3 Peaks Photography & Design


Photos and text by Jerry Daniel

He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.” 
                                                                Daniel 2:22

I recently ventured out of my comfort zone and took a night sky/astrophotography class, which turned out to be a very profound spiritual experience!  One of the daunting features of this class, besides the exploration of a largely unfamiliar facet of photography, was that the class was going to last all night, as in ALL night, sunset to sunrise!  I have not pulled an “all nighter” since my days in college!  This, combined with the fact that there was at least a 40% chance of rain, an unusually consistent pattern that had persisted around Westcliffe, CO, and the surrounding Wet Mountain Valley this summer, allowing for the possibility that cloudy skies might not give way to the Milky Way - all night! 

After an informative and educational presentation on the unique techniques of night photography from our Teacher (Mike Pach), the Teacher, and the four of us students gathered our gear and drove to the first location, a weathered, old barn that had seen its share of harsh thunderstorms and fierce, cold winters!  As predicted, rain and wind prevailed as we initially set up our cameras and tripods, the latter a critical tool for stability with minimal light and long exposures! It was the first time I had ever used my new camera rain cover (Thanks again, Deanna!) and between the adjustment to a rapidly fading dusk, attempting to practically apply the techniques just learned, including how to adjust camera settings "by feel”, and trying to prevent camera and lens exposure to the pouring rain, I was beginning to think that perhaps I should just stick with dry, daylight photography!  It was also during this time that I was hearing some old internal voices, competing with the other photographers’ voices I kept hearing on either side of me, who were catching on more quickly, as evidenced by the “oohs” and “aaahs," interspersed with a periodic celebratory “Yes!”DSC_0842a & text.jpg.  Old voices saying things like, “You don't belong here!”, “You’re not good at this!”, “You’re not going to figure this out!”, “It’s too hard!”, etc.  Thankfully after about the first hour, and after the rain and the wind died down, I started to grasp the camera-setting techniques and began to contribute my own “ooohs” and “aaahs”!  We noticed that the clouds were beginning to break up and the stars were beginning to “peek” out through the openings!  At that point, the Teacher decided it was time to pack up and head for the next stop on our photo tour.  Named “Bear Basin," the location was a hilltop with a wide-open view in all directions and this was also the time and place in which the clouds eventually rolled back like theatre curtains to reveal an undiluted panorama that left us speechless on one hand and giddy as kids looking at a Christmas tree packed with presents on Christmas morning on the other!  It struck me how, as a group of adults from different walks of life, with responsibilities and hearts seasoned and perhaps somewhat jaded by living out life’s challenges, could once again experience, in the dark of night, a child-like joy and wonder simultaneously discovered through our view screens and together expressed!  Before we left for our third stop, the Teacher invited us to just stop and enjoy the view - no cameras, no push for the “next great shot” - just standing there, looking up, soaking in the splendor above us! The sheer magnitude of the Milky Way, with its countless stars, blazingly pointing to the glory of their Creator, silently, yet “shouting," as if with “Light Words," like a giant neon sign, “It is God who made all this, know that you can trust Him, even in the darkness!”  With our naked eyes, we saw some of the beauty, but we could not fully “perceive” the brilliance of the night sky without the aid of our camera’s technology! Likewise, as Paul said, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12), so in this life, I have found that although my perspective is frustratingly limited, God still grants me glimpses of eternity, enough to maintain the hope to keep moving forward till that time when all will be made right (Ecclesiastes 3:11)! 

Here are some LESSONS I learned in the Dark that night:

CHAOS IN THE STORM - that night, like so many of Life’s storms, was chaotic, messy, blurry,fullsizeoutput_1309.jpeg confusing, disorienting, frustrating, aggravating, agonizing, unnerving, uncertain, dark, threatening, and unsettling.  I was out of my element and felt the discomfort of having to recognize my limitations in ability and knowledge in order to learn from the Teacher how to deal with an unfamiliar experience! A part of me hated the feeling of inadequacy and incompetence, which was really only “unfamiliarity with a reluctantly teachable heart”.  The Teacher’s tip reminders and encouragement to keep trying helped me push through the initial failure to understand and apply the new techniques until it finally “clicked”, literally and figuratively!  


TRUST THE PROCESS - the techniques and camera settings for nighttime photography were VERYDSC_0756a.jpg different compared to what I was familiar with for daytime photography.  It took practice and multiple shots to gradually learn how to work with my camera to utilize its amazing capabilities to capture images beyond what I could see with my own eyes!  For example, when focusing, I had to trust that when my automatic focus lens stopped rotating as I partially depressed the shutter release, it was indicating that the camera was truly focused “to infinity," even though I could not visually tell for sure if it was focused or not because of the low light levels!  Similarly, I have to willingly trust that the Holy Spirit within me is focused “to infinity”, even when my naked eyes have a greatly limited perspective, trusting in His leading, even though I cannot clearly see what is ahead.

PATIENCE IS REQUIRED IN THE DARKNESS (IT JUST TAKES TIME): - I learned that in the darkness, a longer exposure time is necessary in order for the needed illumination to occur!  I came to appreciate just how long 30 seconds really was as I waited each time for my camera’s open shutter toDSC_0885a.jpg release and for the image to appear on my screen!  There was no way to “rush” the process.  I had to patiently “wait and see” for the exposure’s image to be revealed! The built-up anticipation added to the joy of taking the photos, reminding me of my time in the darkroom, way back in college, when I would eagerly anticipate each image’s appearance on exposed photo paper to reveal the image burned onto its wet, shiny surface! Because of the low light, I often could not even be totally sure of the composition until after it appeared on my screen!  Sometimes blurry, sometimes not level, and even occasionally details revealed in the photo that I had not noticed when snapping the photo!  Sometimes the Teacher would use a flashlight or small lamp light to “light paint” certain subjects, highlighting unique features to bring greater depth and interest to the photo.  So also the Holy Spirit, over the course of our lives, if we are patiently watching, brings illumination to important details for us to see and understand how our lives are being exposed and composed into one of God’s works of art!

DON’T SHINE YOUR LIGHT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS EXPOSING:  I also learned that after anDSC_0832a.jpg extended period of time in the darkness, our eyes became more sensitive, adjusting to the greatly diminished residual light.  So much so, that in the midst of the darkness, a bright flashlight or headlamp would have been temporarily blinding, too much light all at once! In fact, while in the midst of these long exposures, we photographers had to communicate with each other asking, “Is anyone exposing?”, before we turned on our specialized, low-light red beam headlamps to make any camera adjustments.  If we had prematurely turned on our lights, it would have ruined another photographer’s exposure!  Similarly, when another person is going through a “dark night of the soul” life experience in which illumination is minimal or lacking at the moment, good intentioned brothers or sisters in Christ have been known to turn on their spiritual “brights” when that person’s vision is still adjusting to the “low light”, resulting in an unintentional blinding to what God might be showing in the darkness, perhaps even causing the person to become impatient and/or resigned to not seeing God’s Presence and Revelation in the dark.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the LORD,
     . . . who summons you by name.”      Isaiah 45:3

THERE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE - The biggest lesson I learned taking photos in the dark was that, as the saying goes, “There is more than meets the eye.”  In fact, there is sooo muchDSC_1252a.jpg more than meets the eye! As the Apostle Paul wrote, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)  Having diminished light forced me to stop straining to “see” and just “behold," to not focus on what I could make out, but allow the scene to reveal itself to me! After years of being both mesmerized and intimidated by the beauty and complexity of nighttime photography, the “vision” of my camera opened up a whole new perspective that I could not see with my naked eyes alone and in the blazing light of day! By entrusting myself to the insights of the Teacher, and the technology at my fingertips, I was given the opportunity to SEE, in a much farther and deeper and broader way, the BEAUTY that can be found, even in the darkness, perhaps especially in the darkness!  And, as I realized that July summer night, in the darkness, indeed that same BEAUTY had always been there, and through it, my Creator was calling, beckoning, summoning me by name, to come out of my comfort zone, into the unsettling, uncertain, and disorienting darkness, to SEE a dazzling treasure just waiting to be revealed!


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