Five big lessons I learned from my failed attempt to shoot the comet NEOWISE

Jul 29, 2020

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Five big lessons I learned from my failed attempt to shoot the comet NEOWISE

Jul 29, 2020

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Like probably every photographer out there, I was determined to see and shoot the comet NEOWISE. I’m not very skilled at astrophotography, but come on – this is something you see once in a million years (or 6,800, to be exact). So, I set out to find the best observation spot, find the comet, and shoot it. Did I succeed? Nope. But did I love every minute of this adventure? Hell yes!

Although the photos I ended up with are underwhelming, to say the least, this whole experience has taught me a lot. In this rather personal article, I’d like to share my journey and five of my biggest insights. Hopefully, it will inspire you, amuse you, and put a smile on your face, which is just what this comet chasing did for me.

But first, some backstory

I was recently diagnosed with major depressive disorder, single episode. Those of you who’ve been through it know what I’m talking about. But for those of you who haven’t, I won’t bother you with details: you can read more about it here. Among other things, I lost interest in everything I used to love, and all my joy, creativity, and passion have been gone for the most time over the past eight or nine months.

The day I heard about NEOWISE was also the first day of my therapy. What a coincidence. I mentioned the comet to my boyfriend, who’s crazy about anything space-related. “I think we should try and see it,” I suggested. It took him three milliseconds to agree. Little did we know what a week was ahead of us.

The adventure begins

To understand what the lessons I learned mean to me, you can read about the crazy week that made me learn them. But you can skip right to the lessons below, I won’t get mad. :)

Anyways, last Wednesday, I went from Novi Sad to Belgrade to see my boyfriend (and the comet). I didn’t bring my camera – I read in a few articles that you can find NEOWISE with a naked eye and I believed it. As Belgrade is heavily light polluted, we went to an observation spot at a nearby mountain. Yes, it overlooks the heavily lit city. And no, we couldn’t see a thing. “Maybe if we went to the countryside,” my man suggested. “I planned to go tomorrow anyway, if you come with me we could find the comet there.” I was packed for only that one day in Belgrade. But it took me four milliseconds to agree to spend four more days in his grandparents’ house 300km from Belgrade.

We went there on Thursday but arrived too late to see anything but the inside of our eyelids. On Friday night, we took some mats and found a field ideal for observing the night skies. The village is so dark that we could see the Milky Way. But no, we couldn’t see the comet with the naked eye. Those who say it’s possible probably have eyes with 1000mm zoom, I have no other explanation. But hey, we enjoyed lying in the middle of the field, stargazing. It was relaxing, it cleared my mind, and gave me new ideas: “Maybe we should buy a telescope.”

After some googling, I stumbled upon a $40 telescope. My mind was blown – doesn’t that cost more? I was determined – we were gonna buy it! So, we woke up on Saturday, full of hope, and went to the nearest city to buy the telescope. The moment we returned to the village, it started to rain. Aaaand, it didn’t stop until we headed back home on Sunday. No comet for us!

On our way back to the village after buying the telescope. It only got worse. :D

Back in the city, all geared up

“Hey, I could come by tonight and we can look for the comet together again,” my significant other wrote yesterday. I responded: “You know I’d love that more than anything!” So we found a perfect spot in Sremski Karlovci, a lovely town some 10km from my place. An ideal view, clear skies, perfect timing, the camera and the telescope ready…

But we looked at the wrong thing!

We misinterpreted the sky map and pointed the telescope at the wrong object. I also framed my shots to capture a completely wrong celestial object. I think I captured NEOWISE in only one of the shots, but look where it’s at. And I’m not even sure that’s it:

“Okay, this isn’t working. Wanna check out the Moon?” I asked. “Yeah, let’s try,” Vladan agreed and set the telescope towards our satellite. “Oh my god… Come here. Look!” There it was: the image I would only see in textbooks and other people’s photos. The Moon. In all its beauty, with all those craters… I keep reliving the moment I first saw it with my own eyes and get the chills every time. But that wasn’t all!

We both felt some kind of adrenaline rush after seeing the Moon. So he drove some more to find a spot at the nearby mountain from which we could see Saturn and Jupiter. He was setting the telescope and as I was setting up my camera to shoot something else. And then he screamed: “Dunja, leave everything, come quick!” I could see it clearly: Saturn with its famous rings. Later on, we found Jupiter. When we focused perfectly, we could see its distinctive colors and some of its satellites that you can’t see with the naked eye. My gosh, what a feeling!

Both of us have felt ecstatic all day today. I checked out my photos looking for NEOWISE, but you saw what I ended up with. However, it didn’t change my mood a bit. I saw all those images from textbooks and the NASA gallery with my own eyes. And I learned so much in the process. Yes, this is where we finally get to the lessons part.

Lessons I learned

Some of these lessons are personal, but some are pretty universal. Here they are:

  1. I can still feel joy: after such a long time, I felt the purest joy and excitement. I felt like I returned to my old self who can have these feelings over small things such as seeing celestial objects through a $40 toy telescope. And man, it feels good to be back!
  2. I still have passion: related to the previous point, I also felt passion for something after a long, long time. I hardly had the energy to get out of bed in the morning since more or less December last year. But over the past week, I traveled hundreds of kilometers, I spent time and money, I improvised a lot, and I learned on the go. This means I can still feel passion, and that’s just what I need for writing, photography, and other things in life that I love doing. I didn’t even reach my goal this time, but this brings me to the next lesson:
  3. Sometimes, the journey is (way) more exciting than the goal: we can feel free to say that I haven’t seen or shot the comet. But I traveled a whole lot, I spent quality time with my loved one, I was overwhelmed with emotions when I saw the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. This was such an awesome week, and I enjoyed it to the max instead of being frustrated that I missed the comet. Sometimes, the goal is overrated. The journey is way more epic!
  4. Stargazing makes earthly worries seem small: this crossed my mind while Vladan and I were lying in the field watching the night skies above us. We were talking about planets, stars, and galaxies out there. About the numbers and sizes of them. It all made me feel so small and insignificant in comparison – and it was so liberating. People should stargaze as often as possible.
  5. Shared joy is doubled joy: it meant a lot to me that I had someone I love with me to share my emotions and thoughts during this adventure. It doesn’t have to be an emotional partner, but I generally think that sharing the joy makes it double. I need my solitude when I’m feeling f*cked up, but I was now reminded that joyful moments are much better when I share them. And I’m grateful that I had something to share at last!

The adventure ends… or does it?

“Hey, I could come by tomorrow and we can look for the comet together again,” I sent a message to my boyfriend two hours ago. “The bus is at 5 pm… We’re such psychos hahaha.”

“No, we’re not. We’re just enthusiasts,” he responded.

As you can see, I’m still not giving up. And who knows what else I might learn until NEOWISE is gone for the next 6,800 years? :)

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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8 responses to “Five big lessons I learned from my failed attempt to shoot the comet NEOWISE”

  1. nacezavrl Avatar
    nacezavrl

    Thank you for a great story, for me and my young family was also couple of big and dramatic experiences at this time of this weird year.
    And also as you, the news about the night sky caught our attention.
    We live in Slovenija, so not even that far from you. In my 20 years as photographer I never (not even little?) done any of astrophography, but for this occasion, after obscuring the comet with naked eye and with highclass hunting binoculars yesterday I got courage to snap it easily with some “blind” targeting to the sky with my old d800 matched with prehistoric 80-200f2,8. (See the attachment to pixel peep the capture in one of lastt night sights of comet Neowise c2020.

    I recommend you to use smartphone app called “Night Sky”.
    It helps you to track nearly anything in the sky in anytime.
    there you’ll have plenty of interesting night sky sights conditioned with the sun, light pollution and weather .

    Lep pozdrav
    Nace Zavrl
    ?

  2. nacezavrl Avatar
    nacezavrl

    Thank you for a great story, for me and my young family was also couple of big and dramatic experiences at this time of this weird year.
    And also as you, the news about the night sky caught our attention.
    We live in Slovenija, so not even that far from you. In my 20 years as photographer I never (not even little?) done any of astrophography, but for this occasion, after obscuring the comet with naked eye and with highclass hunting binoculars yesterday I got courage to snap it easily with some “blind” targeting to the sky with my old d800 matched with prehistoric 80-200f2,8. (See the attachment to pixel peep the capture in one of lastt night sights of comet Neowise c2020.

    I recommend you to use smartphone app called “Night Sky”.
    It helps you to track nearly anything in the sky in anytime.
    there you’ll have plenty of interesting night sky sights conditioned with the sun, light pollution and weather .

    Lep pozdrav
    Nace Zavrl
    ? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/12af6dd4b20db633f3035c2e3cba700bf7a6d5a2f7ba2b2232f95c06527055ce.png

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      Hvala za fotografijo in zgodbo! :) Slovenija is the best! I was supposed to visit in May for the 4th time, but coronavirus and all…

      You caught it! Awesome! The longest lens I have is 50mm, so i tried with it again tonight. I just returned and have to look at the photos on the monitor to see if I caught it. I downloaded Night Sky, but only discovered it today, haha. I’ll try shooting again tomorrow near Belgrade, so I’ll use it. Keep your fingers crossed. :)

      Lep pozdrav! :)

  3. TechDev1 Avatar
    TechDev1

    Hi Dunja. I am so glad you are getting help for your depression. I was so worried about you when you stopped posting articles awhile back. I had noticed a change in your writing and then you were gone. I was quite relieved when you came back! You are one of my favorite writers and I look forward to your articles as they show a kind, human side to photography. I am one of those who understands what you are going through. After being diagnosed with a long term illness I fought with depression too and nearly lost. Make sure you keep trying to go forward a little each day and understand there will be down days but there will be up days too. Keep working to make the trend steadily going up and soon this will be behind you. It sounds like you have a great significant other which helps a lot. Good luck Dunja! Thank you for sharing your troubles with us. You may help someone else to get help which is huge. Feel free to email if you get down and need to share with someone who has been there. My best regards, Kevin

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      Dear Kevin, I don’t know where to start thanking you for this comment. Saying that you made my day with your comment is an understatement. I will just tell you that I made a screenshot of it and printed it out so I can read it again and again when I feel crappy. :)

      I am sorry to hear that you’ve been through tough times as well. I hope that you are doing better. And I am glad to know that you’re staying strong and fighting. I am proud of you!

      I’m aware that it’s important to speak up about mental illness and struggles. It could help others, and I sure know other people’s openness helped me. And yet, I am always scared that I will sound whiny when I do so. I try to make a balance, and I’m glad if I’m managing. I’m even more glad if my experience inspires and helps someone else.

      Also, I found a great doc who seems to have nailed my therapy from the very start! He also warned me that there will be good and bad days and said “there’s no such thing as ‘happy pill’”. :) But that’s what I want: to feel ALL the emotions, good and bad, instead of just feeling empty. So I’ve braced myself for everything.

      And yes – my man is one of a kind. He makes everything better and helps me grow. We learn a lot from each other and it took a very short time for him to become one of my best friends. It’s lovely how that can be recognized from the way I write about him. :)

      Thank you once again for your support, for such kind words, and for following my work. It means the world to me! You can always reach out, my contact details are on the site. :)

      Stay strong and stay awesome! :)

  4. Filip Vranešević Avatar
    Filip Vranešević

    To see the comet with the naked eye there should be no moonlight. I was even able to see it on the outskirts of Uzice city last week. It was not very clear, but it was visible. Knowing where to look helps a lot, and for that stellarium-web.org is very helpful.
    On Zlatibor mountain, the comet was clearly visible and I was able to take a photo of it with Cannon 300D i 18-55 kit lens. Unfortunately that was all I had on me so the photo quality is very bad :-(
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/589b6790f0cd8b2f7239e4342e057c54e26ed54761fa31962eb441eb91b3e333.jpg

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      I love the photo! You nailed it. :)
      I finally managed to capture it yesterday from Avala with D7000 and 50mm lens. :) Still need to edit the photos, though.
      Oh, the skies on Zlatibor… I remember watching meteor shower from there 10 years ago with my two friends. In one of the photos, you can see a bit of the Milky Way: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dunja0712/4920672625/

      Stellarium is awesome, it helped me a lot! They also have an app, I downloaded it recently and we used it yesterday to find Neowise, but also to teach my bf’s niece about constellations. :)

      Thanks for sharing the photo and tips. Once again, I think you nailed it!

      Hvala ti. :)

      1. Filip Avatar
        Filip

        Thank you :-)

        Glad to hear you managed to capture the comet! It is marvelous event in the sky, but surprisingly few people were able to see it, which is a shame.

        I like your photos from Zlatibor. The sky on Zlatibor iz always breathtaking. I turned my camera the other way in-between shooting the comet and this came out https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd61611155e313174def4265f174a82957c0594a00daff5b788973d7788fe2f6.jpg :-)