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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about fulfilling my Comet PanSTARRS dreams from atop Haleakala (the location of PanSTARRS’ discovery) on Maui. After nearly a year of anticipation, being able to photograph this beautiful comet paired with a new moon had left me sated. And anyway, with the comet fading fast, I had no illusions that I’d be able to top what I already had. But less than two weeks removed from Maui, finding myself in Arizona to assist Don Smith’s Northern Arizona workshop (Don assisted me in Maui) and still seeing nice PanSTARRS images online, I decided to check PanSTARRS’ location relative to the Grand Canyon (where the workshop kicks off). And guess what…. Not only did it look like we could align PanSTARRS with the Grand Canyon, the 93% waxing gibbous moon would be perfectly positioned to illuminate the canyon, normally a bottomless black pit at night.
I should mention that Don and I preceded our Northern Arizona trip with a few days watching Spring Training baseball (go Giants!) in Phoenix, a much needed respite separating a grueling week on Maui from an equally grueling trip to the Grand Canyon, Page (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend), and Sedona. (I know, I know, if our life gets any tougher U2 will probably be doing a benefit concert for us, but Don and I are just givers.)
Our original plan had been to catch the Giants and Angels in Tempe on Sunday afternoon, then take a leisurely drive to our hotel near the South Rim that night. But when I told Don about the opportunity to reprise our Maui PanSTARRS shoot, he was all for it. We bolted the Giants’ game in the seventh inning and rolled into the parking lot at Yavapai Point (by my calculation the only easily accessible, ideally aligned location) about 30 minutes after sunset.
We found the rim gloriously empty (and shockingly cold after Maui and Phoenix). The western horizon still held traces of warmth from the just finished day, but moonlight had already started spilling into the canyon. By the time we were set up and ready to shoot the sky had darkened enough that it was about dark enough to shoot. After a couple of test shots to get the exposure right and locate PanSTARRS (it’s too faint now to be seen with the naked eye), we got down to business. The comet was clearly visible as a white smudge on my LCD screen, even more visible than I expected it to be, making framing it in the composition easy. I just kept clicking, trying many horizontal and vertical variations as I could, until the comet finally faded into the orange haze.
Tonight we’ll take the group out and try again….