BRENT PENNINGTON Orion and its neighbors hang in velvet above Tobyhanna Lake, as seen from the north shore prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

We went camping two weekends ago, for the very first time.  Technically I went camping once before, when I was about five years old.  It rained the whole time, I had a cold, and I ate instant oatmeal for breakfast.  That’s about the extent of my memory for that experience.

But I’m an outdoorsy guy, I love nature, so camping sounded like a great time, and since we began acquiring the gear I’ve been very excited to give it a try.

I don’t want to say it was an epic fail – that’s an exaggeration.  But it could have gone a lot better.  And it was our fault – if the first time is a learning experience, then we got a D-.  On the bright side, we won’t be making the same mistakes again!

BRENT PENNINGTON Orion and its neighbors hang in velvet above Tobyhanna Lake, as seen from the north shore prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

BRENT PENNINGTON Orion and its neighbors hang in velvet above Tobyhanna Lake, as seen from the north shore prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

First mistake: we got a late start, and didn’t reach the campground until almost 7pm, which these days is sunset.  We were setting the tent up (for the first time ever) in the advancing dark, which didn’t make anything easier or less rushed.

Second mistake: I tried to build our campfire in the dark, using wood that was too fresh and wouldn’t burn.  End result, no campfire.  Camping without a campfire is like going to a concert when there’s no band – it isn’t much fun.

(To be fair, the issue here was two-fold.  When we asked the park office about buying wood, they told us there was none for sale and we’d have to drive 40 minutes to a Walmart to get some.  Turns out that wasn’t true.  But in the meantime, they directed us to a tree that had come down on one of the sites and told us to help ourselves.  So I spent 15 minutes chopping up parts of this tree, which was not dead and dry as had been described.  I had hopes that I’d be able to dry it out enough to get it to burn.  No such luck.)

Third mistake: we pitched the tent on a slight incline.  It was hardly noticeable until we laid down on the air mattress, and promptly began sliding off it downhill.

BRENT PENNINGTON Orion and its neighbors hang in velvet above Tobyhanna Lake, as seen from the north shore prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

BRENT PENNINGTON Orion and its neighbors hang in velvet above Tobyhanna Lake, as seen from the north shore prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

Forth mistake: picking a campsite near noisy neighbors.  This was really just bad luck, as it was a charming spot and the folks seemed nice enough.  But both the sites nearest to us were up until 2am and weren’t too quiet about it, which combined with everything else kept us up as well.

I laid awake from sometime after midnight to somewhere around 0300, when I finally said “the hell with it” and ventured out into the night with the camera.  The stars were bright, the sky was clear, and I couldn’t sleep.  So I spent the next two hours shooting astrophotography, mainly down at the lakeside.

It was the best part of the night.  Up until that point I’d been feeling a bitter taste of failure, and laying awake for hours wasn’t helping.  But as soon as I got up and started shooting on the lakeside, I felt better.  I felt happy!  Even standing in the dark, in the woods, at 3am.

BRENT PENNINGTON Cassiopeia hangs in velvet above the campground at Tobyhanna State Park, as seen prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

BRENT PENNINGTON Cassiopeia hangs in velvet above the campground at Tobyhanna State Park, as seen prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

We caught a couple hours of sleep between 0500 and 0700, when we awoke to a foggy dawn.  We broke camp, threw all the crap in the Jeep, and drove home.  We got breakfast from Burger King.  We felt like zombies the whole day, trying to get through a series of obligations on nearly no sleep.

We’re going to try camping again – I’m excited to try it again, and I’m confident that it will be a much better experience.  I’m hoping to make at least one more trip in October, before the season ends.

And in the end,  I made some great photos!

BRENT PENNINGTON Cassiopeia hangs in velvet above the campground at Tobyhanna State Park, as seen prior to sunrise on the morning of 19 September 2015.

Shooting Info: E-M5 + Olympus 12-40mm, tripod mounted.  ISO 400-1600, f2.8-5.6, shutter speeds between 13 seconds and 8 minutes.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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