Enduring: Where it counts

It was -37 degrees with a windchill when I took this photo. It was so cold, my breath was freezing to my eyelashes.

People often ask me how I manage to capture good sunsets and sunrises. This triggers a battle between humility and hubris and I have to try not to respond with “well, really, when you’re as good as me, there’s nothing to it.” Once reality comes crashing down on me like a gigantic wave (which I have been hit with my fair share of) I remove my head from my ass and come up with a few more realistic reasons.

I could tell you all the technical details that go into taking well-exposed images, but in the end it really comes down to good old fashioned, dedication and commitment. Now, at the risk of sounding cliché or like some lame self-help manual, let me explain. Statistically speaking, not every sunset or sunrise is going to be spectacular, and in fact, most aren’t. While people often complain that the weather is never nice enough, really, there are a lot of cloudless bright sunny days and in photography that’s a quick way to get boring pictures.

Where the commitment and dedication come in is that you have to accept the fact that you have to go out prepared to get absolutely nothing. There have been numerous times that I have shown up for a sunrise, bleary eyed at 4am, and I get into position only to have the sun decide it didn’t want to come out that day and sat behind some clouds. Or, the exact opposite and there isn’t a single cloud in the sky and therefore the colors are dull as dull can be.

You need to be further committed in that sometimes, when you show up and the clouds are thick and as far as the eye can see, you have to ride it out. One in ten times, when you think that there isn’t going to be a sunrise or sunset at all, the clouds fortuitously part and you are treated with a grand spectacle of great color, tone, texture and light.

During the first billzard of the 2010 Winter, I was out in the field enduring the wind, icy snow, and occasionally dodging waves.

The other way the dedication plays a role is that landscape photography is typically at its best when Mother Nature is at her worst. When it is -30 degrees out, the wind is whipping, and your fingers and toes have long been numb, packing up and heading for the warmth of your car is the easy thing to do. However, the rewards for enduring often out weigh the potential frostbite and what’s a toe or two in pursuit of your art? I have taken pictures in just about every form of weather short of a tornado (and I’ll add that to the list at some point.) I have been out in blizzards and torrential downpours, from the coldest days to the hottest. Far from what I would call a glamorous job. If there is one thing I can say about us landscape photographers is though, we relish in being miserable. When the conditions are awful, and we trudge out to our chosen location, we are miserable… and loving it. There is something in knowing that you are willing to rise about the conditions and still go out and take pictures.

You have to want to capture great pictures, and then, only with dogged perseverance can you achieve that. You have to be willing to take the time to go out, shoot, and if you fail, get up the next day and do it all over again. Any one person can and will get lucky and capture a great picture, but it to do it again and again and again requires more. The time commitment just isn’t something that most people can or will put in, and that is where the separation between your average hobbyist and diehard is.

So there you have it. An unadulterated view of what we landscape photogs go through to get the most out of our work. It’s not always fun, but like every other endeavor, the hard knocks are what make the final product so great. So I promise that I will continue to brave harsh conditions and early mornings so that I can bring you great pictures that inspire you. Or at least until it kills me.

Until next time, happy shooting.

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