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.

Cold is a Good Motivator

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.

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.

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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Kubota Garden

Isn’t it amazing how sometimes we have something interesting close by and yet cannot seem to find time to visit the place?

I’ve heard of Kubota Garden in Seattle long time ago. I’ve meant to visit it many times. And yet I have not visited it once. That was until this this year. A few fellow photographers went there to photograph fall colors. While I could not go with them I made a promise to myself to go there next week. I kept the promise and I’m glad I did.

Turned out the Kubota Garden is a very picturesque place with large variety of trees, human made waterfalls, intricate network of trails. The bright hues of fall were mixed with evergreens.

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The weather was not great the sky was grey and featureless but promise is a promise I had to keep it. In the end it turned out well. The sun broke thru the clouds and I was treated to a nice rainbow. I found this nice composition with a bridge and rainbow repeating each others arc. It was raining and you can see water drops on the water.

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