A look back - 'Standing at the Edge of the Universe

I just realized something. I have a bunch of photographs on this website - but most of them (my 'older' ones, at least) have never had their story told.

So, from time to time, I'm going to revisit some of my favorite images, and share a little about them.


Before I get into the story behind this image, let's chat for a second about print titles.

For a long time, I was stuck on this topic. I didn't know if I should name my images with, what some might consider, a pretentious title. Or, should I use a simple descriptive naming scheme, like Ansel Adams used? Basically "location, season" in many cases - such as "Half Dome, Merced River, Winter".

But I realized that I actually enjoyed the naming process, and it felt like an extension of my creative process. Each of my favorite images is kind of like a child, and a proper name just helps me to solidify my pride in each creation. For me, it would be like having a child, and simply calling him, "Son, Alaska, Spring".

Some images don't lend themselves to a beautiful or quirky title, so chose to forego those for a simpler naming sequence. Every image is different. But art isn't about falling rigid sets of rules, adapting to someone else's set of ideals, or a perceived historical methodology. Good art is selfish. But that is a subject for another post.

'Standing at the Edge of the Universe'

October 13th, 2012.

We were sitting in a local sushi restaurant. Jena (my wife - although back then, she was my fiancee) and I were having dinner with our friend Scott (my future Best Man). Big sushi fans here. Not gonna lie. I can put a hurting on some raw fish.

I'm sure we were talking about some new technology, wishing aimlessly at some new cameras, or bashing some political pundit who had opened their trap again - spewing forth all manner of stupidity. You know, 'dinner talk'.

There's a great (simple) website that gives highly accurate short-term aurora forecasts. I subscribe to their feed on twitter, and in turn get automated text messages forwarded to my phone whenever the kp goes above a certain reading. Which, I must add, has been a real buzz-killer this summer. I've been getting updates of strong aurora conditions, only to glance outside and realize that it is still very light out - even at midnight. Ahhhh... summers in Alaska.

We are sitting there, and my phone buzzes with a new text message. The contents: "In 37 minutes the Aurora Borealis should be at 'STORM' LEVEL! It's On!!".

I don't think I've ever seen 5 rolls of sushi (I told you we can put a hurting on some raw fish...) disappear faster.

We quickly paid our bill and drove back to the house, stopping just long enough to grab our camera gear and heavy winter jackets.

"Heavy winter jackets?! Dave, it was only October 13th!"

True. But the temperatures were hovering around 30 degrees. When you included the 40-60 mph gusts we were getting near our house, that brings the wind chill down.


We drove a short distance to a local (and private) lake. I have a great relationship with the organization that owns the property, so we passed through the gate, and headed for the beach. By the time we arrived, the aurora was already whipping itself into a frenzy. Multi-colored bands could be seen rippling across the sky, mainly in an east to west pattern, but they reached from horizon to horizon.

Also whipping itself into a frenzy was the wind. With nothing to stop it's progress as it swept across the lake, we were hit with its full force as it made landfall. Our hoods quickly went up, over the knit caps we wore. Even in Alaska, this seemed a little odd at the time. Wearing heavy 850-fill goose down jackets in mid-October just seemed weird. But with the skies aglow overhead, it was an oddity we were more than willing to put up with.

I moved around to several locations along the shoreline, having a difficult time composing a scene that didn't include the dock.

I was getting frustrated. I (typically) don't like man-made objects in my landscape images. I like to show the viewer how a scene would appear if they were the first to visit - an explorer fetish, if you will.

But as I was walking from beach right to beach left - hey, Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage"; that includes my beach - I noticed an alignment. To my eye, the light pollution created by the small city of Palmer, Alaska, was directly beyond the end of the dock. It was a dim source of light, but I knew that a longer exposure would allow that light to build, adding a soft, warm glow to the horizon. This section of the horizon also seemed to be the epicenter of the aurora activity - several bands of green were shifting directly in line with the dock. Suddenly, it became an interesting juxtaposition to the wildness happening overhead.

I lined my composition up so there was equal spacing on all of the dock support poles, walking up the beach (away from the water's edge) brought each of the supports below the tree/water line. This added the separation I was looking for. This 30 second exposure is my favorite from the dozens I took of this composition, at 10:29 pm.