October 29, 2016. I had owned a camera for a grand total of two months, and boy did I have some serious dreams of becoming the next big photographer. To be fair to younger, more naive me though, I still do. I’m just a little more goal oriented now rather than doing the equivalent of buying a ticket to LA to make it in Hollywood. Come to think of it, at one point I had those ambitions too (But didn’t we all?).
Anyway! In the interest of not making this article one that you scroll straight to the bottom to find the full photo, here it is:
I’m writing this article almost three years later, and I still really, really like this photo. I’m immensely proud of it. Even with all it’s chromatic aberration (which is fancy photo talk for when colors separate on the edges of things, zoom into that main trunk and you’ll see what I mean), blown out sky, and horrifying color temperature (grass most certainly isn’t that yellow), I still love looking at it.
This photo was a lot of ‘firsts’ for me. The first photo I liked that I took on a trip, the first photo I ever framed, the first photo I ever framed twice, and the first photo I ever took that a professional photographer told me they liked my photography. That last one felt real good.
Let me tell you the story of how this magical little scene came to be.
Late October, 2016, I had a three day break from school. I was attending Utah Valley University at the time and I had been home from living for two years in West Virginia on a humanitarian mission for just over three months. I hadn’t taken any leisure travels yet, and after being stuck in West Virginia for two years (Listen all WV people reading this, you know I love you, but… let’s be honest here. Sometimes you just need a change), I was ready to go somewhere.
Thankfully, I lived in the most beautiful state in the US (Oregon I still love you too), Utah. Five National Parks, jaw-dropping mountainous landscapes, beautiful copper-red rock, and a central part of the state we try not to talk about. That last one is gonna get both central Utah residents in my comments I bet. One of those five National Parks is Capitol Reef. In my humble opinion, it may be the most underrated place on the entire planet. Certainly the most underrated of the United States National Parks.
Formed by an ancient lake the size of the entire state, it literally is a fossilized reef, now dead and dry. But still incredible. That’s where I wanted to go! It had been my favorite Utah National Park for basically my entire life. I love it.
My dear sweet mother, not wanting to quite let her wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, slightly-too-optimistic son who had just come back after being gone for two years go off on a poorly planned excursion to the open wilderness, offered to take me and my little sister down to it for the weekend. Yes! Funding secured.
Being so excited about photography, I set my alarm in our hotel room that night for 4:30am. I was not going to miss sunrise. After what was basically a nap rather than a good night’s sleep, I was up, got my sweet family up, and off we went. I wanted initially to get a photo of the main cliffs of Capitol Reef in a panorama-esque photo, and actually, that’s exactly what I did. That photo was the second photo I ever printed. Got it for my dad for Christmas, because what else is a photographer supposed to get their family, eh? Unfortunately, I no longer have that photo anywhere I can find it, which is too bad. At least from a history standpoint, anyway. Compositionally it wasn’t fantastic, but I was okay with it.
Sunrise came and went, I practiced my panorama skills with my $20 Walmart tripod (really people, spend money on a good one. I’ve had my $300 travel tripod for two years now and it’s the best purchase ever. You’ll go through those $20 tripods every week, but anyway), and we headed back to the hotel.
On our way back, driving out of the park, we came to a T junction stop sign, and by divine providence, had to wait for a few cars to pass before we turned out of the park and went home.
As fate would have it my mom looked at me, then widened her eyes and looked past me, out the window. She told me to look to my right, I obeyed, and boom. That’s what I saw. I brought the camera up to my face and took the shot. That was all I had time for. Another car had come up behind us and we had to drive away.
Now, that’s the definition of what I call a snapshot photo. A snapshot photo requires no skill, no time, no research. It just happens. Anyone can take a snapshot. And 99% of the time, they are absolute trash and rarely make it out of Lightroom, much less to a folder or page on the website or Instagram. But there is a 1%, where fate just throws you a bone. In those situations, you better take it.
Situations like that almost never come around. I got extraordinarily lucky that day, and it changed my perspective of photography. A lesson that all young photographers need to know, but especially all older, grizzled, professional photographers need to remember.
As a professional photographer now, I spend days planning, researching, and studying new locations. I’ll have a specific itinerary for everything – from where I’ll be sleeping to where I’ll be eating. But throughout all my planning, I’ll always leave some time open for something to happen. For a lucky moment to fly by me.
We have such rigid views as photographers on what we want, and what we think others want to see. From one place to another we travel, most of the time stopping only long enough to get our stomach, bladder, or sleepiness to stop yelling at us. It helps to go slow. It helps to remember that this world is beautiful, and even though you’ve researched the two best locations to get the next incredible shot, there’s a lot of beauty in between that you might be missing. Just open your eyes and be ready,
and hopefully, occasionally, one percent of the time, you get something great.
As always, thanks for reading.