Spontaneity Wins Again

A friend from Salt Lake and I recently met out in Fruita, Colorado with hopes of shooting some landscapes around Colorado National Monument. For the couple of weeks leading up to the trip we scoured photography sights and Google Earth searching for potential photo locations. In addition to that, we’d kept a close eye on the weather hoping for interesting storm clouds to make for those gigantic and dramatic skies common to the desert. We even plotted our tentative photo locations on the Photographer’s Ephemeris just so we’d be sure to have unobstructed lines to the sunrises and sunsets. We made note of sunrise and sunset times and quasi laid out each day so we’d have plenty of time to get where we wanted, find a composition and get our cameras set up. This is so unlike both of us since we’re both kind of laissez faire when it comes to trip planning, but again, with limited time, we thought it might be a good idea.

All that planning and naturally it didn’t even come close to what we thought.

In short, it was way hotter than the forecast predicted and was actually quite miserable. There wasn’t a “dramatic” cloud to be had anywhere for three days. The places we thought we could get the best shots were mediocre at best and always left us scrambling for alternate compositions. And those exploding sunset colours common to the desert sky? Yeah, never materialized.

We eventually got a few sunrise exposures in the Monument we thought were acceptable, but certainly nothing “portfolio” worthy. However, by total accident, I got one photo that I’ve become quite fond of. Not an award winner for sure, but it’s grown on me and taught me a bit of a lesson.

On the very first evening we were out near the Kokopelli Trail in Loma (CO) hoping to get the classic desert sunset shot of the surrounding mesas using the Colorado River as the obvious leading line into what we hoped was going to be an amazing, colour vomiting sunset. My buddy eventually found a composition he thought would work and I too flailed around for about an hour until I thought I had something myself. Again, nothing revolutionary or all that unique, but it was something. It was honestly one of those obvious shots probably millions of mountain bikers had made millions of times before…but damn it, we were going to shoot it anyhow.

While we waited for the light, with cameras mounted on our tripods ready to go, we’d chat with passing mountain bikers and try desperately not to lose the incessant battle against some ferocious mosquitoes. As I alluded to before, the light stunk, no clouds for background interest, no brilliant colours and my composition was average at best, but I took the shot anyhow. I then looked at the back of my camera, said “meh” to myself, then began packing my stuff away. I wasn’t really all that disappointed because the elements just weren’t there.

As I was leaning over my backpack to put my camera away, a mountain biker was approaching rather quickly. For some reason I quickly lifted my camera (it was literally just inches from being completely in my bag), pointed it at her and activated the shutter. I hadn’t made any adjustments to the “landscape” settings from my sunset attempt so I figured they’d be all wrong. Also, I had the camera in the single frame mode instead of rapid fire mode so I figured my chances were probably nil for even getting her in the frame in a single shot. It was a total reactionary move to point the camera her direction so I had ZERO expectations at all. I honestly didn’t even look at the screen to see if it worked and just crammed it into my bag and kept packing away for the dark hike out.

When I got home and downloaded everything into Lightroom, I immediately deleted about 75% of everything “landscape-esque” I’d done. The majority  of them simply weren’t all that interesting. I might even say “boring”. The one that surprised me though…you guessed it…the random reactionary shot of the mountain biker. Award winner? Not even close. Portfolio worthy? Probably not. Fine art? A laughable thought. But I liked it, a lot.

For days I’d glance at it and the more I did, the more I liked it. Not sure why, but it became one of my favourite photos of the weekend.

I think the unintended consequence of the photo was that it reminded me to never try and control the situation but adjust my creativity to the moment at hand. Yes, I can plan a trip, look at weather forecasts and even line up my compositions with the Ephemeris, but that in no way will ever guarantee it will work the way I think it will. I don’t live my life that way so I shouldn’t expect my photos to work that way.

My favourite photos always come from spontaneous situations where the moment came to me, not me going to the moment.

Climb high. Ski fast. Live simply.

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