Ever wondered how to get the perfect night shot with your iPhone? Me, too!
The Elusive Perfect Shot
“You can set your phone to take photos of the nighttime sky,” I told my colleague and a student who had agreed to walk out to Sunset Point with me on our last night of outdoor school at Bryce Canyon National Park.
“I had no idea you could do that!” he replied.
I settled into the dusty trail as the two squatted beside me. “Click the down arrow on the camera app, and a little moon with lines through it shows up along the bottom of the screen.”
“There it is,” the student said.
“Now, click on it and move the slider timer to the maximum. Depending on the ambient light, your camera lens will stay open for 10 or 30 seconds.” I fiddled with my tripod and tried to frame a shot where I could catch the hoodoos and the stars.
“It turned out all blurry!” the student complained.
“It’s hard to hold the phone perfectly still for that long,” I consoled him. “Try propping it up against a rock. I’ll grab a few shots and then lend you my tripod.” I zoned their conversation out as I experimented, longing for the perfect shot.
In the rush of packing for outdoor school, I’d forgotten the adapter that would make my old lens fit my mirrorless 35mm camera. Instead of practicing the perfect shot with a camera I could fine-tune, I had two exposure options with my iPhone.
As often happens, when I anticipate capturing the perfect shot, something unexpected usually occurs. I hadn’t had time to review instructions for nighttime photography online. And only a few pointers from the Great Courses photography class I watched during the pandemic stuck with me.
Something about painting with light and long exposures.
When Someone Comes Along and Ruins Your Shot
“Mr. Hubbard is somewhere out here, too,” my colleague told the student. “I wonder if he’s trying to get the perfect shot.”
I placed my tripod in position and pressed the side button to start the shot. As I counted to thirty, I planned exactly where to shine my headlamp to paint the hoodoos. During the exposure, someone came down the trail, shining a flashlight willy-nilly around the canyon.
Unkind thoughts about the person and their inconsiderate flashlight use popped into my head. If only they had waited another 20 seconds before flashing their light around. Why couldn’t they call out in case other photographers were working on long exposures?
“There you guys are,” the newcomer exclaimed. “I wondered if I’d run into you. What are you doing?”
“Hey, Sam,” I said, “we’re taking photos of the night sky.” I took my phone off the tripod to check out my last shot, which Sam had ruined.
He squatted next to me and looked over my shoulder at the screen. “Wow! That’s a perfect shot! How did you do that?”
“I have no idea,” I said in amazement as I stared at the screen. “I can show you how to use your iPhone to take night photos, but I have no idea why the shot turned out so perfect.”
“Must have been my crazy light flashing all over,” he said with a laugh.
Anticipate the Unexpected
I couldn’t replicate the beautiful shot no matter what I tried for the next 30 minutes. It made me think of how often I anticipate one thing, and the unexpected happens. Obstacle after obstacle over the past three weeks had filled my soul with pebbles.
Planning a week-long outdoor school experience for 45 students and 13 staff members. Dealing with campground insecurity (it’s a thing) and crafting Plans A, B, and C for three possible campsites. Scheduling students and teachers for meaningful classes. We had our cook bow out two days before we left. Raising money at the last minute so students could go canyoneering. Dealing with other people’s anxieties about outdoor school. Purchasing last-minute items. Making sure everyone had tents, sleeping bags, and gloves for a week of camping in high elevations in October.
Most years, when I plan outdoor school, one or two unexpected things happen. I’ve learned to anticipate the unexpected. But this year? Everything that could go wrong did. I felt soul-weary when I hiked down into the hoodoos on the last evening of outdoor school. The flat tire on the bus and the three-hour delay the day before hadn’t helped, either.
I lost myself in photography, trying endless exposure, light, and position combinations. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t recreate the perfect shot I’d taken earlier when Sam ambled down the trail, flashing his light all over.
As he whispered to my soul, the gentle breeze felt like God’s laughter. “Anticipate the unexpected, Child, but know I am right there with you.”
I looked through my photos again. That one photo wasn’t just a perfect shot; it was a grace note from Creator, reminding me I could capture and share his beauty, no matter how overwhelmed or inadequate I felt.
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