Wrong Turn

I usually travel to famous destinations well-known for their spectacular views and enticing subjects. Imagine my surprise, upon taking a wrong turn on my way to a locally famous photography spot, to find a hidden gem just in my backyard. When I set out that morning, I was hoping to capture a typical fall subject: leafy trees turning a glorious red lining a quiet, intimate drive. It was a place I had visited many times in the past, and had already stopped by multiple times this season, hoping that the colors would be at their peak brilliance. It’s a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong, and it deserves the many visitors that stop by every year to get a snap of it, their cars parked in a line down the street.

But what I found instead was intimate in its own way, a place without photographers jostling to get the perfect angle, a place that isn’t photographed over and over every year. It is just as stunning, and it captures the ephemeral beauty of autumn just as well as my original destination, but most importantly, it was all mine: clear blue sky touched with a light brush stroke of white clouds, trees covered in mid-autumn yellows reflecting in the still, quiet water in the pond, occasional ripples running across the water and playing with the reflection to create a dream-like view that I had only seen in pictures from far away places.

Somewhere far in the distance, through the wall of trees, I could still hear the noise of the city, the rumble of traffic speeding down freeway, but it all seemed so distant, so surreal. It did not belong in this oasis of quiet and solitude. Rather the sounds of singing birds that had not left for the winter yet, the splashing of water disturbed by the ducks landing or taking off, the quiet whispering of leaves as the easy breeze rustled through the forest belonged here.

There was incredible stillness to the whole scene as if I had walked into a painting, my presence disturbing it and putting it into motion. It had been here all along enticing passerby with its beauty, rejoicing at capturing my attention as I was looking at it and appreciating it. Awestruck for a moment, I just stood there taking it all in before the magic disappeared. Nature was patient with me. It did not disappear. It stayed. It waited. Until I was ready to capture it not only with my eyes but with my camera too.

Pictures taken, I sat on the bank of the pond in the warm autumn sun, breathing in the refreshingly crisp autumn air filled with the sour scent of dry grass and the honey-sweet scent of fallen leaves, thinking about how easy it is to get into the habit of walking the same paths, going to the same well-known locations, photographing known scenes. It offers a sense of comfort and security knowing that I’d definitely get some good images there and if not, it would only be weather conditions to blame: no spectacular light, no sunrise, no sunset. Getting off the beaten path is unpredictable, unknown, and quite frankly scary – there might be nothing worth photographing there. But visiting the same place over and over makes photographs predictable and does not challenge me to grow as a photographer.

P.S. My writing and photography lately has been influenced by my girlfriend who gives me constant support while challenging me to do things differently including this post where she challenged me to write better and gave me some invaluable lessons in language arts.

Time Changes Landscape

On my last trip I decided to revisit the place I took the following photo at way back in 2011 in Zion National Park.

I like the location. I like that I found it on my own. I like that it is just off the beaten path enough to be there by myself away from crowds of tourists and photographers.

I did suspect that there would be some changes. Sure I would not get so lucky with the clouds and the light. But I did not expect to find my beloved tree dead. Its time has come I guess. Everything that lives eventually dies.

Print is the Ultimate Editing Tool

I’m working thru a backlog of photos I took last fall. And I find a lot of good ones that are too hard to choose from. They are of the same place as I visited the same place over and over photographing in different light, different time of day, different weather.

Making selection from a large set of image close to each other is tough. After narrowing the set of picked images to about 50 I hit a wall. I could not reject any more images. This was about two months ago.

Now two months later I went back trying to reduce selection further. I was able to reject about 30 more images and get selection down to about 20. It was still too many. Too many images that looked too alike.

While working thru the backlog of the images I’ve been also getting ready for the new season of the art fairs. The first art fair of this year is not far away in just two months and really-really wanted to have some new work to show.

With no more ideas of how to make progress I did something I’ve never done before: I’ve printed all those images. I’ve laid them out on the table on the floor, wherever I could find space. One large room filled with images. I’ve started “visiting” the room. My first two visits I still could not reject any images.

Then one day I’ve decided to pull one out, the one that seemed the weakest of the bunch. Then I pulled out one more because there were two that were so close it did not matter which one to keep and which one to reject.

As I spend more time with prints it seemed my vision was unfogging and I was getting more and more clarity. In a few days I was rejecting several prints at a time thinking: of cause the remaining are better – how I could not see it earlier.

Here is one that stayed in “keep” pile.

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Random Stops

My excuse to mostly travel by car is “to stop and photograph along the way”. I know it is only an excuse though because once I get on the road I keep going without stopping all the way to the destination.

One reason I don’t stop along the way is because I’m putting my tunnel vision goggles on. I’m imagining the photographs I’ll do at the destination and want to get there as fast as possible.

Another reason which is much deeper and scarier is that I’m afraid to fail. I mean I can stop somewhere and there would be nothing to photograph. No, that’s not the right way to say it. There is always something to photograph. But there would be nothing that I’d like to photograph, there would be nothing that connects with me, nothing that relates to me. And I would be just wasting my time.

It takes an effort – it still does and likely will always do – to overcome that and force myself to stop at random places. Sure in 99.99% of cases I don’t find anything that would meet my eye. But then in that very small percentage point I’d find something like this and my heart starts to sing.

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Being Flexible

Sometimes plans change and I’m glad about it.

My plan for the last weekend was to drive around and capture the last signs of fall. I planned to spend first day near Leavenworth. On the second day I planned to go to The Boardman Tree Farm in Oregon. I had never been there and wanted to take a look after seeing some amazing photos from there. After visiting the tree farm I going going to drive down to Columbia Gorge the same day and spend two days photographing along Columbia Gorge.

Everything had been going according to the plan up to the point I got to The Boardman Tree Farm. The place was simply amazing, magical in its fall glory. I did not want to go anywhere. Lines of trees with fall colors, scent of foliage in the air, quite and peace of a forest. I did not want to go anywhere. I was photographing and photographing and photographing. And when I was tired and could not photograph anymore I would just stand still and be part of the forest.

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Two Problems

There are two problems in photography: too little good pictures and too many good pictures. I’m joking of cause. There are a lot of more important problems like soul searching. But that’s the problem that I face right now: there are just too many good pictures from the trip to Enchantment lakes.

Almost every photo is “golden”. Either I’m a good photographer or golden larches make every picture “golden”. The place is just too beautiful to fail to impress.

With that here is one photo that I really like.

Sunrise in Enchantments
Sunrise in Enchantments

Winter Storm in Enchantments

Two weeks ago I went on a trip to Enchantment Lakes. This is an area not far from where I live. It is high in the mountains, isolated and beautiful. The last two are the reason why so many backpackers want to get there. In fact so many that there is limited number of permits given each year. It helps protect fragile unique ecosystem of the area.

For three years I’ve been trying to get a permit to backpack to Enchantment Lakes during peak fall color of larches growing there. Finally, this year I got it.

Right before going to the Enchantments I got cold. But that would not stop me. The forecast was for rain. That would not stop me either. I just got more rain gear with me.

As I was walking up to Enchantments I met many people coming down telling me that there had been snow the night before. Everyone was leaving. And I was getting more excited. Snow in Enchantments – it must be beautiful.

When I got to Enchantments the snow is mostly melted. The larches were beautiful – at the peak of fall color. I was the only backpacker there.

The first night was very cold but the next day was calm and warm. The second night I learnt what winter storm meant up in the mountain, up in the Enchantments. It was freezing. The wind gusts were so loud they would wake me up. There was heavy snowfall. I had to push snow off the tents walls, so my tent would not collapse under its weight. Finally by the morning it quieted down and I could get some restful sleep.

I worried about getting back the whole night. But when I got out in the morning and looked around it was amazing. I laughed like crazy, the beauty was overwhelming. Fresh white snow, not touched, not stepped on, all around. Yellow larches. Cloudy sky with glimpses of blue. I forgot about all my worries. I forgot about getting back. I beheld the most amazing sight in my life.

There are a lot of photos to work thru now but the most important thing I took with me is an amazing experience. For now here are some images of my tent as it went thru me stay there.

Day 2. MorningDay 2. Evening before the stormDay 3. Morning after the stormDay 3. Afternoon. The site as I left it