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Behind The Photo: The Final Countdown

I have been obsessing over Milky Way photos for the past year – reading everything and watching all the videos that I can get my hands on for Milky Way Photography. So, on my whirlwind three-day tour to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in February, a Milky Way photo was an important part of the itinerary.

After scouring Instagram and the internet for inspiration, I found my potential Milky Way location in Sedona. As the Milky Way core would only be visible from 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., it was going to require a super early morning. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not a morning person, but I was ready to get up for the Milky Way chase! However, when we arrived, we ran into some problems.

My husband Jon and I flew into Las Vegas Nevada, arriving late,where we met our good friend Ed at the airport. Waking up early the next morning, we drove four and a half hours to Sedona. After a late lunch, we only had a few hours of daylight to scope out the Milky Way spot. After hiking in, I used my Milky Way App that allows you to see where it will be at specific times (PhotoPills - check it out! Super cool and has many other awesome photo features!), but realized that a large rock feature was blocking the Milky Way core and the site would not work. As the sun was going down, I tried to hide my disappointment. Jon and Ed weren’t fooled and being the awesome people that they are, tried to help me problem solve to find a new spot.

Using google maps, Ed figured out that if we tried out Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, the Milky Way should be visible to its side. We hopped in the car and raced over to check out the new spot. Hiking in about 20 minutes, we found the perfect spot.

When we checked into our Airbnb that night, we stood out on the back deck, taking in the beautiful Red Rocks of Sedona. All of a sudden, the owner’s dog started barking frantically. I looked down and saw two wild pigs! Our Airbnb was only a five-minute drive from our proposed Milky Way spot... I went to bed early with visions of meeting wild pigs on the trail at 4 a.m.

The alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. Jon and Ed are saints! Off we went and we were on the trail at 4 a.m. shivering in the 22-degree weather, tripod in hand ready to fend off wild pigs. We arrived at the scouted spot and I set up for my first attempt at low levellighting for a Milky Way shot. Essentially, you set up very low level studio lighting outside so that you can see the foreground in your shot. I also wanted to try some portraits with the Milky Way after seeing some really neat portraits on Instagram.

After getting the lighting to what I thought looked correct and getting some Milky Way shots, I decided to bring Ed and Jon in for their portraits. We had all been talking loudly, cognizant of the fact that a wild animal might be lurking. As Ed held up the light and the 15-second timer started ticking down, we began to sing “it’s the final countdown!” With visions of Gob Bluth from Arrested Development dancing around in my head, Jon started playing the song on his phone at full blast. Laughing while Ed tried to hold still for the 15 seconds, this shot was taken. Even though it was freezing cold, and ridiculously early, we had an awesome time.

We packed up and headed to the Coffee Pot Restaurant to warm up, breaking into bursts of “the Final Countdown” on the way to the restaurant, arriving shortly after they opened at 6 a.m. When I look at this photo, I will always hear “the Final Countdown,” and remember an amazing morning!

A very special thanks to my husband Jon, and my amazing friend Ed, for getting up at ridiculous o’clock and freezing with me on their vacations to make this photo possible.

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