I’ve mentioned before growing up following the footprints of a father who was a professional photographer. His passion and preferred focus was outdoors and wildlife. I never really appreciated how he mastered his profession until I reached my adult years.
Following him all over the hills as a boy was an experience that every young boy needs to have. I was taught respect for the outdoors and nature, developed a sense of natural direction, had to force myself to keep trudging along on long, hot, sandy hikes, and was rewarded with ice cold grape Gatorade gulped out of a stainless steal camp cup.
I learned how to climb rocks and entertain myself, how to appreciate the simple things, I learned determination and patience. I learned how to set up a tent being sure to clear all the rocks and sticks from underneath for the best nights rest. I learned that you need to check your shoes in the middle of the night before slipping your bare feet into them so you can scamper into the darkness to water a tree.
I learned that my dad loved me, and that I was important to him. That even though we were out there for the purpose of photography, something that was a large part of his life, the adventure we were sharing was the most valuable part.
Another thing that I learned on these adventures was that he would always plan to catch the sunset. Whether we camped right out on the point, or near it, we would be at a certain spot, at a certain time. He would stretch out the legs on his tripod and ready his camera and then we would wait. I learned to really enjoy the quiet solitude of just being as the sun would inch towards the horizon.
My dad would stand with his hands in his pockets, thumbs sticking out, checking the view finder once in a while. Then as the sun finally kissed the horizon the sound of the shutter slapping back and forth began. This would continue until the light of the day was all but gone.
We would then head back to camp and cook up some new york steaks and potato wedges, smothered in butter, packed into the same frying pan over an old Colman cook stove. To this day, some of the best meals I have ever had. Also, some of the best memories I have.
My dad moved on from this life nearly two years ago. But these memories, lessons learned, and simple joys live on in my life, and in the lives of my siblings as well. He left a legacy that he can be proud of and it is being taught to grandchildren now.
What I didn’t learn from my dad was photography, funny enough. I never learned what f-stops were or about shutter speeds. I didn’t learn how to manual focus,or what lens to use in what scenario. My little sister and I were actually chatting about this the other day as we stood in his old photo shop and reminisced about him. We remembered that he never really urged us to learn, but at the same time had we shown an interest, he would have been so willing to share. I, personally, translate this as his unselfish nature. It was never about him and he simply wanted us to succeed in whatever avenue we chose.
But what I am discovering is that spending all of that time with him did train my eye to recognize a pleasing scene and the deep love and appreciation for the outdoors has developed a desire to try and capture that simple beauty and wonder with some sort of likeness to what I behold with my eye.
With that ember smoldering inside of me I made the decision to purchase a camera that, even though it is on an amateur level, will allow me to capture a better image than my phone has allowed me to in the past.
As I un-packaged, and began to read the instructions of this camera, I felt a bit out of my league. I spoke to my sister who is more learned at photography than I am and that just increased that feeling. Finally, after texting a good friend of mine who has produced some fantastic work, the feeling of being ‘way out of my league’ took over.
But after settling myself down a bit, doing some research online and in the manual, and questioning my patient sister and friend, I began to take some shots. These shots, even with the very basic knowledge and training that I had, still looked better and, more importantly, better captured the feeling of the scene I was attempting to freeze.
So I continued over the next several days, wielding my new weapon, searching for that next victim to taunt my trigger finger. I photographed chickens, children, and cupkakes. I shot sunsets, tractors, and horses. Some were better than others. My confidence would heighten with a beautiful image and then fall with the next embarrassment.
Friday night arrived and I found myself flopped in my favorite seat, my legs up, and my head feeling heavy. I was realizing that I hadn’t escaped the round of bronchitis that had worked it’s way though my children, to my wife, and finally to me. I was dreading what was next as I had witnessed my wife brought to her knees by it. I knew if it had kicked her butt that hard, it could mean death to me
As the evening turned to night, I found myself tossing and turning as my throat tightened and began to throb. Saturday was torture. I couldn’t get comfortable, my throat and chest were a constant reminder of the demon that had taken over my body. It was pure hell and it lasted into Saturday night and on into Sunday. Finally, after a hot, long shower I emerged feeling a bit more human. Not only because I had shaved and washed my hair, but because I could feel a sense of relief from the immense pressure and pain that had inhabited my throat and chest for the last 36 hours.
But even with a light opening at the end of the tunnel, I was still EXHAUSTED! So my favorite chair still wrapped it’s comfort around me as I watched my kids play, sipped ruby red grapefruit juice, and surfed the web.
As I surfed I came across some information indicating that we had a Super Moon on our hands. I was filled with a sense of excitement as I suddenly envisioned an award-winning photograph of that amazing moon peeking over a red-rock mesa. It’s vibrant glow contrasting with the dark valley below. I was filled with excitement and anticipation for this event.
I noted that in my time-zone the moon should be rising at 5:34pm. I did some research on photographing the moon and armed with my camera and a vision of perfection. I headed outside to conquer the world!
The first thing that hit me was a stiff, cold breeze. Next was the billions of stinging sand grits it carried. I instinctively shielded my camera as I scrambled to come up with a plan-B. Once my mind settled on it I made a dash to Sami, my Samurai, and started it up. Not only would this provide shelter from the wind and sand but it would also provide heat. I was pleased with my solution and shifted into first gear so I could scout out where to position myself for that perfect shot.
I must have driven up and down the same road 10 times focused on the east and the mesa that would act as a studio for my photo-shoot. Finally I settled on the south side of the mesa. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure I would see the moon coming up and be able to position it where I wanted it to be. So I headed back up the road to the north side where I could see further to the east.
5:34 came and went and still no moon. I was cold and miserable. I was concerned about my camera because, even though Sami was shelter, Sami has some flaws and one of those is not being air tight. So I could still feel dust blowing around and collecting on the dash, steering wheel, and the covering I had laid over my camera. For every minute that the moon didn’t rise my enthusiasm died a little more.
Finally I could see a dim light on the horizon. I frantically started Sami and headed for my designated spot. I lifted the camera and rested it on the window to settle it. I zoomed in and tried to focus. I took my first shot and immediately looked at the screen. My heart sank as all I could see was a blurry mountain with a glow. I adjusted some settings and shot again. Same demeaning result.
As the moon rose I captured what images I could of it. But they were nothing like I had hoped. Rather than a beautiful landscape complimented by a large glowing moon, I ended up with a small moon in the middle of a black rectangle. Nothing very glorious or awe-inspiring about that. Quite defeated, I headed for home.
That night as I went to bed, even though I was physically feeling better, I was so discouraged and deflated. I had spent my entire weekend cooped up in my home. Only moving from the comfort of my chair to the kitchen to get a cold drink to relieve my throbbing throat, to the bathroom to relieve the pressure those drinks had put on my bladder, and then back to my chair in a fruitless effort to find relief from the agony and exhaustion that overtook me. Then, to cap off my wasted weekend, the reviving ingredient of a chance to capture a majestic scene, only highlighted my amateurism and lack of experience and talent.
Luckily I did sleep pretty good Sunday night, and even slept in Monday morning. I awoke, hopped in the shower, ate some breakfast, and headed outside. With as cold as it’s been I need to start the car about 7-10 minutes early so it has a chance to warm up for a comfortable ride into town. So my routine is to go out, start the car, and then I head out to feed the dogs, horses, and goat. Making those rounds takes about 5 minutes and that allows me to get back into the house and, if need be, back up my wife as she hurries my daughter along in her school-readiness routine.
As I trudged out towards the animals, my face tucked down as deep as it could go and my hands pushed into the pockets of my coat in an attempt to be shielded from the cold, I continued to resent the weekend. My precious days off had been wasted, and I had nothing to energize me as I headed into another long work week. My mind began to run through my to-do list that I knew was awaiting me in my office.
I had a stack of orders sitting on my desk as I still played catch-up from the Thanksgiving break, our main digital production machine had been acting up on Friday, there was a problem with a customer that I needed to contact and try to smooth things over with, my employees were having some drama……..and that’s when I happened to glance up and spot it.
It stopped me dead in my tracks as my eyes fixated on it. I stood frozen, not just by the cold, but by the portrait that was placed to the west. Suddenly I realized that I had been so focused on the excitement that had been placed on the Super Moon rising the night before, I had forgotten the lesson my dad taught me: Always plan to catch the sunset. And just as the sun would rise every morning and set every night. The moon follows in-turn; rising every night and setting every morning. This new day was giving me my majestic ‘sunset’ and I was wasting it fretting and moaning about how I had been jaded.
Finally finding myself I looked down at my empty hands and immediately ran to fill them with my new camera. By the time I arrived back to that scene, the moon was dipping into the horizon. My moment was slipping away! I fingered the buttons, forcing my mind to recall all the new information that had been stuffed inside. I raised the camera up and looked through the viewfinder.
I adjusted my eye, tilted the camera, zoomed in and out. Why can I only see black!? In a whirl of confusion I checked all the settings assuming I had left something off after the disappointing shoot the night before. Then I heard the voice in my head: ‘take the lens cap off dummy!’ Again I raised the camera to my eye, zoomed in, and began unloading on the mesa to the west.
When the dust settled, and the moon had cozied down into it’s bed for the day, I stood with an un-commanded smile across my face. A sudden shiver reminded me that if I didn’t hurry and finish my chores I would make my daughter late for school. So I jogged from station to station, then back to the house, then out to the car, and on into town.
We made it on time and it wasn’t until I had settled into my chair at work that I took my first real look at the images I had shot that morning. As I swiped through them, starting with the pictures from the night before, I could feel the moods I transitioned through with each one.
The dark images from the night before were cold and lonely as I wallowed in my self pity. I had allowed that to marinate all night and arose, not grateful for the good nights rest I had finally obtained nor the pain and sickness that was slipping away, but rather caught up in the grumblings of an ungrateful man that could not even lift his head to notice what the new day had presented him with.
It makes me wonder: Had I never lifted my head, what would this post be about? Would I still be cursing the weekend and my choice to try a new thing and take a peek into the world of photography? Would my health still be improving or would it be the same as the day before?
When we are given a new day, every day, why not give it the best chance we can to change our lives? Just as the sun will rise and the sun will set at the opening and close of that new day; the moon will rise only to set at the opening of the next new day.
Even if we didn’t make it happen today, if we follow the moon, we’ll get another chance tomorrow.