Someone told me years ago, “If you want to catch a lot of fish, you have to go fishing a lot.” That’s true for the most part, unless you have friends that call to tell you when the fish are biting. It’s also true for landscape photography. It’s a good thing I have a few good friends.
The great landscape photographer, Galen Rowell, said, “There are only a certain number of sunrises and sunsets in a person’s life. A good landscape photographer understands this.” His words haunt me because there are too many I never see. Now for real, not every sunrise or sunset contributes to the making of a good image. Good ones don’t always happen just like fish aren’t always biting. In truth, I miss too many of the good ones. And my friends let me know when I do; “Oh, did you see the sunrise this morning?; Wow, I hope you got that sunset last night. It was fantastic!” I love my friends! They are few, but they are special!
Yesterday evening, I’m doing nothing in particular when one of these good friends calls me up. The conversation begins like this:
“Well, I’m going to tell you right now, I can’t go. I hate it, but I’m just not able to go. I’m on my way to Elgin to meet family for supper. But there are some clouds out here that look like they might make for a pretty good sunset. You ought to go if you can. If you get something good, send it to me.”
Well, what do you do? Good friends hold you accountable. I grabbed my bag, pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and I’m out the door. And, as it turned out it was pretty good and I had a great time just being out there. Yes, the catch isn’t big enough for a company fish fry, but it’s big enough to keep. I sent it to my friend earlier this morning.
Fish, Friends, and Photography? I need all three, and sometimes, it takes all three.
It was going to be my last chance this season to capture the Milky Way in a prime location of the sky. I’d been tied up with other things until just a few days ago so it was either do it now or wait until next June. I chose to do it now!
Here in southwest Oklahoma there aren’t any large urban areas that completely wash out the night sky with light pollution, but it only takes a few street lights to do the damage. It’s a two hour drive to the most remote and darkest spot I know of in these parts: a spot only ten miles from the Texas panhandle; A spot dominated more by red berry juniper trees than mesquite trees.
As the sun sank low on the western horizon, I became the object of curiosity for several free ranging cows and their calves. I was relieved once the curious calves’ were satisfied and their moms decided the grass must be greener someplace else. A half-dozen “bull bats” (nighthawks) swooped through the sky chasing insects scared into flight by the cattle. Occasionally their swooping and diving created the loud bull-like sound from whence they get their nickname. A lone coyote trotted down the road, briefly glanced in my direction, then continued on its way unconcerned by my presence.
Shadows grew longer and darkness began to fall across the landscape. The cattle had gathered for the night and gentle lowing could be heard in the distance. The lone coyote had joined the pack and their yelps were filling the night. First one star, then another, began to pop out from its celestial hiding place. Excitement began to build from somewhere deep within. My pulse quickened with anticipation of the scene about to unfold. Before long the heavens had opened opened to reveal the sparkling treasures above.
Alone with GOD and His creation, I was at peace, feeling content, and truly blessed!
In my youth, personal projects were marred because I lacked patience to wait for the first coat of varnish to dry completely before I applied a second coat. I stopped fishing years ago. I just couldn’t sit and wait patiently for a bite. Unless I must, I don’t stand in lines. I switch lines during checkout only to watch the one I vacated move faster than the one in which, impatiently, I now wait. Grilling with charcoal takes patience to wait for the coals to get just right. Now, I grill with propane. It’s a good thing I like my steak medium rare. I’m just sayin’.
My lack of patience extends to my photography. I hunt for scenes that are materializing at the moment. If it doesn’t, I’m off and running, again. I’m kinda like a storm chaser only I chase images. Lighting conditions change so quickly, countless times I have packed away my gear and driven off only to see the picture coming together in my rear view mirror. Ansel Adams once said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” Aha, that’s what I’m after. Every time. The reality is that it rarely ever happens. Adams was better known for arriving at a destination, setting up his tripod and camera, composing a shot, focusing, setting the camera and then sometimes, waiting for hours for the light he envisioned. That’s patience I don’t have, but I’m working on it. Age and retirement are making it easier, somewhat. I offer the picture above as an example of improved patience.
Before going to bed the night before, I made a commitment to go to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for a sunrise picture. That meant leaving for the Refuge at dark-thirty. Even as I was pulling out of my driveway, I had thoughts about calling it off; In the darkness I could tell the sky was heavily overcast and I thought to myself, “What’s the use? The sunrise won’t be visible, anyway. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. There are things I could be doing at home.” Reasons not to go. Then, the thought about Ansel propelled me out of the driveway, down the street and on my way.
Being familiar with an area helps. Upon entering the Refuge via the Cache gate, I drove to an area of promise should light begin to break through the clouds and before the light became too harsh. With civil twilight barely creating enough light to avoid tripping over a cobblestone protruding from the ground (I rarely use a flashlight), I made my way, backpack filled with equipment, tripod in hand, to a position of best potential. Once there, I set up my tripod and camera, composed the scene, set the camera and focus to achieve the greatest depth of field and began to wait. My impatience, clicked the shutter a few times in spite of not seeing anything worthwhile. It wasn’t long before I spied a spot with better potential. I moved and set up again. I took a few more pictures as light began to break through the clouds. After a few minutes, I spied a third spot even better. I moved again and set up, again. Things were beginning to work out. The light was breaking through, highlighting some interesting points of interest. I was happy and having fun. Until I noticed a fourth spot, even better than the first three. This perch required some boulder hopping, precarious foot placement, and some pretty nifty balancing to get all set up for the image you see above. I must tell you, the best light, at each of the other places, came after I had moved. This, I determined would be my last move; I was going to exercise patience and stay there until the good light had ended. And I did! Yea! This isn’t a spectacular image. It has some good points and some that could be better. However, this was more about developing my patience than anything else. In that regard I made some progress, but, I still have a good ways to go.
Recently a friend and I traveled to the Sandy Sanders’ Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in far western Oklahoma on a photo safari. It was following an unusually wet spring, following several years of exceptional drought. Besides being a fun outing to see how the water had risen in lakes and streams along the way, we were hoping for an explosion of wildflowers in bloom throughout the WMA. We also had the goal of staying late at Sandy Sanders’ and photographing the sunset.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a successful trip for fine art photography but it was hugely successful for a lot of fun and fellowship. Fine art photographers are by nature, and choice, loners, so when I can spend the day with a good friend and fellow photographer, it’s a day worth remembering.
We had a lot of fun in my FJ Cruiser driving through mud and water and over washed out roads throughout the deserted Sandy Sanders’ WMA and I learned some important things about using 4-wheel drive. These lessons may come in handy in the future; at least I’m hoping they do. We were the only sign of humanity all day long and the first to drive over some of the rough and rugged dirt roads since the last rain. We had a great time exploring and searching for opportunities that didn’t seem to be forthcoming and by sundown we had to choose the best of the worst. We never found what we were looking for, and that sometimes happens. The photo I took of my friend, above, is perhaps the best the picture I took all day. I know it will be the one I cherish and remember.