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.

Unexpected

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.

Experiencing a Place

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.

The First Mile

How often do we pass on opportunities to make photos because we are so busy with routine every day motions of our lives? Trip planning and preparation requires a lot of effort and thus does not happen often. But photography is not about trips to exciting destinations, it is about taking a camera in your hands and stepping out of the door.

For a couple evenings now I’ve visited a park that is within a couple miles from my home. There was not much there to see except grass dried out by relentless summer sun and an open view of sunset.

So, I’ve photographed the grass at sunset. And as I got a taste of it I started noticing grass details that would work nicely with the sunset. I ended up with a series of photos I’m very excited about.

New View in Familiar Place

I return to the Palouse over and over. I love it. It make me feel at peace. I like to sit at the top of Steptoe Butte and follow the lines of the hills in a rhythmic pattern. Up and down, up and down. It has meditative quality.

And each visit I find new a new scenes. Sometimes along the roads that I travelled many times. The color of fields, the light, the clouds, the patterns – all change, all the time.

And sometimes it is simply taking a look in a different direction. Like in this case. I drove this road many times but always in the opposite direction and had never seen this tranquil scene up until now.

Backlog

Finally, finally, I caught up on the backlog of images I had not processed over the past year. I have no backlog now. Hopefully, I will keep it that way.

With that said, here are a few paths I have taken over the past year.

Facing the Sun, Facing the Wind

(Continueing from my previous post.)

On the way back from Columbia Gorge I stopped along the road at Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. Something caught my eye as I was passing by. Ponds of still water reflecting clouds. I stopped by and decided to stay there till sunset.

I was standing at the edge of a pond waiting for the sunset. My camera was on a tripod next to me waiting for the sunset. Wind was blowing in my face as I looked at the sun approaching the horizon. It was as simple of an experience as possible. And it was beautifully satisfying.

I standed there for an hour, just being there, experiencing it with every sense of my body, recording it in my memory in all its rich beauty. Because that’s what my life is all about.