Cussing My Conjunction Catastrophe

Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

Forgive my annoying addiction to alliteration. It comes out when I’m under stress. After waiting two weeks for the persistent cloud cover to part and reveal the approaching twilight conjunction of Jupiter and Venus I had given up. Then last night the sky unexpectedly cleared. But when serendipity intervened I blew it.

Last night was March 1, the date the planets would be at their closest—almost touching. At 5:55 p.m. I headed out to my favorite twilight landscape in Victor to photograph them. When I arrived the upper sky was a stunning cobalt blue. A glowing remnant band of orange sunset arced above the horizon. Atop a cornfield ridge stood the lone lightning damaged oak and above it Jupiter and Venus shone brightly.

The scene was set. And it was perfect. Although you might not appreciate a photograph that showed a couple of bright pin pricks, what happened next would catch the eye of anyone.

I couldn’t believe my luck. In the distance I heard honking; it was growing closer. And then, in the darkening skies, I spotted a perfect V of thirty or so geese making a beeline for the empty space above my tree. Can you picture it? Lightning struck tree, celestial conjunction, and a migrating flock of geese all coming together before my very eyes.

Or I should say before my camera. That beautiful V honking in the dark, moving from left (south) to right (north) in my viewfinder, slipped just under, almost brushed, Jupiter and Venus.

Ecstatic, I fired off several shots. After the geese passed, I quickly viewed the pictures on the camera’s LCD panel to admire this once in a lifetime moment.

Disaster. The first picture was out of focus. Surely I just rushed that first shot and the next would be fine. It wasn’t. Five shots reviewed. Five perfectly composed photos out of focus. It was like dropping a wide open two-yard touchdown pass.

The perfect picture ruined by the imperfect photographer.


How was this possible? I knew the answer. I had bumped the focus switch on the lens barrel to “manual” focus, which I almost never use because it takes too much time to twist the focus ring to make the subject come into focus. Too slow. On my other lens I had taped this setting to autofocus because I had previously bumped it to manual focus, also resulting in ruined blurry pictures.

How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I check the setting ahead of time? Why hadn’t I taped that switch on this lens, too?

By the next morning, today, though still disappointed, I realized my photography obsession sometimes gets in the way of appreciating a magical moment. After all, I spent last evening in the countryside, observing a much talked about planetary conjunction occurring over my favorite landscape with my favorite person beside me when a gaggle of gossiping geese glided on a southerly breeze northbound to home.

And soon I was right behind them with a disaster story to tell and some alliteration to unleash.

Derek Doeffinger spent a few decades at Kodak explaining how people can take better pictures and then encouraging them to use Kodak products — especially digital cameras. That last part didn’t quite work out. Fortunately during his Kodak days he became an obsessed outdoor photographer, especially of Finger Lakes waterfalls. He’s written several photos books about the Finger Lakes and digital photography, and now has written quite a few articles for Life in the Finger Lakes.


  • Laurene Kelly says:

    I am an amateur photographer. In 45 years of photography, I have had some magical and perfect photo moments planned around the world and many “shoulda gotten that one right’ moments, so I feel your frustration. I appreciate your photo and understand what you went through to get this photo, which I think is great, considering your story.

  • Laurie says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I love the photo.

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