When I applied for “the dream job” (as it was described), I never ignored the keyword… job. Whether I felt in my heart and head like spending the day hiking in the heat and photographing didn’t matter. I had a job to do.
There was also a rapidly closing Milky Way window and I would only get ONE night to shoot it while at Joshua Tree. Though the park is a beautiful place any time of day, it was the night photos I had seen that had me most excited.
As the temperatures dropped to the low 100s in the hours before sunset, I made the most of the time by scouting out a location to shoot golden hour and Milky Way. A half-moon would be lingering through most of the night, which makes the Milky Way much harder to pick up in detail. There is a trade-off, however, in that it provides a lot of ambient light for the foreground. Though it would be challenging, I knew this would be a good night for shooting.
Fortunately, I had done some research of the area and knew where I wanted to shoot. As soon as I was done with sunset, I hiked straight to Arch Rock to set up for an evening shoot and waited… impatiently.
Eventually I found myself simply too bored to sit there any longer. This is an important distinction as I don’t remember the last time I was truly bored, whether out in the field or anywhere else. We live in an age where a world of information and entertainment is always at your fingertips, and I was sitting in Joshua Tree National Park under the stars with my camera ready for an epic capture… how was I bored?
I went back to the van, leaving the tripod where I had scouted the shot with plans to return when the Milky Way was in position. My hope was that some food and rest would reinvigorate the spirit. But when I returned to the scene and saw everything aligned and began getting the shots I would need, I felt nothing. No high, no low, no amazement, just acknowledgment and indifference.
Checking the back of the camera to review what it had recorded, I could see immediately that this was a winner. I knew it would be a photo that I really, really loved after processing… but I felt no joy in the moment.
For the rest of the night, I went through the motions of including the human element and collecting the secondary and tertiary shots I had scouted. Each time I would look at the photo that had just been captured with full confidence that everything was dialed in precisely, but the thrill of victory was absent. It was like being on a hamster wheel, dialing in the same old settings and just collecting photos.
And still, I stayed out shooting until the Milky Way was gone. I knew this would be my only chance to get these shots on the visit and treated it as such. When it was over and I was back in the van with just 2 hours of sleep available before getting up for sunrise, it occurred to me that this was a moment I would need to be mindful and cautious of. The idea that the thing I did for enjoyment, my biggest opportunity for fulfillment and escape, was becoming something I looked forward to being over.
If you are reading this wondering how someone who has dedicated their adult life to photographing the world’s most beautiful landscapes can be so indifferent in a moment like this, then that makes two of us. It is a moment that has forced significant introspection, and the only conclusion I have arrived at so far is that freedom of choice is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for enjoyment.