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.

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.

Just Do It

Two things inspire me. I’m inspired by great images. But I’m inspired even more by people who go out and make images: no matter the conditions, no matter the mood, no matter anything. This persistence makes me do the same: go out and photograph.

Originally I wanted to write about going back to my old friend – Second Beach in Olympic National Park. When I went there a week ago I expected winter like conditions: overcast, heavy clouds. Instead it was summer like: sunny and clear sky. I’m not very fond of clear sky. It is a lot of empty blueness – boring.

Then I told myself: just do it. Take a camera and make the best images you can from the material you’re presented.

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.

_dsc3793-hdr

 

One Step Back

I’m back from Norway. Well, I’ve been back to Seattle for two months, enjoying my old friends: Olympic National Park, Rainier National Park, Enchantment Lakes and trails around Seattle.

***

One of the icon places in Rainier National Park is Reflection Lakes. In fact by far this is the place to photograph at sunrise. And pray the water is still as a mirror. I had not visited it for a while as it is over-photographed in my opinion. I had preferred exploring new places in this vast park.

On a whim of nostalgia since I have not been in the park for four months I went there to enjoy the classic view. It was the first  freezing night of the season. Frost was covering grass, logs, and few remaining leaves. Fog was rising over the lakes and slowly moving over the still water.

There were a few more photographers besides me there. All of them trying to get as close as possible to the water going for pure perfect reflection photograph. I on the other hand step back a bit and have edge of the lake nicely framing the mountain reflection. Here is my almost classic image of the mountain:

But then I thought that what was really interesting and unique about that morning was the first frost. So, I walked away from the lake to the point where I had seen two logs pointing in the direction of the mountain. To me these images are more interesting. The first one was taken before sunrise during twilight and the second one was taken right after sunrise.

Reflections of Colorado Autumn

I’ve finally completed editing photos from my trip to Colorado. Despite my misadventures that I’ve already described I’ve brought quite a few photos of intimate places I really liked. There are a few themes I can see thru the photos. One of the themes are reflections. Here a few photos with reflections. Enjoy!

Overskinned. Story 1

Sunrise at Maroon Bells Lake

(A series of three stories – frustrating, scary and happy – with a common thread.)

At the dawn of photography back in 19th century there was this guy by the name Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr who was a big advocate for photography in general and travel photography in particular. He talked about taking a photograph as taking a “skin” of reality that was based on his interpretation of an old Greek myth. I don’t want to go too far into that direction as it is not the point of my blog post. The interesting part is that he also warned of possibility of overskinning some scenes. He was concerned that some scenes might be photographed to the point when the scenes themselves will be not interesting. I came face to face with that on my trip to Colorado this fall.

***

Pacific Northwest has very limited opportunities for fall colors. You’d need to scramble for interesting fall color compositions outside cities in evergreen forests. Going to Colorado and diving into fall colors was a long waiting dream of mine. This year I finally went there. It turned to be a lot of what I expected, a lot more than I expected and some that I’d rather not have. This three stories with a common theme of what photography is for me and what it is not.

Since it was my first time in Colorado I did not have any places of my own in mind; I mostly traveled to well-known places. One of such places is Maroon Bells Lake. It is considered an iconic place of Colorado. Another photographer who went there last year warned me to come an hour before sunrise as there are quite a few photographers coming there to photograph sunrise there.

I scouted the place I want to photograph a day before and showed up there about an hour before sunrise. There were about 20 more photographers along the lake. The place I had scouted the day before was not occupied. I set up my camera on tripod and started waiting. It was freezing cold but everyone was jolly with anticipation. Over the hour that followed number of photographers slowly grew to 70 but everyone was polite and asked if they’re in the way when they setup camera.

Everything was well right up to sunrise, crowded but well. Right before sunrise a guy showed up and put his tripod right in front of my camera. When I politely noted that I was photographing there and he was blocking part of my frame, he said that everyone else was photographing too and would not move. I was pissed but not sure what to do about it except to frame a different image. There was still no way to completely avoid him, so I removed him from a corner of my image in Photoshop.

Next morning I went there without much enthusiasm but with a hope to still take the image I wanted. When I arrived there were already about 50 photographers. The spot where I wanted to make a photo was taken. I got what I got. By the sunrise there were more than a hundred photographers. It was crowded and did not feel very friendly. A guy on the right was frustrated with his gear which he had too much of; switching it constantly in indecision what to use; getting tangled up in it. I was locked into taking one and only one composition. Anything else would mean getting a bunch of tripods in my frame or getting myself into someone else’s frame. Can I be creative in such environment? No.