How an Exploding Meteor Turned a Great Shot Into a Once-in-a-Lifetime Photograph


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 extremely 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.

About the author: Scott Rinckenberger is a fine art and adventure photographer based out of Seattle, WA. He prides himself on a photographic method that is immersive and minimal, incorporating photography into his adventures as he tries to cover as much ground as possible… be it on foot, skis and bikes. You can find him on his website, 500px, Facebook and Twitter. This article was originally published here.

  • Endy Photo

    Wow, that is quite the photo! Perfect timing! :D

  • Jim Macias

    Don’t mean to toot my own horn, but here, let me toot my own horn.

  • WarDamnPhil

    That guy ^

  • Jim Macias

    It’s one thing to proud of one’s work. It’s another thing to write an article proclaiming its greatness.

  • p.rock

    Fantastic photo and great write-up. Gave me chills.

  • Ian

    Is Jimmy Hendrix the scottish guitarist?

  • Jernej Lasič

    Dude, stop. Just stop.

  • unyi3lding

    totally tooting your own horn, but not complaining. I’ve struggled to capture a single shooting star in a meteor shower. This picture is beyond belief

  • DLM

    It’s an amazing photograph. Sure, luck played it’s part, but he made that luck by putting in the time and effort to be there. He is proud of the picture, and deservedly so. May any of us get so lucky one day.

  • Mark Power

    Awww…poor baby Jim is a bit jealous and bitter. Come ‘ere, Jim…have a cuddle. Make you feel better :)

    I don’t think Scott is proclaiming the greatness of his work at all. I think he’s giddily over the moon (see the galaxial connection there?) at the serendipity at play. And who can blame him for such excited pleasure blooming large in such a way!

    Come on, Jim. Have another cuddle.

  • Mark Power

    And as for the photograph…Ha! How cool is *THAT*!!
    Great stuff, Scott. :)

  • Jim Macias

    Don’t think he’s proclaiming the greatness of his work? It’s in the headline, Mark.

    How an Exploding Meteor Turned a ***Great*** Shot Into a Once-in-a-Lifetime Photograph.

    And no, I’m not jealous. It’s an OK shot in my opinion. But, I guess we are living in the Kanye West age where blatant bragging is acceptable.

    But I’ll take the cuddle, though. I like spooning. :)

  • Mark Power

    Jim – isn’t it all subjective and personal? Scott’s not proclaiming it as one of the greatest photographs of all time by anyone. He’s expressing what HE feels about THIS image that HE shot. I know I feel like that about some images I create while knowing they wouldn’t end up in The Tate or winning some bullshit photo award.

    It’s enthusiasm and passion is it not? I agree with you about the celebrity bragging culture but, and this is coming from a die hard curmudgeonly cynic (is there any other kind?) – I don’t think this is that.

    But I don’t want to turn this article into such a commentary. Camping. Photo. Exploding meteor. Come on…what’s not to like.

    And put your pants back on. It’s not that kind of cuddle! ;)

  • R O

    You know the contributors don’t write the headlines, right?

  • Daniel Hine

    Nice work. That would be an awesome feeling to be that lucky :)

  • John Flury

    There is a difference between bragging and feeling very lucky and proud that once everything fell into place in a phenomenal way. I am really happy for Scott, he must feel ecstatic about this photo, and rightly so.

  • greenarcher02

    Well it is great. And rare. Why shouldn’t you proclaim rare things that happen? WE want to know. If you don’t just shut up and stop being jealous that you aren’t lucky enough.

  • terr

    Great shot and great story. Luck…when opportunity meets preparedness.

  • greenarcher02

    I wonder… does being a dumb douche hinder your everyday life? I’m extremely curious… How do you get by?

    And if you’re too dense to actually realize it by now, go to the link where the article was originally published. His original title was “What are the odds?” And even the content is disjoint with the title they put here. Clearly Petapixel editors think it’s a great shot.

    So…. How’s the dumb dumb life? Are you subtly implying we *should* take notice of you, instead? Sorry, you’re irrelevant, whether you think your photos are greater than his or not (it’s all subjective anyway). :D

  • Pete Ferling

    Incredible shot, and thanks for sharing.

    I’ve had similar experiences throughout my career. The last one I remember was this summer, filming for a local charity raising money and awareness to build a sanctuary for birds. We wanted some B-roll shots of the birds for edits and didn’t have much luck. Only to have a Great Blue Heron fly into to the scene during a take with the spokesperson. She was not aware of it, and when finished, asked if we wanted another take? “No. That one was perfect. Thank you!”

  • Aiden de Bruyn

    Nothing like the photo in the article but I was photographing fire in my backyard and a flower emerged from the flames!

  • Laurent Egli

    Ha I would want to be Scott, just for the shear fact of being able to take a day off the next day and say like he did “I’m done”. Awsome story but kinda kills it for anyone else wiring by the campfire!

  • Mikael Erminger

    Classic case of someone not knowing when to stop with the post-processing. The more I study the image, the more I want to call BS. In addition to the obviously manipulated colors in the night sky, the way the meteor trail comes *exactly* out of the upper left corner and points directly at the campsite focal point is certainly suspect. I’m betting the meteor was a separate frame added in as a layer on top of the campsite frame. Makes me wonder if he even took the photo of the meteor at all. To his own admission, “I needed a closing shot for the project” and “not inspired” and finally “after a month of shooting the evening sky, you just plain get a little bit numb.” This is what desperation leads to – cheating. Then to overcome his guilt, he creates this elaborate cover story and has it published, self-proclaiming his victory over mediocrity. Its just sad to see what lengths people will go to for notoriety.

  • Jamie Brightmore


  • Lawrence Sheperd

    Mikael, I signed up just so I could down-vote your comment.

  • Mark Power

    I replied back last night, Jim, but it didn’t get through.

    Basically my reply went something like this:

    * Subjective view and nothing wrong with using the word “great”
    * Completely agree about celebrity bragging culture but don’t see this as that at all (and I’m a MASSIVE cynic)
    * I agree with John Flury about Scott feeling very lucky and proud and chuffed to bits about the image and I’m pleased for him. We all like to have those moments.
    * Keep your pants on ;)

  • Jim Macias

    It’s not easy, but I manage. And thanks for the eloquent dressing down. ;)

  • Scott Rinckenberger


    You’re welcome to your subjective tastes with regard to the amount of color or tonal correction in the published image, but it seems a bit out of line to claim full-scale perjury. This is the frame EXACTLY as captured in-camera with no cropping or adjustments whatsoever. It was truly a spectacular moment, and I feel infinitely fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture it on film. I hope next time you will give an unusual piece of artwork the benefit of the doubt.

  • Jon Dill

    If anything, Mr. Rinckenberger is not tooting his horn loudly enough. I could not match his restraint had this happened to me.
    There’s an old joke about a 80 year old man at his weekly doctor appointment. When asked how things are, the gent replies, “I was driving along yesterday and spotted two 20 year old girls hitchhiking. I pulled over, and to make a long story short we went to a motel where I had sex with both of them three times. I then…” “Wait a minute,” the doctor interrupts “why are you telling me all this?” “Are you kidding? I’m telling everyone!”
    That would be me. What spectacular timing!

  • Peter Acker

    I logged in to do the same. A classic case of a miserable person not knowing when to keep their opinions to themselves.

  • Peter Acker

    I want to vote this response up twice but it won’t let me. Kudos on a great shot and edit Scott.

  • greenarcher02

    Need more water for that burn? hahahahahahahahahaha

  • Pixamundo

    Quite an epic shot of an epic moment. Congratulations Scott.

  • Jason Wright

    To me it sounded like he was saying the work wasn’t that great he was just lucky.
    My take-away from this article is to never give up, keep trying and always hope for the best.
    I see it as inspirational rather than horn tooting.

  • BlahBlah

    great picture. well done.

  • Tim Kern

    I don’t blame you one bit for tooting your own horn. After a lifetime of shooting, I have never had that kind of alignment. and if I had, I’d be showing everybody. Way to go!

  • PhotoFan

    Congratulations. Wonderful shot. Thank you for sharing your fortune!

  • the_puppy

    Yes, it’s coincidence but toot away! Opportunity is based on preparedness.

  • chuckles

    Jim, don’t you need to get back to drowning baby kittens? or puppies? I mean really…jealousy is a very sad vice.