First, let’s define “First Light”

In Astronomy and Astrophotography, ‘first light’ is what you get when the telescope (or camera in my case) is turned to the sky and light is collected for the very first time.

So, was my first light that ancient 4.5″ refractor my Dad bought 40 or so years ago for us kids to look at the Moon or Jupiter or Saturn? Was it the first of countless nights spent looking up at the stars for meteors? Was it my Introduction to Astronomy class in college? Or was it the first snap of the moon I took with my smartphone?

Dear reader, it was none of these.

Because this blog is about astrophotography I will define my first light as the first time I deliberately tried to image an object in the sky. In this case, that object was the Milky Way, the time was early February 2019, and the location was Joshua Tree, CA.


Astrophotography wasn’t my thing. In fact, other than the odd shot of the moon I had been way more interested in sports and nature photography — specifically surfing.

Seriously, park me in front of a macking wave or somewhere where there are critters and I’ll spend hours snapping off hundreds or thousands of shots. It’s my jam. Or so it was…

The Phone Call

Some time in January of 2019 my phone rang.
It was my itinerant friend James. James and I had known each other since 2008 or so when I went to work for him at MySpace. I call him an itinerant friend because months or even years go by without hearing from him. This time it had been about six years.

With no preamble;

“I want to go try to shoot the Milky Way, do you want to meet me in Joshua Tree?”

-James, itinerant friend

I’m paraphrasing of course, but that was the gist. I agreed that sounded like fun and then over the next few weeks we alternatively haggled over when to go and shared the fruits of our research into this endeavor. Finally, we had a date and were to meet up in Joshua Tree, CA on February 5th. James was coming in from L.A. while I was coming from San Diego … no real way to carpool this one. Once there, I was surprised to find that Joshua Tree is an actual town, not just a National Park. Who knew? Obviously not parochial old me.

I found out from James later that apparently he chose me for this adventure because ‘I was the only one of his friends crazy enough to pick up on a moment’s notice and head to the desert for some photography.’

Side note: People have been calling me crazy for almost as long as I can remember. Certainly since age 8.