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Facing fears in the dark

Photography has the uncanny knack of frequently pushing me out of my comfort zone. Whether it be self-promotion, public speaking or taking on new clients, I feel like I’m constantly being pushed to do things that initiate a hornet’s nest of fear from deep within.

This weekend was no exception. When my scheduled work away was suddenly canceled, I found myself with an unexpected free weekend at home. With clear skies and a new moon, I thought it might be a great time to get out and do some night photography. I messaged my usual go-to partners in night exploration, eager to make some plans. But with it being so last minute, everyone was busy.

Getting out

Being solo, the first night I decided to go explore the local marina. I’m always looking for unique ways to photograph my hometown and I hadn’t done any night photography there before. With a new moon, I knew the Milky Way would be visible. However, I wasn’t sure how much of it I could pick up while battling the light pollution from town.

To my delight, I was able to photograph it decently across the ocean from the marina. Although the image isn’t portfolio worthy, it’s always great to add to my stock Iibrary. Overall, I had a great time meandering around the docks, with just the curious seals to keep me company.

The dilemma

The next day I was keen to get up on the local mountain, away from the light pollution of town. I tried a couple more friends but still couldn’t find anyone who wanted to wander around the forest at 1 a.m. — go figure! While I’ve spent a decent amount of time out in the woods at night, it’s usually with other people.

If you’ve spent any time in the forest at night, you know how much your mind can play tricks on you. Every little sound is amplified. Each rustle in the bush causes your brain to rush to worst case scenarios. Have I mentioned that I live on Vancouver Island, BC, home to the largest concentration of cougars in the world?

Going for it

After much humming and hawing, I finally decided to not let fear get in my way. Instead of crawling into my cozy bed at midnight, I jumped in the car and took off up the mountain.

Still nervous, I picked my shooting spot strategically. I chose some hiking trails that I knew would have seen a lot of human traffic in the day. As well, I only needed to walk about 15 minutes away from my car to get to my location.

I should also note here that I had told a friend where I was going, and was to message him when I got back — safety first!

Facing fears

I won’t lie — walking through the dark trails alone at night definitely got my heart racing. My hope was that my headlamp wouldn’t catch a pair of shining eyes in the bushes ahead of me. I got to the tree I had in mind and began setting up my shot.

Once in the zone, the fear subsided as I was busy playing around with compositions and exposures. My eyes adjusted to the dark and I found myself under a blanket of shimmering stars. Going out at night is hard, but I never regret it once I’m there. Still, I couldn’t help but do perimeter sweeps with my flashlight. The feeling of being vulnerable is definitely heightened at night!

After getting the shot I wanted, I made my way back to the car. Usually I’d be out all night finding varied compositions. But at this point I was just happy to have faced my fears by spending a couple of hours alone in the woods. I wanted to make an exit while the experience was still a good one!

The walk back to my car got my heart pumping again. The unknown just outside of the reach of my headlamp to my mind racing at every corner. Of course, the worst part of the evening was not running into a giant cougar; it was the thousands of mosquitoes that were delighted to have a late night snack at my expense.

Overall, the weekend ended up being less about the images I shot, but more about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. About not letting fear dictate whether or not I went out. And while I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable experience, I’m still happy I did it.

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Rafael Jones

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