Good shots are rarely convenient. They require a modicum of effort oftentimes increasing the mileage on your body. But when they come the sheer pleasure of bringing it together is our reward. A short while ago I returned from two weeks in The Rockies. The first half of the trip was spent with eleven other photographers learning from the master, Bryan Peterson, who was conducting a workshop in the Glacier National Park.
Inconvenience #1: At the briefing meeting we had the night before the workshop began Bryan made it clear that in order to get those magnificent sunrise and sunset photos we all had to load into the van by 4:15 am and most likely would be out until sundown which in those parts and at that time of year is around 10:20 pm. A quick dinner and then back to the hotel to grab four hours of sleep before we repeated the cycle the next day with the exception of one morning when our six o’clock start allowed us to shoot macros of the wildflowers across from our lodging. I admire that all 12 of us made prompt revelries proving that we were a dozen serious photographers willing to do what was needed to get great images.
One day we made a very long trip to Swan River National Wildlife Refuge just outside the Park so our return would get us back around midnight if we stopped for dinner. Some didn’t wait and drove directly back to the hotel to get to bed early. Bryan and a few of us stopped at a Subway to order sandwiches for our dinner. When we returned to our cars the skies had lit up with yellows and magentas just across the busy street of the local town. These are the moments a photographer is rewarded for the inconvenience of a long day. We spent 20 minutes capturing the waning light as the sun descended behind the mountain lake.
Inconvenience #2: Occasionally some walking to our destination was needed and Bryan made it clear we should bring everything we had so as not to miss the unexpected. I’ve never weighed my camera backpack, but as the week progressed it seemed to gain weight much like my midriff had after a week of eating fast food. Nonetheless we trudged on to glorious waterfalls, expansive fields of wildflowers, and abundant wildlife.
One morning Bryan gave us a lesson in off camera flash, after discovering a hollowed out cedar, I suggested I would be willing to get into it so that he could light up the bark with a blue gel capturing me peeking through an empty knothole. Look for a future You Tube from Bryan on how he did this.
Inconvenience #3: Anyone who has taken a PPSOP course with Bryan knows that like a World War II GI you do a lot of travelling on your belly. It didn’t matter the terrain or conditions. If we wanted those spectacular shots from unique perspectives our backs, knees, and bellies became our tripods sometimes rolling in blackened soot of a recent forest fire or inhaling the allergens of pollen-laden flowers. The older I get I find that the getting up isn’t nearly as easy as the getting down part, but I ignore the aching joints, soiled clothes, put up with the sneezing, and slather ointment on the strange rashes that come from contact with exotic plants. 🙂 But the results were spectacular proving the adage that nothing good comes easy.
Here’s a piece of clothing I found that makes it easier to maneuver across the ground especially with jagged tree roots and stone. Several years ago I bought a pair of fire hose pants for gardening, but these particular pants have a great feature. Having been designed for general contractors and carpenters they have nylon reinforced pockets at the knees in which you can slip heavy-duty foam kneepads. The ones I have are made by Duluth Trading Company. I used to use the wrap-around kneepads but found them constricting in the back of the knee and uncomfortable to wear. The pants carry the foam pads all day if you like and shortly after inserting them you won’t know they are there until you benefit from the cushioning they provide when you go down on your knees for low shots.
Inconvenience #4: One of my own mantras is to avoid the clichés and seek out the unusual. Bryan’s lessons stress that so I often found that as several photographers were lined up all shooting the same sunrise or chasing the same wildlife I would go in a different direction.
After 30+ years of going to Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado I also know how to stalk wildlife. I’d secretly laugh at my colleagues as our van came to a stop nearby buffalo, pronghorn, or mountain goats and while they bolted from our vehicle chasing down the animals making unnecessary noise they’d drive them off and then complain they couldn’t get a good shot. If you want to photograph wildlife patience is the key to success. Stand at a safe distance, don’t make any noise or sudden movements, and wait for them to come to you. If they don’t perceive you as a threat or you aren’t invading their invisible territorial domain, they relax their “flight” instinct and go about their business of grazing. With some luck they just might walk right into range of your telephoto.
Get too close and they will change “flight” to “fight,” which made me marvel that none of my workshop mates were gored from their over enthusiasm and disregard for caution. This guy was none too pleased and fortunately sauntered away instead of charging.
Despite the early starts, stress to my joints, and grabbing meals at awkward hours the workshop was a resounding success and I’d do it again to learn from Bryan.
After the workshop I flew down to Aspen, CO to catch up with a close friend so that we could do some fishing on the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan, and Colorado Rivers, but always I had my Leica D-Lux 4 with me. The first evening I arrived late due to flight delays and cancellations, but when I finally got in I told my friend to let me sleep late the next morning so I could catch up on my sleep. I slept ten hours! Towards the middle of the week he was expecting contractors at his new home so I had that day to myself, a very rainy day, filled with shooting HDR to tame the mid-day contrasts.
As a matter of interest Adobe PS CS5 has a greatly improved HDR feature, but I still find I can be more creative with Photomatix. Every other day was spent fishing bringing me to other photo ops that captured the panoply of wildflowers alongside the rivers. I can’t rave enough about the macro capability of that little camera and I put it to good use.
Inconvenience #5: Have you ever found insurmountable barriers between you and your subject? Fishing provides another opportunity to get those less traveled and unique perspectives. A fly fisherman is rarely found without his or her waders. Waders allow us to get to fish those special pockets of water that riverside anglers can’t reach.
Even on the hottest of days when the water isn’t frigid we “wet wade” with specially made sandals that cling to slippery rocks. If you’re only mission is to photograph, I highly recommend that you invest in a pair of waders or river sandals that can get you to those beautiful Indian Paint Brush or Sunflowers that beckon from across the stream. You won’t be disappointed especially if the flowers on the other side are a better composition than the ones at your feet.
Those killer-photos are hard to find and it seems they come along infrequently, but you can increase the frequency if you’re willing to make the sacrifice so few others are. What is your willingness to capture images that only you will see? What creature comforts are you willing to sacrifice to find that stunning sunset or creative composition? Come equipped with the right attitude and the needed accessories and you’ll greatly increase your odds of finding them. Invest in the inconveniences and it will pay handsome dividends.