Recently I went on a trip with my girlfriend to Rowena Crest to photograph wild flowers. As we stopped by one of many meadows filled with bright yellow flowers I asked her a question.
“Look,” I said, “there is this meadow of flowers. I bet there are good photos here but I don’t see any. What about you? Do you see any?”
Her reply made me think for a while about my motivation: “You need to believe that the place is beautiful to make beautiful photos.”
I realized that I did not think that particular meadow was very beautiful. There were random patches of flowers. None really stood out.
The reason I wanted to take pictures was that it was a rare opportunity for me: those flowers were there for a short time a year and we had to drive four hours to get there. As such I wanted to squeeze every possible photo from every meadow we came across.
I still took a few pictures there but I did not have a goal of making beautiful pictures. I was experimenting with compositions, finding patterns in a chaos and leading lines in twisted tree branches.
I did make beautiful pictures on that trip in the places I believed to be beautiful.
On my last trip I decided to revisit the place I took the following photo at way back in 2011 in Zion National Park.
I like the location. I like that I found it on my own. I like that it is just off the beaten path enough to be there by myself away from crowds of tourists and photographers.
I did suspect that there would be some changes. Sure I would not get so lucky with the clouds and the light. But I did not expect to find my beloved tree dead. Its time has come I guess. Everything that lives eventually dies.
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.
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.
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.
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.