Challenge of One Road

The main part of this blog post was written last September after my trip to the Palouse at the end of August. It took me a while to come back to it to finish it. The idea of challenging myself is still very important to me and the post remains very much relevant.

***

Blue sky above with a streak of white clouds passing by, yellow rolling hills covered with a patchwork blanket of fields below and I’m standing a top of a butte floating between those two. Such a familiar landscape. So many times I’ve visited the Palouse, browsed its network of dirt roads raising dust clouds behind me in the air, captured its beauty in many images. And yet I visit it again and again. Its rolling hills are comforting, meditative and relaxing.

All my visits up till last would start at Steptoe Butte. It was my way to greet the Palouse, taking it all in in one sweeping 360 degree view. It was an easily most noticeable landmark in the Palouse, a popular destination for photographers, a place where images are easy to come by. The biggest challenge is to make something new.

Lately I had noticed my photos from the Palouse had become repetitive. I had my favorite spot for sunrise photography. I had my favorite spot for sunset photography. I kept visiting them every time I went to the Palouse. No risks taken. Guaranteed sunrise or sunset image. Just the way I had done many times. To do something new I had to do something different. I had to allow myself to fail. I needed to give myself an opportunity to see sunrise and sunset in different places. That might mean that I would leave without a killer shot but I can instead leave with a sense of exploration and wonder.

That is what I had on my mind during my last visit to the Palouse.

The first morning of the trip I got up early, before the first light of the day to come had started filling the starry sky. It was dark and chilly. Rather than rushing to a familiar sunrise spot in the morning – one of those I had taken pictures at during previous visits. I got into the car, drove out of the town and then turned onto some random dirt road letting the sunrise catch me somewhere unexpected, somewhere where I had not seen sunrise before.

I managed to get a few pictures during sunrise in different places. First one was a barn with a gradient of cold and warm colors of pre-dawn light in the sky. Then the light of the sun that rose just above the horizon barely skimming the tops of the hills with a lonely windmill, with a Steptoe Butte in the background.

After the early morning exploration I got back to the hotel to have a breakfast. During the breakfast another thought came to my mind: Do I have to wander about at random places? What if I explore the same place deeper? What if I challenge myself to find new images in the same place?

So I’ve decided to visit the same route I picked in the morning… Fast forward two days ahead, I drove that route six times during the trip. Each time I found new images, noticed things that had eluded my attention before. It was fascinating to observe how my attention was getting sharper. I would not notice those things without that focused exercise.

Besides seeing new things in already familiar places I had an opportunity to see the same places in different light: see them in the morning, at noon and in the evening; see how they changed. And as I was going to the same place over and over I was giving an opportunity for something special to happen. One time I got to see a man fly-fishing in a shallow creek, another time a tractor was working the field rising a column of dust in the sky. All of it by driving the same route over and over.

The take away from this story is that it does not matter how far or how close we travel, it does not matter if we visit an old place or a new, what matters for a creativity is a state of mind. Setting some specific goals for self-improvement, setting up challenges often helps to do something truly new and rediscover yourself.

Having Fun

Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Death Valley where I spent several days with a photographer friend photographing at various locations around the valley. It involved a lot of driving and hiking and of course photography. We woke up before sunrise and hiked in the dark to a location to photograph at sunrise every day. We drove quite a bit to remote locations where we photographed sunset, then drove back in the dark.

It sounds very tiresome but it was not because we’d have fun playing photographic jokes on each other, taking silly pictures, sharing and laughing at them. Photographic trip does not have to be all about art. It can also be fun.

Never Get Tired

I never get tired of the same place. I might think I got most of the place on a single trip but after a while I want to revisit the place, see it again with new eyes, experience it with me being different than last time.

About a month ago when the weather was absolutely dreadful in Seattle as it typically is at the end of November my wife, my son and I went to Hawaii. It was a family trip but as I always do I hauled all my photo gear with me.

My focus during a family trip is of cause on family activities such as building sand castles with my son (ironically, first time I misspelled it as ‘sun’, which is very much the case, he is our son and our sun). I take all the gear with me on a family trip nevertheless just for a chance. If the Nature gives me an opportunity I would be able to use it.

My wife understands my passion for photography (after all she is into photography herself). Thus she gave me most sunrises and sunsets and was rewarded with nice breakfast and romantic nights. I was limiting my range of subjects to the ones that are close by, so, I would be back in time of my wife and my son waking up in the morning or in time to kiss my son good night in the evening.

Having such limits is an interesting challenge. It makes me find something interesting in otherwise mundane landscape; pre-visualize what place might look like at sunrise or sunset; carefully plan where to go by looking at maps and areal photos ahead of time. The limited area of travel also meant that I would visit the same places multiple times, see them in different weather and in different light.

So, get ready for a series of photos from that trip, see how I dealt with the challenge, and experience the same places in different ways.

I’ll start with this one which I really like for how the waves of clouds in the sky repeat the waves of the ocean, the row of yachts resting on the water and great light breaking thru the the clouds.

Enchantment Lakes [20]

Epilog

When I got back to civilization I had strange feeling: the world of cars and buildings did not seem to be real. It took days for realities to shift around. By now couple months after the trip the reality of the trip seems to be elusive. The only proof of it ever happening are the photos that I brought from the trip.

This was my first backpacking trip. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I did like backpacking and photographing a lot. Being in one place with a mobility limited to human abilities was a great way to study one place very-very deeply, look at the same place in different light, let the place sink into me. Backpacking opens up new possibilities of photographing distant places that can only be reached on foot.

I would certainly be more prepare next time. There is a lot of weight I could shave off from my backpack by bringing lighter clothes and equipment. At the same time I missed a few things from my backpack: mineral salts to add to drinking water, high calorie food, better first aid kit, more better batteries for my camera. I needed a different backpack too – it should be more sturdy, better fit, and with many different compartments, so I can reach different items without unpacking everything. It would be better to have camera bag, so I could quickly reach for my camera to take photos. It would also make my backpack lighter.

I hope all of you will have a chance to visit this magical place – Enchantment Lakes. Just leave as small imprint of a human on it as possible, let the others coming after you enjoy it too. Happy backpacking!

Enchantment Lakes [19]

Day 5. Descent

Our 5 day trip to Enchantment Lakes was over. It was time to go back home. After photographing sunrise we packed up and started our descent.

What a difference the 5 days spent in Enchantment Lakes made to the outside world! When we were hiking up the trees and shrubbery around us were green. When we were hiking down we discovered that they turned all kind of bright colors: yellow, orange, red. it was a feast for our eyes.

We had a goal in site: home. So, we’ve made almost no stops on the way down. It took us more than a day to get all the way to Lake Viviane. It took us only 5 hours to come down from there.

When we got down to the parking lot I was overjoyed that I lived thru such an experience. I was screaming out of the top of my lungs with joy and happiness. What an amazing trip!

Home

I’m back home from my week long trip to Enchantment Lakes! It has been a life changing experience on many different levels.

Enchantment Lakes is a magical place – one of a kind. Lots of stories to tell. Lots of photos to share. But that’s later. Today my two most important tasks is to kiss my son good night and spend time with my wife.

Enchantment Lakes

On this Monday I’m off to adventure of my lifetime. With 3 other people I’m going on a 5 day backpacking trip to Enchantment Lakes. 18 miles, 6000 ft. elevation gain, 7800 ft. above sea level at the highest point with a large backpack on my back will put to test my body and mind.

I’ve been preparing to it for the last month with hiking longish hikes and running every day but still the longest I went was 9 miles with less of elevation gain and lighter backpack. I’m very curious what 18 miles and 6000 ft. elevation gain feels like. And I’ve never been backpacking before. But the place have been intriguing me for a long time. I’ve heard it is magical. And finally I have a good company to go there.

It is going to be peak of larches golden fall foliage that Enchantment Lakes are famous for. So, I hope to come back with great photos. Ok. Maybe it should have been two sentences. I hope to come back. And with great photos. 🙂