There was a time, many years ago, when my world revolved around being an outdoor athlete. I was a rock climber, trail runner, backpacker, mountain biker, long distance hiker, canyoneer, kayaker and sometimes I would combine them all when doing adventure races. I spent most of my free time training. I was obsessed with going far and getting there fast. I spent a lot of time in the outdoors but it went by so quickly that I rarely had a moment to enjoy a sunset or notice the coyote yipping in the distance.
And then it happened. I fell in love with nature photography. I gave up adventure racing. I spent more time photographing and less time training. I stopped counting miles traveled each week and started counting rolls of film exposed. Everything just sort of slowed down.
Looking back I realize that photography has taught me some valuable lessons. I’ve learned that when you don’t train on a daily basis the size of your waistband increases. Actually, I’ll blame that on age. More importantly, I’ve learned a few things that are helpful to me as a member of the human race and I think they’ve made me a better husband, brother, friend and an all-around better person.
1) Have Some Patience - Through photography I have learned the art of patience. I have learned that it is okay to slow down. It’s not about the miles covered or the peaks bagged. It’s about getting up early and sitting in the desert watching an entirely new day develop in front of me. It’s about plopping down on a rock and waiting for the light to work its magic upon the landscape. It’s about slowing down and enjoying a moment, whether it’s while you’re creating art or spending a few unexpected minutes with your family. Life is entirely too short to spend it rushing from one place to the next.
2) Be Persistent - What would it be like if every time we took out our camera white puffy clouds filled the blue sky, dramatic light poured down over the landscape and an eagle glided through our frame? Sure, at first, it would be awesome but after a while it would become really boring. Okay, I admit – it probably wouldn’t. But the reality is that we often have to visit a location over and over before Mother Nature feels we’ve earned the right to witness her awesomeness. Those who persist will eventually be there when all the right conditions collide. Persistence reaps rewards not enjoyed by those who are easily discouraged. Know what you want and don’t be afraid to go after it with all you’ve got.
3) See The Light - Before photography consumed my life the only purpose light served was to illuminate the trail, rock or river before me. My first “a-ha!” moment occurred in the Sonoran Desert outside Phoenix. I was out for a trail run after work in the Squaw Peak Preserve when the setting sun backlit the translucent needles of a field of cholla cactus. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I stood there, jaw slack, staring at these beautiful cactus glowing in the late afternoon light. How many times had I run or biked this trail and never had I noticed how beautiful they were? I had only been concerned with keeping them out of my skin (not always successful). For the first time I stood there wishing I was peering through a viewfinder. Since that day I’ve had hundreds more moments just like that one. Each and every one has been just as special as the first.
4) Don’t Neglect The Details - It’s difficult to appreciate a tiny wildflower or the beautiful texture of juniper tree bark when you’re flying by in the middle of a long trail run. After moving to Colorado in 2002 I set a goal to spend more time developing my ability to find and photograph intimate landscapes. In my pre-photography days I never would have slowed down long enough to study a stand of autumnal aspen trees looking for the perfect balance of color, light and symmetry. Photography helped me to discover that if you enjoy life’s little details you’ll be even more appreciative of successes on a grander scale.
5) Art As Therapy - The year 2001 was not a stellar one for me. Early in the year I went through a difficult break-up, the events of 9/11 deeply affected me, my Mom passed away in November and I really didn’t enjoy my job. I was sinking into depression and it seemed I was on a path spiraling quickly downhill. I decided to move from Phoenix to Denver and use all the new free time associated with being single to immerse myself in photography. Eventually, my mood improved. It seemed that creating art was cathartic. By the end of 2002 I felt like I’d come back from the brink of a place I’d rather never revisit. Putting all my energy into art was a most intense therapy. Now, when I need to clear my head, I head out to the desert to scout a new location or make a few images. After a few hours I’m back in the land of the rational.
There are no accidents in life. I never suspected that picking up a camera would change my life. But it has, and I believe I’m a better citizen of the earth because of it.
What have you learned about life through photography? Continue the conversation by leaving a comment!