Walking up a Creek

Another stop on a long winding road along Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park. Deep temperate rainforest of Olympic Peninsula is on the side of the road. It is dark under its canopy of tall hemlocks. Trying to walk through it up the steep mountains would be a tremendous feat. Every now and then big trunks of the fallen trees create obstructions that are often too tall to climb over. Soft damp ground cover of needles and ferns can hide holes or loose rocks that can easily make you lose your footing. I’ve never been able to walk more than a few meters into it before meeting an obstacle that was too hard or too risky to get over.

Every now and then there are openings in the woods created by creeks running down the mountains. Some overgrown and barely visible while others wide and open. Most will dry by the summer but it is spring now and they are filled with water from melting white snowcaps of the mountains and frequent rains.

That’s probably the only “safe” choice to work through this forest following a creek bed. That’s why I stopped next to one of them. My curiosity urged me to follow one of them deeper into the forest and see what it is hidden in its depths.

I put my backpack on, grab my tripod and cautiously head off into the woods. Every twist and turn of the creek bed reveals new details. At first it starts as a rocky opening wide enough that two sides of the trees cannot join their branches to block the sky. The water is nowhere to be seen but I can hear its restless murmur. It is hiding under the rocks.

As I get further up more and more water can be seen rushing over the rocks in small cascading waterfalls or relaxing in a small quiet pools. Slowly the creek bed narrows and the canopy of trees closes up over my head. It gets darker and quieter. The rocks become more mossy and slippery and the footing more unstable. I wish I had my micro-spikes with me. It did not occur to me that they might come useful for walking on slippery rocks.

From time to time I stop to enjoy lively silence of the forest, let myself lose myself in it, become part of it. Sometimes I get my camera out, take pictures, have my dialog with the creek, be attentive to it.

It gets darker even more and I realize that it is not just because the thick canopy of the forest anymore: the sun is probably getting closer to horizon. Time to turn around and go back down to where I came from.

The walk down is easier, more familiar and less strenuous. I’m deciding to cut one of the twists and shorten my path down. The rocks look drier that way too and might be easier to walk on. After walking down a little while I run into large hemlock trunk crossing my path. It is over a meter thick and covered with moss. For a moment I ponder retracing my steps back and going down the way I came but I decide to scale it and promise myself never cut the creeks turns again. Following back the way I came is the safest way to go.

As I descent it gets lighter; the canopy opens up back to the sky. Finally, I’m back at the road. The sky is warm with the late evening sun light. I turn around to face the creek one last time. I bow to it and thank for the experience it gave me.

 

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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.

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.

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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New Year, New Challenges

I celebrated this New Year in Stockholm, Sweden. This was mostly a social and sightseeing trip but I still took my trusted camera because… just because that’s the way I am.

What was different this time though is that I did not take my tripod. I tried to challenge myself to capture fleeting moments, to be more mobile and to create a story with several photos.

This is very different from the way I am used to take photos. Many of my photos have long exposure, taken from a tripod and I spend a lot of time in the same spot, trying various angles, adjusting framing, micro-adjusting positioning of the camera to take the best image possible.

What I had not realized just how little light Stockholm gets in winter even during midday. I had to crank up exposure to 400-800 ISO just to get 1/40 sec exposure with fully open aperture during day. Nights were out of the question. So, I missed my tripod.

Finally on the last day of my stay in Stockholm something happened that made things a little bit brighter: snow. Rather then going into the city I went into kind of park and kind of forest. Turns out it does not matter where I go, I enjoy hiking in the nature. Nothing better for me. And hiking in the snow was a special treat.

There is a special kind of silence reserved only for quiet snowfalls. There is absolutely no sounds. Everything is still like a picture. And only snowflakes dancing in the air.

P.S. In retrospective it was a good decision not to take tripod on that trip. Even though I could not know way back that it would be a good decision. On the way back my luggage was lost and the airline has no idea where it is. But I have my tripod with me safely at home.

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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