I recently re-read a blog post written by my good friend Guy Tal, titled “Visualization (aka Postprevisualization)”. Guy is a nature photographer and writer based in the tiny town of Torrey, Utah. Actually, it really isn’t accurate to call Guy a “nature photographer and writer”. He is both of those things. But his talent for both is on a level so far above that which most of us will ever reach simply calling him a “photographer and writer” may well be the understatement of the decade. He is also one of the most humble, passionate, compassionate, articulate, giving and just downright genuine people you’ll ever meet. I kind of hope he never reads this because if he does, he probably won’t be all that happy with me for gushing about him for all to read. Sorry, Guy! I’m in kind of a reflective mood so I’ll blame this entire post on that.
Guy’s post is a bit of a warranted rant on the misuse of the term “previsualization” to describe the act of ”anticipating a finished image before making the exposure”. (Thanks, Ansel!) In reality this is visualization, not previsualization. I recommend that you read Guy’s post to understand the difference. While you’re there, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee and surf through his entire blog/journal. You’ll find it to be an amazing literary adventure.
For two years I had an image in mind that I wanted so badly to make but it required a combination of elements that don’t exactly coincide on a daily basis. Candlestick Tower in Canyonlands NP is a prominent sandstone tower that soars several hundred feet above the desert floor. The image that haunted me was that of Candlestick Tower looming large above a sea of low lying clouds. Perhaps now you can see why one can not just show up at any given time and make this image.
So, I kept it there in my tiny little mind consuming memory that likely should have been used for something else. My wife constantly reminds me that I am forgetful. I think it’s because I have so many future images stored in memory that other, less important things, are automatically purged. I cycle through these images occasionally, usually at night when I’m struck with a bout of insomnia.
On Dec. 31, 2009 I awoke early and looked out the window and saw…nothing. A beautiful, white nothing. Thick fog encircled the building to the south and I could barely make out its outline. I had a gut feeling that today was the day.
I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera gear, kissed my wife and son good-bye and headed out the door. I drove through fog in the darkness as I ascended to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. Once on top of the mesa the fog slowly dissipated until finally, stars shone brightly above. Oh yes, today was in fact the day I had been waiting for.
I made it to the small, unmarked pull-out from which my favorite view of Candlestick Tower is accessed. The temperature was 4 degrees. I had been here before and I knew the image I wanted to create would require a long lens. I swapped my 16-35mm lens for the 100-400mm monster, threw on my down coat, fleece hat and…gloves, where are my gloves? Ah yes, they are at home sitting on the printer, right where I left them. Undeterred, I opened a package of chemical hand warmers and started walking through crunchy snow to the edge of a cliff where I would set up my tripod and wait in the waning darkness.
As the sun began to rise I watched wisps of fog slip over the canyon rim, encircling me, and then disappear back into the canyon. The handwarmers kept my fingers toasty in my pockets until the time came to trip the shutter. Sunlight diffused through thin clouds warmed Candlestick Tower and it cast a long shadow onto the surrounding clouds. Click. Click, click, click. I made several images in no more than a couple of minutes. Some with a neutral density filter attached for a long-ish shutter speed that would smooth the slow moving fog and some without. I knew before even seeing my images that at long last my vision had been realized, and I smiled.
I packed up my camera gear and stood in place for 15 minutes, watching the clouds ebb and flow. Despite the cold it was a very relaxing and fulfilling moment. I heard a car door shut and looked back to see another photographer exit his car. It was time for me to go.
I walked back to my truck, climbed inside and started the engine. Warm air issued from the heater. I took a swig of tea, put the truck in drive and headed home with one less image nagging in the back of my memory.
I know I’m not the only one who has been thrilled to fulfill a creative vision through photography. Let’s hear your story. Be sure to post a link to the image that dogged you for weeks, months or years.