Scott Rinckenberger Meteor Joshua Tree

I’ve been shooting photos for 20 years. I’ve made my living in the profession for the last 15. I can count on one hand the number of times that everything lined up perfectly and a truly rare image was created. Now, I don’t want to toot my own horn about this shot, but the fact that, during a 30 second exposure, after a 10 second timer (during which I hopped down from the roof of my truck where the camera was on a tripod, and joined the scene by the fire), a meteor(or so they tell us) would enter the sky EXACTLY in the corner of the frame and explode in the very part of the frame that needed balance, just as I had finally worked out the correct exposure and lighting to match the foreground with the night sky, is beyond rare. It’s a non-chance. There is no way to plan for something like this. No way to even hope for it.

But lest you get the impression that I’m subscribing to a lifestyle of reliance on freakish luck, there is a deeper game at play here. Namely this: If you shoot enough arrows, eventually you’ll pull a Robin Hood and split the arrow that was already a bulls-eye. When I took this shot, it was the final day of my project shooting fall landscapes in the American West. Five weeks previous, I had left Seattle in my truck with no mission beyond creating and sharing beautiful photography as I chased good weather almost all the way to the Mexican border. Every morning, I was up shooting the sunrise. Every night, I was posted up somewhere scenic to shoot the close of another day in the great outdoors. From the Olympic rain forest to the Tetons, Yosemite to Zion, I was on an epic hunt. And, to be perfectly honest with you, toward the end of the trip, despite the thousands of images taken, and the enthusiastic feedback from the world at large, I was disappointed that I hadn’t captured a single transcendent image; an image that would make me want to burn my camera, a la Jimmy Hendrix.

Nonetheless, I needed a closing shot for the project. A shot that said, ‘thanks for joining me on this journey, and here’s to living the good life under nature’s roof’. So there I was, on the last night in the field, going through the motions. Legitimately not inspired, but professionally committed. Apologies to the idealists out there, but after a month of shooting the evening sky, you just plain get a little bit numb. But you’ve got to respect the process and do the work. Find a cool campsite, get a photogenic camp and fire setup, tweak the fire and tent to match the brightness of the stars, shoot a test image, make adjustments, shoot an image, another round of tweaks, shoot a photo, that looks pretty good, how about another for good measure, and WHAMMY!

My pal Hayden was the other guy at the campfire. His favorite part of the story? My response after I had climbed back up on the roof of the truck to review the image that I was hoping beyond hope I had captured. In my head: Exposure? Check. Focus? Check. EXPLODING METEOR? CHECK! And verbally (very quietly): “I’m done.” And those of you who know how the mind of an artist works, being done is a rare and beautiful thing.

As always, custom fine art prints of all of my images are available. If you like my work, please follow me online at: FacebookInstagramGoogle+500px and Twitter.  More importantly, share it with a friend and give me a hi-5 when you see me next; let’s keep things in the real world here.  Thanks!

98 thoughts on “What are the odds?

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  3. The odds of this picture or incredibly small.

    Did no one see the face in the rock immediately behind the campground?
    The creatures left eye is bulging whereas the right eye is only a socket. Nice cheeks too! Then there is the head just to the left of the camp site.

  4. Your story popped up on me google news page under the space topic. My wife and I have visited Joshua Tree but we didn’t stay over night. Great landscape. I like the way the meteor side versus the sun setting side of the sky have different hues. I assume you didn’t even notice the meteor until you looked at the picture.

    1. Joshua Tree is indeed a wonderful landscape. The crazy thing about the meteor is that it was more than noticeable, it was as though a bolt of lightning ripped through the sky. We were completely blown away by the amount of light from the explosion!

  5. Great shot! I’ve dabbled in long exposures and can appreciate how lucky you truly were. There’s always that one dang plane flying in the shot though! nice work. 🙂

  6. Having spent time trying to do things like photograph lightning with long exposures, I’ve got a value idea of what it must feel like to get a shot like that. Only you’re is something way more unique, and your photography way better.

    It really is an awesome shot.

  7. I went through your portfolio and your B&W landscape work was probably some of the best I’ve seen in years. You get it, so quit messing around with these damn exploding bits of colorful dust and get back to work!

    Congrats 🙂

  8. He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted. You are making your living with your art and self promotion means food on your table. Shy people starve. You have really great talent and your photographs need to be out there. You should not apologize for tasteful self promotion.

  9. Amazing photo! I hope I run into a little bit of luck like that in the near future.

    I saw your answer regarding your camera settings at f2.8 30sec ISO400. I was wondering did the stars show up properly at ISO400? I tend to be at the ISO3200 range to get many stars…

    Also, any tips on controlling the brightness of the campfire? Thanks!

  10. This is beautiful, and quite a story. I really love how you worked so hard and stuck it out to the finish, I often think about going just a little longer with the camera and I think that’s part of what sets great photographers apart from good ones. I also can really appreciate the feelings I can only imagine you had when you saw that last shot; only to quietly say “I’m done.” That reaction really speaks to the effort you put forth, and how you understand what it takes to go above the rest. Had you yelled it or jumped off your car screaming to your friend about what had happen it wouldn’t have translated the same.
    I’ve had some great shots come from just waiting a tad longer, or getting a bit dirtier, and I’m sure many photographers give up wayyyy to soon. This will be a good reminder of why it’s important to stay as long as time and health allows, and then some. 😉
    I will now attempt to keep some attention on your work in the future, and as a final note; I aspire to be a traveling photographer or at least go on as many journeys as I can to photograph what I want. Thanks for sharing your work with the world. =)

    1. Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. Persistence is definitely the lesson that was reinforced in my work on this particular journey. It is a privilege when life teaches such clear lessons. Best of luck with your journeys, and thanks for joining me on mine. Cheers! – Scott

  11. What a truly incredible and well earned image. You put yourself at the right place at the right time, and while it may feel like luck, I commend you for your persistence, patience and preparation to get the image right when the opportunity presented itself. Keep shooting, film is now free.

  12. Epic photograph. You will never repeat this photo, but it will be a long and enjoyable journey to better it.

    To have yourself in this photo must be exciting, it is like the ultimate self portrait.

  13. Scott… WOW…. dude, rest well through the cloudy, rainy PCNW winter with no need to chase stars- you caught the trophy shot. That’s the image that quiets that crazy, nagging need to be in the right spot at the right time with the right stuff. Seriously- wonderful shot.

  14. WOW! What an incredible shot! I really appreciate the story behind it.
    I also got chills along with everyone else that has commented. What an amazing experience for you – and US as well. THANKS! And keep it up!

  15. Wow! What a moment for you. I have had many times where I’ve stopped and said a quiet “thank you”, but hope to some day have a certainty of being “done”. Was that taken at the White Tank camping area of Joshua Tree?

  16. Amazing Scott! What a great and inspiring adventure and task to be on and what a great way to share a slice of the backstory of your journey and work. And yes, “I’m done” is such an awesome moment to experience! Shine on!

      1. Scott, This is truly magnificent! And “I’m done” is so often a question for me, I paint in watercolor and oil. And I have spent many years photographing people in natural light and settings–big difference between I’m done? and I’m done.
        In your image in the upper right there is a stuttering line of lights that runs off the right edge in what looks like maybe a jet stream . . . and also below that an S curve of what looks like stars–what was your experience of these?

      2. Scott, This is truly magnificent! And “I’m done” is so often a question for me, I paint in watercolor and oil. And I have spent many years photographing people in natural light and settings–big difference between I’m done? and I’m done.
        In your image in the upper right there is a stuttering line of lights that runs off the right edge in what looks like maybe a jet stream . . . and also below that an S curve of what looks like stars–what was your experience of these?

        As I look at your photo again, I am so taken with the beauty of the light and the complementary colors created by the fire and the tent against the violet and blue sky. This is gorgeous on so many levels.

  17. thanks for sharing your story about this image. I’ve had similar moments where images have stood far above others I had been producing, but that doesn’t put them anywhere near this work – congrats!!

  18. Yes!
    For an artist, “being done” is magical. This is the moment you were born for, at least for now. Congratulations on fulfilling your potential.

  19. Just incredible, Scott.
    I keep coming back to look at it and imagining how peaceful it is there.
    Cheers from Australia!

  20. Scott, it truly does come together. I know the feeling when it’s perfect I had a similar experience in the Sierra with the night exposure where the tree was litby a fire and perfectly balanced however, no damn meteor!!

    Have you been using the Olympus all this trip if so I love the wide angle you were using, what is it?

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