The Quadrantids. A once a year meteor shower that was scheduled to peak after night fall last Thursday was completely obscured thanks to a "little" winter storm called Hercules that pummeled the East coast. While Boston was digging out from two feet of snow the next day, photographers everywhere took to the streets to record some wintery city scenes. While I fully intended to stay local and off the roads, I decided instead to risk the travel hazards to go on a little adventure away from city lights in the hopes of capturing some remnants of the Quadrantids later that evening.
I decided to head down to Hingham to Wompatuck State Park. I really enjoyed hiking the park in the summer and I was curious to see how the snow would transform the landscape. It is also basically in the middle of nowhere so I knew I wouldn't have to deal with too much light pollution for photographing the meteors, and there are a few structures in the park that I thought would make for pretty cool foregrounds against the night sky.
The roads weren't too bad. Travelling was a bit slow, but I made it to the park by 2:30 in the afternoon. It was sunny for the most part, but the temperature was a balmy 14°F and falling steadily. I knew I only had about 2 hours of sunlight left to scout the areas I was hoping to shoot from later in the evening, and it was about a mile hike into the woods so I grabbed my gear, activated and inserted all of my heat-packs (pockets, gloves, hat, boots and thighs) and left the comfort of my well heated and soon to be longed for Element.
I have to say how grateful I am for the skiiers and snowmobilers that arrived to the trails before me that day. Without them, I would have been trying to hike through almost two feet of snow with drifts up to three, sometimes four feet high. Thankfully pretty good paths were formed and I made good time. I am also thankful that I didn't see or hear anyone else the entire time I spent in the park. It was so peaceful and serene and white. Often I wanted to just stop, and listen, and feel the moment, and just be, but the bitter cold and dwindling light forced me to keep up a brisk pace.
Once I arrived to the area of the park I was hiking toward, I tried to relax while taking photos but the cold just wasn't allowing that. My fingers were going numb, my face was frozen and my pants were just two cylinders of frozen denim that barely bent at the knee anymore. I could have spent hours taking photographs, it was so beautiful, but I rushed to get some quick shots so I could start heading back to the comfort of my car. Fortunately I found a great location with the perfect vantage point for photographing the Quadrantids, so I made note of it, did a few calculations (Star Walk and The Photographers Ephemeris are my best friends), and found a second location close by for capturing some star-trails in case the meteors were no-shows and booked it the mile back to my car.
I spent the next several hours thawing out in the back of my Element. I plugged in my space heater and electric blanket, streched out, watched a movie on the iPad, Crushed some Candy, drank a few beers, cooked some dinner, read a few chapters and took a nap. At around 10pm I started to have some serious second thoughts about venturing out again. The temperature had dropped to 1°F with a wind chill of -15°, and I was absolutely dreading the thought of hiking out to the location again and back in the pitch black bitter cold (not to mention the couple of hours I was anticipating spending taking long-exposure photos). But it's the Quadrantids. It only happens once a year. The conditions are perfect. There's no question. Screw my personal comfort and safety, I'm doing this.
I put on a new set of dry clothes, applied more heating patches, and monitored my Star Walk app for the next hour or so waiting for the meteors to be the right amount of degrees above the horizon so I could start shooting right when I arrived. I have to say, hiking through the woods at night is just as creepy as it is beautiful and serene during the day, more so actually. I arrived to my location and immediately set up my gear and started making exposures. After 20 minutes I still had not seen a meteor so I decided to scrap that shoot all together and head to my second location to try and salvage the night with some star-trail photos. At this point it was -5°F with a windchill of -22°F. At the next spot, I set up my camera to record 60 consecutive one minute exposures, started the sequence, then began to pray that the photos would turn out. I couldn't touch my camera for a whole hour so I had no idea if my images were being recorded properly, or in focus. I worried that my lens would freeze and fog the images, I worried that my tripod would shift in the snow, I worried that my battery was going to die too soon, I worried that my light painting was blowing out the exposures, I worried that the planes flying overhead were adding distracting elements to my star-trails, I worried that I was going to get attacked by wild animals, I was worried that my fingertips were turning an alarming shade of purple and I couldn't really feel my feet anymore. What I was worried about most though was putting myself through all of this torture (and possibly losing a few fingers and toes), to come away without a photograph that made it all worth while.
Well, I made it back to my car and thawed out. My fingers were screaming in pain but the color was coming back to them. I could bend them again after about a half hour or so, but man that actually scared me. I was tempted to look at the images on my viewfinder but I refrained from doing so. Sometimes I like the suspense. It wasn't until I got home, loaded all the photos into Photoshop and worked a little bit of magic before I was presented with what is quite possibly the best photograph I've ever created!
Sure there are photographs similar to it out there, but knowing what I went through to create this photograph makes it so much more endearing and precious to me. It is the last photo of this set. I hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think!