Struck by Fire
I was in the garden, I remember, pulling weeds and looking for aphids, when I happened to look up from my work to see this — apparition — hanging over the treetops like an impromptu party decoration, curly clouds lit up in a vibrant crimson. I’d never seen a cloud like this, seemingly on fire in the bright sunset, and I ran inside the house to grab my camera.
I’d been bitten.
I’m celebrating Skyboy Photos’ Anniversary this August 23, twenty-five years after that first photograph, and after becoming hooked on the magical and unpredictable beauty of the sky, the two hundred miles of atmosphere that we live beneath, and the weather that it produces.
In the ensuing years I’ve seen many wondrous sights and glorious vistas that I certainly would have missed if I hadn’t started paying attention. And I don’t even have to travel! I’ve found that if you just stay put and pay attention, eventually something interesting, beautiful, strange, or all three, will happen overhead.
That first photo was taken with what was called, in the olden days, film. We’ve had digital cameras for so long now, that I almost don’t remember what it was like having to take a picture and then wait three days to see if it came out. And not being able to do much about it, if it didn’t. I also remember spending money, lots of money.
Lens Kwik Photo of Kansas City did all of my processing work. As I walked in the door with yet another three rolls of 36-exposure film, all used up on skies, skies, skies, Jean the owner looked up from her photo printing machine and said dryly, “Well, hello there, Sky Boy!”
The name has stuck.
Blue Skies and Black
My love affair with the sky actually goes back even further than that. Somewhat more than twenty-five years ago, when I was a lad of about eight years, I remember lying on my back on the brick patio outside our house. I was going for an Astronomy merit badge in Boy Scouts, and one of the assignments placed me there on the ground, looking up at the nighttime sky, I don’t remember exactly why.
I could see the Milky Way, and planets, and millions and billions upon zillions of stars, twinkling confetti floating in the nighttime sky . Lying there on the bricks, seeing nothing but the sky in my view, I had a sudden exhilarating sensation of near-vertigo, as if I were lying on a mere six-foot pebble of rock, an asteroid floating and spinning through space, travelling dizzyingly past all those stars and worlds and nebulae and galaxies that I could see from our suburban Pittsburgh home.
I got a telescope soon after, and begin to watch the night sky with it. Then I grew up, and other things happened, and some long time later, I was reminded by a friend about my boyhood fascination. I thought it might be fun to get a telescope again and try watching the night sky. My deep-sky photography has been one of the outcomes of this renewed interest, and it feels like this completes some kind of circle, I don’t know what. Perhaps in the way that I see that nature presenting herself to us in her infinite different ways, beautiful in every manifestation, and more interesting and gratifying the more you look, in every realm and scale.
You can visit my website at Skyboy Photos to see photographs, film and digital, of some of the memorable moments I have witnessed over the last twenty-five years. available as handmade Greeting Cards and Photographic Prints.
But more importantly, I hope you remember the next time you may happen to go outdoors, or if you are already outdoors, and focused (as indeed you should be) on the task at hand and the next thing you need to be doing in your day, or whomever you’re talking with or whatever you may be reading — well, I hope you happen, like I did, to glance up for just a moment. And when you do, I hope you are surprised by the unexpected, and delighted by the sheer wonder of the sky.
Weather rules us
By night we glimpse neighbors
The sky is our window and our
— David Bayard