countless miles as I watch the lightning in the distance without ever hearing a clap of thunder. I lean back, counting the stars until I realize there are too many to count. Arches National Park is a serene amazing place where it looks as if the Earth worships the heavens. I bow my head in gratitude for having the amazing opportunity to photograph this magnificent natural wonder.
About 30 minutes before the Milky Way is due to rise, the storm blows over the high desert and forces us off our perch. We wait until the last possible moment to pack up and leave. With photographers, it's always one more shot. Just after midnight, we gather our gear and start the 1.5-mile hike back down. The storm is approaching fast. As soon as our group makes it around a cliff, the sky opens dumping rain.
It was an exhilarating experience! One I will never forget. I hope my images bring oohs and awes to others and spark that sense of adventure that I found.
A heartfelt thank you goes to the The Kentucky Foundation for Women, my Mother, and my friend Beth for helping to fund this Beauty in the Dark Night Photography project. To my fellow artists and close friends, Marc, Karen, Kyle and Carol for inspiring me to follow my creative passions and for believing in me. And to Brad Goldpaint, a knowledgeable, giving and marvelous teacher, encourager and epic light painter. Thank you Brad.