A popular piece of advice in landscape photography is to stay and wait at sunset till the last light disappears. You never know what surprises can happen at sunset. I’ve advocated for the same myself. But…
A couple of days ago I went to Mount Rainier National Park. I hiked to one of my favorite spots up the Pinnacle Peak trail. I had not been there for, well, a year. I had missed it and was very glad to be there again.
I got there just in time for sunset. I intended to stay there during the sunset taking pictures and enjoying the view. Well, the joy did not last long. My presence attracted swarms of mosquitoes. The little devils would bite me in several places at once. Instead of enjoying the wilderness and taking pictures, I was spending most of the time swatting mosquitoes. It was not fun. It was not enjoyable.
Frustrated, I decided to head back before the sun even dropped below the mountain ridge. The way I rationalized it to myself was that if I were to spend every sunset and every sunrise in the same well-scouted places I would never see it in from any unexpected places.
As I was heading down the trail, that was exactly what happened. A beam of sunlight found its way through the clouds and the mountain peaks as the sun just settled below the mountain ridge. I was awestruck by the unexpected photo opportunity. I was glad I started heading down early. I would not have been able to see this from the place where I had planned to spend the sunset.
Be open to photo opportunities everywhere, seek out and be prepared for the unexpected.
Recently I went on a trip with my girlfriend to Rowena Crest to photograph wild flowers. As we stopped by one of many meadows filled with bright yellow flowers I asked her a question.
“Look,” I said, “there is this meadow of flowers. I bet there are good photos here but I don’t see any. What about you? Do you see any?”
Her reply made me think for a while about my motivation: “You need to believe that the place is beautiful to make beautiful photos.”
I realized that I did not think that particular meadow was very beautiful. There were random patches of flowers. None really stood out.
The reason I wanted to take pictures was that it was a rare opportunity for me: those flowers were there for a short time a year and we had to drive four hours to get there. As such I wanted to squeeze every possible photo from every meadow we came across.
I still took a few pictures there but I did not have a goal of making beautiful pictures. I was experimenting with compositions, finding patterns in a chaos and leading lines in twisted tree branches.
I did make beautiful pictures on that trip in the places I believed to be beautiful.
A few days ago I was taking a photo of chairs in a park behind an office building. While trying to find an interesting pattern in the seemingly random location of the chairs I had an interesting thought. There might be photographers who’d come to a scene like this one and rearrange it in the way it is appealing. I on the other hand just looking at it, from different angles, from different point of views, trying to read its stories the way they are.
I do the same while photographing a landscape. I never rearrange a scene, moving only my camera trying to find an interesting picture. I appreciate the scene for what it is, for what it tells me. I just need to be a willing listener.
At the trip to the Death Valley last December I visited Racetrack Playa for the first time. I’ve dreamt about visiting this place for so long, about seeing its sailing stones – stones moving across playa leaving tracks in clay that covers the playa.
With dismay I discovered that the place is mostly ruined by the visitors. There were a lot of tracks with stones stolen from them. Some tracks had stones that clearly did not belong there. In addition there were signs of vandalism: tracks left by motocycle and truck tires. It took nature many years to create this unique place. It took humans just a few years to ruin it.
I’ve just got back from a trip to Banff and Abraham lake in Canada. What an adventure! Not all of it was safe or easy. Winter roads can be quite challenging to drive.
My body was challenged too with the cold that I’ve never experienced before in my life. First day it was -31C. The day after it was -21C which seemed like an improvement but it was slightly windy which made it feel even colder.
On the third night I wake up earlier to photograph sunrise at Abraham lake. The place is popular for photography due to natural phenomenon. The lake freezes up deeply during winter and as freezes up methane bubbles rising from the lake bottom get captured any preserved in the ice creating fantastic three-dimensional structures.
As I got to the lake, to location I explored and decided on the day before. It was cold, very cold. The wind was howling outside rocking my car from side to side. Despite layers and layers of clothes I had on me, once I stepped outside I got cold within seconds.
I immediately got back in the car. I could not convince my body to go outside again. No matter how beautiful sunrise was going to be I could hike to the lake and back in such weather.
As I was faced with this challenged my first reaction was to just sit in the car and watch the sunrise. Then I thought that maybe I should get out of the box and photograph something else. I remembered the trees with a small frozen pond around them with ice shining like a mirror. I drove to that place. It was cold but it was quiet, still, no wind at all. I felt warm and cozy.
That ended up the place where I photographed the sunrise. There were no bubbles in the ice in my photos but the sky was nice and I liked the trees and the frozen pond around them.
In fact, I realized, I’m not that attached to the bubbles in the ice. I’m fascinated with the phenomenon and I like to look at them but I don’t feel emotional connection to the scenes involving them. Thanks to extreme cold and wind that drove me away from the lake I found something of my own, something that I enjoyed more photographically.
Lately I started doing something different on my photographic road trips. Staying somewhere for a while. Somewhere quiet with only sounds of nature around.
I don’t mean like backpacking or camping which I like to do a lot. But sometime whether is not very enjoyable for those activities. Rain or snow makes backpacking rather a serious ordeal.
Instead I just drive into remote enough location, open the back of my SUV and sit in the back, looking outside, enjoying sounds of nature, reading a book or typing this blog.
Right now I’m in Steptoe Butte park in the Palouse. It is snowing lightly with sun breaking thru the snow. It is a beautiful winter day. I’m sitting in the back of the car and typing this blog.
I’ve tried to get to the top of the Steptoe Butte… unsuccessfully. The road is not maintainable in winter with lots of snow on it. The temperature is just right for packed slick snow under the tires. Even with all wheel drive I was sliding down instead of driving up.
So, I backed down to the small parking at the bottom of the butte and decided to just enjoy this beautiful winter day.
As I sit and quiet down I start noticing signs of coming spring. The sun is warm and pleasant. Birds are chirping outside. Somewhere under the white cover small streams of melted snow can be heard running briskly and happily.
I’ll probably take a few pictures later but for now I’m just enjoying the place.
Every now and then I find myself making a photograph with very little in it, still, motionless. What is it about? It is about space, it is about simplicity, it is about tranquility.
Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.
I’ve just returned from a trip to the Death Valley where I spent several days with a photographer friend photographing at various locations around the valley. It involved a lot of driving and hiking and of course photography. We woke up before sunrise and hiked in the dark to a location to photograph at sunrise every day. We drove quite a bit to remote locations where we photographed sunset, then drove back in the dark.
It sounds very tiresome but it was not because we’d have fun playing photographic jokes on each other, taking silly pictures, sharing and laughing at them. Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.