There’s starting to be a hint of a shift in the tectonic plates of my mind. A brainstorm, head hurricane, earthquake between the ears….call it what you want but there’s a strong possibility I may be close to an epic change in my way of thinking about photo trips.
For the past 15 or 20 years I’ve been somewhat of a photographic loner. Most of my photo trips have been taken solo. I think it started about 1991 on a trip to Yellowstone. Judy and the kids were planning a week or 10 day trip to visit her parents and I wasn’t able to arrange that much time off. I was able to set up a long weekend though, and set up a trip to Yellowstone. I hadn’t been there for nearly 30 years and got the itch to go back. Long story short, Judy’s trip fell through and she started hinting that she’d like to go along. No problem, I said. But I’m going to travel light. I’ll be sleeping on the ground, eating mostly cold food, and staying out from before sunrise to after sunset. If I see something I want to photograph I’m going to stop and photograph it if the light takes 2 hours to get good. If I see a stream I want to fish in, I’m going to stop and fish. Needless to say, she declined.
I’ve detailed in numerous blogs and conversations how I’m not generally a great person to be around when I’m shooting. I tend to “zone out” and eschew any thought for the well being of the folks with me. My family members learned this long ago and though there is always an open invitation to accompany me on trips they realize that I’m not there for them, I’m there for me. Thus, a photographic loner.
But in 2011 and on New Year’s Day some things happened that have started to change my mind. In May I spent a long weekend in Moab, UT with about 20 or 25 folks who are members of a group I belong to, Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers. Saturday was the group day with a caravan from Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park for a sunrise shoot. A few of us headed over to Mesa Arch after the shoot at DHP and were there for a while before dispersing until lunch when we all got together at the city park in Moab for lunch. We ended the day with a sunset group shoot at Klondike Bluffs in Arches National Park. And it was fun!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we were all there with interwoven tripod legs getting the same images at the same time. Once we gathered in the parking lot at DHP everyone headed over to the rim then sort of spread out, each of us looking for our own vision. Same thing at Klondike Bluffs. We all headed up the trail at the same time but once we hit the top of the ridge everyone split up for the most part. Lots of different ways of seeing, lots of different images. One of my most pleasurable photo days in a long time.
This morning, New Year’s Day 2012, I met up with my friend Bret Edge at the trailhead to Broken Arch in Arches National Park for a short hike to photograph the arch. It’s a short, relatively flat hike so I wasn’t gasping for breath and we had a nice conversation both on the hike in and out and while we were shooting at the arch. Bret learned some new stuff about me and I learned some stuff about him. And like DHP and Klondike Bluffs, it was fun! Again, we hiked to the location then went our separate ways looking for compositions we liked. Afterwards we took another short hike in the park before splitting up. But the seed was planted.
So about now the little man in my head, the one I’ve learned to listen to most of the time, is working hard. I’ve enjoyed the autonomy of my solo trips in the past. I could stop and look at roadside markers, I could eat lunch when I wanted to, and if I had to wait for the light to be right it was no big deal. I didn’t have to justify to anyone that I sat and watched an elk carcass in Yellowstone for 4 hours before any action occurred. I didn’t have to worry if the family members sitting in the car while I hiked to some location or another were hungry and bored. When I’m solo it just doesn’t matter.
But hanging out and shooting with other photographers is pretty cool. They understand why I don’t just walk up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, shoot a couple of handheld snapshots at high noon, then move on. They know that on most photo days breakfast and supper will be late because I need to be in the field during the “magic light” time frame. We speak in a common language and mostly understand what the other one is saying. We can empathize with someone who has driven 500 miles only to discover the tripod strap for your backpack is missing or worse, you left the tripod at home. We can chuckle at someone who left their memory cards a mile away in the car and know they won’t be offended because they know we’ve done the same thing at one time or another.
So look for me to be hooking up with other photographers more often in the future. I’ll still be taking plenty of solo trips since I’m such on obsessive compulsive about my photography, but not every trip. I can feel the plates in my head shifting…can you hear the rumble?