I have mentioned this before, but I just love serendipity.  In fact, I think I love serendipity so much that I have what might be diagnosed as a serendipity fetish. I don’t mean that in a sexual way – I am not even sure what that would mean. No, I am talking about it in a photography context.

I am not the first to discuss “photographic serendipity”, but I might be the first to try and define it.

Photographic Serendipity. Noun. Wonderful, lucky opportunities or happenings that sometimes, with no apparent rhyme or reason, bestow themselves upon an unexpecting, but nonetheless grateful photographer.

When the photo gods grant me a bit of photographic serendipity, I take it, and I am happy. Such was the case several weeks ago in New Mexico at Vermejo Park Ranch.

On the most active night of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I went out to Vermejo’s iconic Castle Rock and tried my luck at “catching” meteors with my camera. It is not as easy as it sounds.

I had two cameras set up on tripods and after setting up the focus and exposure, I locked down the cable releases and let them run continuously. I pointed them at Castle Rock so that part of the Milky Was was visible and hoped for a meteor to flash by during my 25 second exposures. Most of the time I stared in wonder and exasperation as meteors flashed by exactly where my cameras were not pointed. But I did manage to get a handful of nice photos, like these.

Castle Rock with night stars and Milky Way during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Castle Rock with night stars and Milky Way during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

 

Castle Rock and night stars during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Castle Rock and night stars during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

These images are not what I would call “serendipitous”, though. I knew what I was going for and I was not surprised at the result. I used a nifty little app called PhotoPills to look up when the moon would set that night and give me the best opportunities. Working two cameras, I knew I had to get some images like this.

After I had shot awhile, I thought to climb on top of Castle Rock with my headlamp and add myself as an extra element to the scene. I tried backlighting myself, pointing my headlamp at the camera, light-painting part of the foreground, etc.  When I got down, I checked the back of the camera and found the image below.

Castle Rock and night stars during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA.

Castle Rock and night stars during Perseid meteor shower, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, USA. Canon 1DX. 16mm. ISO 3200. f/3.2 @ 25 seconds.

Lo and behold, there was a nice meteor**** streaking right toward me and the little spot of light from my headlamp. How cool!

It wasn’t until I checked my camera the next day that things got really weird. As I flipped through 15 consecutive 25 second images, I found that the meteor not only made a perfect pass above me on the edge of Castle Rock, but it passed me at the exact (25 second) moment I turned my headlamp toward the camera. The result when played as a video looks almost as if the meteor struck me and released an explosion of light. Wow!  Now that is photographic serendipity!

Here is an animated GIF showing the whole series of 15 images. Double click on it to see it full screen. If you would like to go to Vermejo, I am returning next month to lead an “Elk and Aspens” photo workshop. Contact me for more info!

sfitzgerald_vermejo_perseid_960x

15 images assembled into a single animated GIF. Perseid Meteor Shower above Castle Rock, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico. ©Sean Fitzgerald.

 

****It would have taken over 6 minutes to streak across the sky from about 4:19am to 4:25am on August 12. Was it instead a satellite? The International Space Station? I have tried to check using my Sky Guide app, but have not found the answer. Thoughts?