Heavenly bodies

Early last month I had read that spectacular celestial alignment would occur. The planets Venus and Jupiter were to appear close together in the western sky just after sunset for most of March. And aside for the moon, the two would be the two brightest objects in the sky. I was working the night shift and despite the daylight savings time change, I had hoped to get a chance to photograph them. The problem was that nearly every night of the month the sky was obscured by clouds. Other people across the country were treated to the heavenly view that we in the Valley were denied. To add insult to I injury, a couple of nights it even rained.

Don’t get me wrong I love clouds. They can make a plain ordinary sky into dramatic scene and even inclement weather can make for some interesting photos but the clouds were like a curtain blocking the stars from the night sky.

By mid-month I was still hopeful for the best was yet to come. On March 24 and 25 the pair would be just a few degrees apart with the addition of being joined by a slim crescent moon. The 24th came along and with it more cloudy skies. I had one last chance but the cover continued on the 25th and I gave up hope of getting a shot of the planetary alignment.

The clouds persisted on the day of March 28 and I didn’t even think about Jupiter and Venus or the moon. That evening I was leaving the Stockton Arena walking to my car after shooting comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. The blue hour of dusk was nearly done when I looked up and the clouds that filled the sky earlier were gone. Before me the moon hovered in the sky along with two bright stars. Venus, despite being the much smaller than Jupiter, was brighter due to being much closer to Earth. True, they weren’t at their optimum alignment of a few days before, but they were close enough together to capture in a single shot.

I tried to get a shot but the Banner Island Ballpark’s north parking lot lights got in the way. As I made my way across the lot to get away from the lights I adjusted my camera’s settings. Once past the light poles I looked up again at the sky and was enthralled. So much so that my eyes were fixed skyward and not to where I was walking. There are a few stairs at the west end of the parking lot and unknowingly I stepped off of the top and tumbled to the pavement below. I took the brunt of my fall on my knees but managed to protect my camera and the big 200mm-400mm telephoto lens I was carrying. They suffered only a couple minor scratches. I, on the other hand, lay on the ground writhing in pain.
My hurting subsided after about a minute or so and I was able to assess my injuries.

Nothing felt broken so I gingerly got up. I began to think about getting the shot that caused me to fall. From where I was I saw a water tower that could be used in the foreground as a point of reference for the viewer, but it was a little too far away. The tower was only about half a block away but given my injuries I hobbled back to my car and loaded up my gear. I drove near the tower and limped out to shoot. The tower’s silver tank was bathed in a warm color from some nearby streetlights and contrasted with the fading blue of the evening sky.

I drove back to the office to download my pictures. I pulled up my pant legs to further examine the damages. Two badly skinned knees were the visible wounds (strangely enough the pants themselves were intact). I went to the doctor the next day. Aside from the scrapes I had a strained left anterior cruciate ligament but nothing torn or broken.

I guess I was pretty lucky and the lesson to be learned is that if you’re going to reach for the stars, make sure you’ve got your eyes on where you’re going.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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