The benefits to perseverance
I've never thought of myself as a particularly spontaneous person. There has always been a rough plan or, at the very least, an underpinning desire in almost everything I do. From the outside it would appear like my life is rather random and I do things without notice but really what happens is that my body eventually overrules my mental limitations after possibly months of mental anguish and I just get on and do it. Believe me this doesn't stop my brain from saying "turn back! go home! why are we here!?" Often enough something small can go wrong and I will give up on my journey and head for that safezone that is home.
As I drove to Katoomba a few weeks ago I saw in the distance smoke on the horizon. Dark, brown, and quite thick. The smoke rather disappointingly filled the sky right where I was headed to. This was one of those moments where my mind would be saying "see. I told you, why did we even bother... we should just go back". This constant battle between that voice in my head vs my desire to seek out adventure seems to never end. But, on this occasion, I was determined I wasn't going to give up that easily.
About an hour or so before sunset I pulled up into the car park, and prepared for my short walk to Castle Head which was about 15 minutes along the fire trail, and then another 30 minutes down a very tight and mildly overgrown single track. As I stripped down my camera bag to just some basic gear I notice the sun getting lower and lower, but it was also really well obscured by all the smoke out to the west. I looked a little more and could see a beautiful scene developing with every passing minute.
Time to get a wriggle on and I made my way down the fire trail, but I didn't even make 500 metres before I pulled up and grabbed the gear out of my bag. All the smoke I had been seeing was now this wonderful haze and the hills out to the west were layered so well. I just needed to find a break in the tree line to so that I could attain an uninterrupted view.
The shadows, light beams, and haze were just painting this beautiful photograph that I captured in all sorts of perspectives. I could see on the back of my camera just how amazing this shot was and thought to myself "if this is the only shot I get, I am happy with that".
It was time to get moving as the sun was setting and the single track I needed to walk down I had never walked along before. I knew it was quite close to some cliff edges so I didn't want to fumble my way in the dark. Just after the sun went over the horizon I arrived at my little lookout position. I can honestly say that I wasn't disappointed with the view at all. It had been just what I was hoping for, with one exception; I didn't expect to have direct line of sight with the echoing lights of Western Sydney.
I thought there would be the glow on the horizon, and I had hoped that the lights would be hidden behind the hills to the east. I was wrong. It was about then I realised that the moon was still really high in the sky. I, for some reason, had thought it was going to be setting a little after sunset just before the Milky Way would rise. All of a sudden I found myself re-checking the details for my prep work, checking times for the moon and location of the the Milky Way, please don't tell me I messed this up? as I'd really grown fond of the location and perspective. it turned out that the moon wasn't going to set until midnight, which was another three or four hours away.
I'd come all this way only to find that the one shot I came here for was the one I wasn't going to get. This is where normally my mind would win over my body and just pack it in for the night. But somehow inside I knew I wasn't ready to give up just yet. I wasn't going to get the photo that I really wanted, but, that didn't mean I couldn't fire off a few shots in an attempt to get something else. I sat down and distracted myself by heating up some dinner and having a cup of tea allowing myself a little time to process my thoughts rather than react to a situation. It was one of those really nice moments where it was just nice to be sat out in the bush at night, a quiet moment of peace that would allow me to think.
I decided I would look in my long lens again, which kind of seemed counterintuitive as not only was it in a landscape, but it was night time as well. (Definitely not when you would expect to use a long lens especially not a 150-600mm). it didn't take long for my eyes to find some little points of interest. This was the famous "Blue Mountains", after all.
In the distance to my left was this strange glow on the cliff walls, and to my right a strange red glow. It turns out that I had an interesting viewpoint of the "Three Sisters" to my left and to my right was the source of all the smoke; a bushfire or burnoff was still happily burning away in the distance. Shooting both of these would certainly test the ability of my camera and lens, and the stability of my tripod. Shooting in the dark at 600mm allows for zero vibration or the shot will be blurry, yet to allow enough light in I would have to do an extended exposure. The results were not perfect, but my satisfaction that I found something else to photograph and tried something quite different was more important.
I then began to play around with a few more ideas using soft lights and the local flora. On my way back I noticed this green bush which had spikey tips on the end, it reminded me of a soft chew toy that Buddy used to love except his was soft and didn't have the picks on the end. I was fascinated as the spacing of the stems was playing tricks on my eyes so I needed to find a way to illustrate this. Eventually I tried something using a very shallow depth of field which came out nicely I thought. Packing up my gear once again I started to make my way back to the car.
I decided to head to Govetts Leap lookout where I might still be able to salvage a nice Milky Way photograph. Govetts Leap has been photographed by many photographers but I decided to go check it out all the same. Conditions were still less than ideal with the moon still very bright, and the horizon still had a thick haze. None the less I waited until midnight, when I met one of the local photographers Jay Evans who is actually the business partner of another photography mate Luke Tscharke. It is a small world. Anyway, we got chatting and snapping, and while there wasn't any colour in the Milky Way, you could still make out the dust clouds. This would have to do.
My other mission while I was in the area was to check out Mount Wilson. Mount Wilson is a small area in the Blue Mountains famous for its ornamental gardens which were all in wonderful autumn colours as well. It is usually around the last week of April the colour starts to kick off, but this year was different. We haven't really experienced much in the way of a cold snap and really most of the gardens were still quite green. After I camped out the night I wandered the grounds of Breenhold Gardens in search for some autumn colours, alas, there were no burnt oranges but there was some beautiful golds coming through. Unfortunately I was about a week too early for a proper spring show, but that didn't stop me from checking out this beautiful spot. A spot that quite quickly was bubbling with tourists, so finding shots without people was fast becoming a challenge.
I was in search for a particular composition, one with several trees stood tall and grouped. I wanted to shoot this in a panorama - and I did find a few compositions - but I am not 100% on the atmosphere they delivered. I really wanted something with a cooler feel, even a little more eerie and dramatic. Some snow or fog would have been ideal, but it was getting close to 10am and the sun was starting to make itself quite well known. So a print worthy photograph would have to wait for another day.
I was messing about taking some selfies when I noticed that the tree lines were not quite perfect. There were tens of trees all standing straight and one just had branch leaning out like a cheeky child leaning around their parents leg. This was wonderful, this was the kind of image I really enjoy. One that just glows with character and charm. Like the first photograph I had taken the day before, this was enough for me to be happy. if I shot nothing else for the day I would still be content with my collection of imagery.
It really began to sink in that spontaneous life is far more rewarding that planned life. Like life in the younger years when those random unplanned nights at the pub turned out to be some of the best. It also made me think about perseverance and how we shouldn't just give up, we should always push through those barriers, those uncomfortable moments, which inevitably reveal something special in turn . If I had let that inner-voice prevail I would never have discovered such a beautiful spot, and never have captured such beautiful photos.