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.
The day started as any other Hawaiian day. The sky was cloudy at the northeast end of Kauai just as any other day of the last vacation. My first look out of the window at the clouds, palm trees, the ocean, beach, and mountains in the distance. Hey, there in the mountains something interesting was going on. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up one of the mountains in the ridge.
That was interesting. I setup my tripod in my hotel room, put my camera on, pointed it out of the window at the landscape outside and took a photo.
The fall weather in northeast Kauai is typically very unstable. In just a few minutes the light completely changed. I took another photo. The change itself had become interesting. Thus a day long project was born: the composition was framed and unchanged for the whole day but any time light changed I would take a photo.
Here is the final selection of the images from that day.
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.
The morning in the backcounty of the Monument Valley started with rain. The sky was overcast. There was no sunrise.
We photographed anyway because we were there. It is better to do than do not. I photograph whereever I am and whenever I am. Who knows when is the next time the opportunity like that presents itself.
After about an hour of photographing we decided it was time to go back. As we packed up the sun broke thru the clouds. The was only one whole in the clouds and a spot of light was slowly moving across the valley lighting up its different features creating new and new images.
We’ve unpacked and started photographing the same place all over again. This time in a new light.
I’ve probably written about importance of light, of an interesting, beautiful light in landscape photography. And I’ll probably write about it many more times because it is worth it. This is one of those stories.
One of the places that we visited on the recent trip was Canyon De Chelly. When we arrived there the sky was gloomy. The light was flat and uninteresting. The images were flat and uninteresting too.
We started with the furthest viewpoint. In just a few minutes the sky broke into a small rain that within seconds turned into downpour and then into hail. There is nothing to do but to leave.
We dutifully visited every viewpoint on the way back. Eventually, the rain was over. When I walked to the next viewpoint the sun broke thru the clouds and lit up the canyon in patches of soft glow that added volume and magic to the scene.
From there on there were a lot of images worth looking at.
Long time ago, when I only started doing photography more as artistic pursuit than a record of personal life my focus was completely on making stunning images, images that captivate viewers. If I came back from a trip with no great images because weather did not cooperate or my creativity was on a break, I would have been depressed: the trip was a failure. And if I brought great images I would have been extremely happy.
Now I travel more and more for experience. The experience of being somewhere. The experience of living there. The experience of being one on one with the nature, or being with likeminded friends, or being in another culture.
Don’t get me wrong. If I make a great image in the process I’m still excited like a kid for a new toy. But I enjoy the full experience and enjoy it independently of whether I make great images. Making photographs only makes me more acute to the world around making me, more sensitive to the experience.
One of the memorable experiences on the last trip was a trip to the backcountry of the Monument Valley with a local guide. We were lucky to get some decent light and I got some exciting images but photography was only a part of the experience.
I also enjoyed being in the wilderness, the food cooked on the coals of a camp fire, the dinner by the campfire, sleeping in a tent surrounded by the noises of the wilderness away from industrial noises of the modern houses, the waking up to the rain bouncing on the tent in the morning urging me to get my boots into the tent before they are filled with water, the eerie silence when all birds and critters suddenly went silent just as the sun hidden by the clouds broke the invisible line of the horizon, the hot coffee on the chilly morning as the campfire was dying down with no one feeding it more logs.
That is the full experience. That is worth living for.
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.
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.
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.
(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.