I’m a perfectionist. I know this about myself. My friends know it about me. I know they know because I’ve heard enough grunts from them when I get stuck in one place endlessly perfecting a picture while they want to continue hiking.
This quality of mine can be a virtue as I constantly challenge myself to be better at my craft. It drives me on a personal quest to make the best of the scene to find the best of me. But sometimes it can also be misleading.
This morning I woke up very early as usual given my jet lag after flying from Seattle to Rome to go to Tuscany. I like my jet lag: I wake up deep in the night hours before dawn. I can explore Tuscany by myself while most people are sleeping.
I was staying at a farm near a small hill town Pienza. During day the town was bustling with tourist and shops and restaurants but at night I could have it all to myself. It was quite: a ghost town, a movie set, a place to wander aimlessly through its narrow streets. In warm street lights it was intimate and mysterious.
I could walk along its walls and enjoy the views of mist covered fields surrounding the town, listen to the quiet of the night, breathe its chilly air. The walls were empty during night but there were plenty of photographer every morning there as they offered grand views of the surrounding hills.
The walk to Pienza from the farm was about half an hour. As I was hiking along the road that morning I passed an olive orchard. Then I walked along a winery grape field. The grape wines were low enough that I could glimpse the hills that make Tuscany such a picturesque place. As I came to the end the second olive orchard I veered off the road and sneaked between the trees to come out to a wheat field where I finally got a clear unobstructed view of the valley.
I stopped to marvel at the thick fog blanketing the valley. The fog was slowly moving in waves and only tops of the hills were floating above it like ships in the ocean. I got my camera out and started taking pictures. The perfectionist in me was telling me to go to the town walls, that they would give me a bigger view, that it might be even better, that I would miss the sunrise if I stayed there.
And yet I stayed. I could not move. I could not abandon what I saw. And it dawn on me that the place, where I was, was the best place for me to be, because I was there alone, because I was the only witness to that particular moment, I was the only one there to capture it and share its beauty with others.
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.
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.
When I go on a photographic trip the hardest decision is always picking a destination.
Last week I had a knee surgery (which went quite well and I’m recovering quickly). The weekend before that I was going on a photo trip. I knew it would be a while I’d go again, so the choice was really hard.
The way I often make such decision is first decide whether I want to explore a new place or visit again a place I’ve been too. Once that is over I decide within that group which place to go based on time of the year, weather, etc.
The way I decided this time was simply by following my heart. So, I went to the Palouse. After so many years and so many visits I still love this place.
It’s rolling hills have calming, meditative influence on me. Despite its growing popularity I still have my places where I can be alone. And I keep discovering dirt roads I’ve never visited before.
When I arrived there I realized it was the right choice for me. Calm and peace filled my heart. First day I did not even get the camera out. I was just looking at the hills following their lines in their slow rhythm of a heartbeat.
I’m in a long trip to Europe for three months. I’m making photos along the way. That means that I need to get to learn to work with limited resources namely laptop. Typically during a few days or a week photo trip I don’t do any post-processing; my focus is on collecting material.
Three month though is pretty long time to go without any sharing. so I’m getting used to post-processing on a laptop and getting used to long waits.
My first stop was Tuscany. Here is an image I took near Asciano.
The whole area has frozen. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow. After driving around at the bottom of a fog ocean I drove to the top of Steptoe butte. As I were reaching the top I emerged from fog. The whole landscape opened up to my view: it was an endless sea of clouds with peaks of mountains like islands seen on horizon.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Snow sparkling in the sun. Roads disappearing in the fog. Pristine white fields in small openings of white fog.
It was just too much beauty around my senses were exhausted. I was taking photos seemingly random, on instinct. I need it a rest.
Back from the top I dove my submarine back into the ocean of fog. Bitter cold but happy.
The next morning I woke up early to photograph sunrise. I had a place and scene in mind. Except as always the Nature has its own plans. Everything was still covered in thick fog. it make everything feel more enclosed putting white wall around. Everything was white, fresh and clean: snow on the ground and fog in the air.
There was no hint of sunrise. The fog was too deep for that. So I started to photograph snow in the Palouse in fog. As I was going thru the day my image became more and more abstract and the theme has become clearer: white out.
The whole area looked frozen and deserted. My car was the only one on the roads making a new track in fresh snow.
White out – the land is white and the sky is white. There is only thin line where land meets the sky. And nothing disturbs the quiet stillness of it all.
I’m always fascinated with the big ball of fire floating up in the sky every day of our life, with incredible gravitational and nuclear forces at work fighting over control of the matter. The Sun gives life and it burns it. Its energy is the source of all the changes on the Earth.
That’s the way I see it: overwhelming, overpowering.
Sometimes you need to get up on a hill to see a view. Just like I did when we drove thru Canada.
We drove thru places of snow and ice that were picturesque enough. But then I saw a hill with a parking lot next to it. I stopped and climbed the hill. The view that opened up to me was breathtaking.
The vast flats of frozen river covered with snow, the soft spots of sun light breaking thru clouds, the blue hazy mountains in the distance and a cloudy sky above it all. The view was worth photographing, the awe was worth sharing. I called up the other guys and we spent some time photographing.