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.
A few days ago I was taking a photo of chairs in a park behind an office building. While trying to find an interesting pattern in the seemingly random location of the chairs I had an interesting thought. There might be photographers who’d come to a scene like this one and rearrange it in the way it is appealing. I on the other hand just looking at it, from different angles, from different point of views, trying to read its stories the way they are.
I do the same while photographing a landscape. I never rearrange a scene, moving only my camera trying to find an interesting picture. I appreciate the scene for what it is, for what it tells me. I just need to be a willing listener.
At the trip to the Death Valley last December I visited Racetrack Playa for the first time. I’ve dreamt about visiting this place for so long, about seeing its sailing stones – stones moving across playa leaving tracks in clay that covers the playa.
With dismay I discovered that the place is mostly ruined by the visitors. There were a lot of tracks with stones stolen from them. Some tracks had stones that clearly did not belong there. In addition there were signs of vandalism: tracks left by motocycle and truck tires. It took nature many years to create this unique place. It took humans just a few years to ruin it.
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.
Life is full of experiences, exciting and mundane, surprising and routine, spending time with loved ones and grocery shopping and paying bills. It is not always that I can find time to go on a trip to some exciting location.
I dream. I dream a lot. I dream big. I dream of a life in a wilderness, photographing, painting, being creative all the time. But…
To be honest, as much as much as the dream of being in the wilderness all the time seems to be attractive it is not all that makes me happy. Having someone I love and who loves me back fulfills my life with happiness that I cannot draw from the wilderness. All the exciting and quiet moments shared together fill me with joy.
To be honest, as much as I want to photograph all the time, I have a limit to my creativity. After the first few active days on a trip I find myself exhausted and numb to everything around me.
To be honest, if I truly want to be creative, all I need is to take my camera and step out into my own backyard. Because that is all it takes to find this…
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.
Watching the light moving across the land – there is nothing more fascinated than that for me.
One of the destinations on my most recent trip was Canyon de Chelly. One of the most interesting places it has is a White House, which is a set of ruins from the times in the distant past.
When we arrived there we were met with pouring rain then hail. When it all stopped the sky was grey and the light was flat. While I found the White House be interesting compositionally, in flat light it was looking boring.
Then the sun started breaking thru the clouds. From a viewpoint that I was standing on I could see a spots of light moving across the planes on the other side of the canyon. As they reached the edge of the canyon they quickly dropped off the cliff down the sheer the canyon wall and landed with a splash into the valley below.
I was watching them doing it over and over. With time I started seeing the pattern to the movement: the direction they are moving in and which place on the canyon wall they will pick to take the fall.
Eventually, the spot that I’ve been waiting for came by. I knew it was coming to shine on the White House while it was still wandering the plains on the other side. I saw it highlight one tree after the other slowly crawling toward the edge of the canyon. When it reached the edge of the canyon I leaned to viewfinder anticipating its fall.
The light spot dropped down fast and I caught it just as it was crossing the White House. I was excited as if I caught a magical creature. Well, maybe I did. The light like that brings certain magic to the photo.
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 found certain photos to be great for meditation. I can stare at the for long time and think about something that I cannot remember anything of later. They are just so calming and simple.