Looking Behind: 5 Times I Was Glad I Turned My Camera Around

Simanta Mahanta

5 instances of a beautiful rearview!

Two good reasons to look over your shoulder outdoors: in case you dropped a belonging or you are being stalked by a bear. You probably knew that already. However, let me give you a third reason: fortuitous photo-ops!

It is so easy to get fixated on a spectacle that you become oblivious of something equally wonderful happening behind you! Let me share five occasions from my photography journal where I did a complete 180 with my camera. I will supplement my narration with two photographs taken during each of the following instances. One, presenting the initial focus and two, showcasing the surprise rearview!

A Stately Affair | Moonrise at Rialto Beach

When I arrived at the Olympic peninsula, I knew I had to get a sunset shot of Rialto Beach! The famous sea stacks make wonderful subjects. After struggling to find parking, I was finally on the beach. The sun was setting already so I hurried to a set of stacks a mile further up the coast. I perched on a rock against the crashing waves and deployed my tripod. 

Like everyone, my attention was on the setting sun.

The Pacific mimicked the blushing sky as colors became vibrant. I fired off several exposures to capture interesting wave motions. Soon, the tide started coming in. I had to take a few steps back on the slippery surface. It was at that moment when I noticed the eastern sky. Woah! Without much fuss, a full moon peaked above the tree line in a rather stately manner. Although I was excited for sunset shots at Rialto Beach, it was my moonrise shot that thrilled me the most!

When I turned around, I was in awe!


Eye in The Sky | Andromeda at Badlands

I had a singular focus when I arrived at Badlands National Park – to make the most of the famous Badlands dark skies! I had noted down the celestial times and positions and set out after midnight on a beautiful night. I must admit I was slightly overwhelmed at Badlands as almost every feature transforms into attractive foregrounds for the night sky.

Shooting the Core at Badlands was an absolute joy!

I immediately saw the core above the horizon and itched to start shooting. I exposed several frames, capturing the Milky Way in a variety of shots. However, until then, I was shooting in the same general direction. It was during another 25-second exposure when I surveyed the sky behind me. I knew Andromeda was somewhere in the mix! As I heard the shutter close, I identified the spiral galaxy – and noted how it was positioned nicely above a set of rock formations. I had been so captivated by the Milky Way core all night that I had neglected other cosmic contenders! Like an eye in the sky, Andromeda had been watching me patiently as I danced around in the dark!

Fortunately, I turned around to notice another galaxy!


Silent Witness | Moonset at Crater Lake

You have probably come across some of the striking imagery from Crater Lake National Park. Unequivocally, they all contain the majestic Crater Lake with either the rising sun or the arching Milky Way complementing it. True to the norm, I hiked along the rim of the crater to find a suitable sunrise spot.

It wasn't a dramatic sunrise (though my senses enjoyed the morning!).

It was showtime. A few shots later, I realized I needed to shift to the left of where I was set up. I was positioned precariously. Stepping away from the viewfinder, I turned around to ascertain my footing. I did not turn back forward, however, for the most calming vista swept away to the horizon! In the alpenglow, a sober moon was setting over a forest that extended through rolling hills to the blue haze beyond! The timing of it all was serendipitous.

However, behind me, the most serene vista was waiting!

Although the warmth of the sunrise on a cool morning was a delight, the lack of drama in the sky could not contribute to the kind of sunrise you’d boast about. However, the silent moonset I witnessed behind me was one worth talking about!

Dodge The Ram | Big Horn Sheep at Glacier

I was on a hike to Grinnell Glacier. Of course, my eyes were focused on the stunning views of Grinnell lake in the valley and the approaching glacier itself. You could say my gaze was biased to the left. It is hard to turn your attention away from pure turquoise lakes!

On the way to Grinnell Glacier, my eyes were fixated on the views on the left.

About two-thirds of the way up, I paused for some snacks and hydration. Halfway through my protein cookie, I heard some movement on the slope behind me. I was not alone. There was not just one, two, or three, but five big horn sheep grazing literally ten feet away! I made eye contact with closest one. Then, I realized my situation. I was munching away on the edge of a cliff, incognizant of the rams behind me. In a flash, a big-horn ram could’ve charged and knocked me off the trail! I could’ve gone tumbling down the valley – a picturesque but painful fall!

I put away my cookie and slowly reached for the camera. Fortunately, not bothered by human encroachment, the sheep continued their morning. Phew! Although I dodged a potential ram, I was happy to get some unexpected close-ups of the wildlife!

Suddenly, I noticed some denizens sharing my picnic spot!


The Crescent | Moon Magic at Badlands

Late afternoon onward, Badlands National Park explodes into colors! Where should I set up for sunset? I was in a dilemma and had to choose a location quickly. I went with a gut feeling toward the western side of the park. We made several stops along the way as other candidates presented their cases with hues of yellow and red.

A burst of color splashed across the Badlands!

With a few minutes until sunset, I jogged to a vantage point to survey the landscape. When I turned around to retrieve my gear, I noticed a faint glow emanating through some parting clouds. It was a beautiful moon. Was it a full moon? No, it was better – a crescent. While I agree that a rising full moon draws photographers and visitors alike, I contest that a crisp crescent demands the same attention. There is something mystical about it, wouldn’t you agree?

Hurriedly, I drove to a suitable spot where I could access some badlands that complemented the moon. I do not recall images of the sun dipping below the horizon from that evening. But, I can definitely visualize the lunar spectacle!

Thank heavens I looked behind! Or else I would've missed this spectacle!

Unsurprisingly, three of the five anecdotes above involved the moon. Think about it: when you are witnessing a sunrise or a sunset, how often do you turn around? The same could be said for the Milky Way. The core dominates a dark sky in such a way that the other end of the sky could be overlooked! Andromeda, Orion, Jupiter, and Sirius are some of the many fascinations that embellish other parts of the sky.

So, next time you extend the legs of your tripod or hike to a viewpoint, do look what’s unfolding behind you as well. A surprise could be waiting for you!

Published: January 6, 2018

Simanta Mahanta

Outdoor photographer. 43/59 National Parks explored. I love my dates with the Milky Way!

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.

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