Another paradigm shift for me: following the imaging forums to compare views of H-a targets. I'm tickled when they report "x hours" of data when I see it in real time.
Of course there's no comparing the level of detail in a multi hour image vs real time NV... But often I can look at a published image and say I saw this feature, or that dark lane, or....
Yes, the first time I saw the Swan nebula, which I think was my first H-a target, I was hooked.
Even from my light polluted yard, the swan was easily visible in my C14 or 12" dob, but mostly I just saw the little honker himself with a hit of nebular glow around it. With the Micro, I saw that the Swan floats on a big pool of nebular water.
As you say, when I looked at very long exposure images, I see that this area exists, but seeing the extent of it in real time was nothing short of utterly delightful.
For me though, the bigger paradigm change was the liberation from the small box imposed by event the smallest of new generation refractors. People are using telescopes with 50mm and 60mm aperture, but even these lock you out of a sky that is stupendously glorious.
Sweeping across the Milky Way at Unity and seeing these giant structures of gas populating our local arm of the Galaxy has been for me, one of the most enthralling things I have ever done. Barnard's loop even under Mag 5 skies is spectacularly large. By itself it is one of the most remarkable sights in the sky.
When you see it in the same field with Orion complex, the Horse Head, the Flame, the Cone and the Anglefish Nebula, it fundamentally changes your perspective of the local galaxy.
I have become enamored with big field observing. The most thrilling observing I have ever done.
I credit Cnoct's amazing Youtube videos as the inspiration. No offense intended to him, and I am sure he understands when I say that as great as his videos (and now JDBastro's) are, there is nothing like seeing it for yourself.