On nature photography

I took a photography course in college. Dating myself, my camera used 35 milimeter film. I learned to develop it with some really strong chemicals and expose the picture by burning and dodging. It was pretty cool; a true art.  My pictures didn’t turn out so good though.

My first summer in the Cascades (a shout-out to my favorite John Muir book), I took along my bulky Minolta X-700. My whole being was blown wide open by the experience. What emerged from the darkroom, however, looked like it belonged in a silent movie.

So, I gave up taking photos in the wilderness, preferring to store the more special moments in my hippocampus. There are some excellent shots up in there still, 15 years later.

I also started to think, “why this particular verbiage?”

Shoot a photo.” “Take a picture.” “Capture an image.”

It is forceful language; it sounds like we are hunting. But, hunting for sport and not for sustenance. It harkens to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael. What was our relationship with mother nature when these terms originated?

I take from the wilderness all the time. And not just good vibes, but resources. My house is made of wood. I burn fossil fuels. I consume. What am I giving back? How do I become a steward of the land and not just exercise my dominion?

Some time later my climbing partner, Paul, opened my mind with his ability to create compositions from our outings that told stories. And he was very good at sharing these stories with others. I am thankful to have these images along with my organic memories.

Not everyone has the time, money, or physical capability to get to many wilderness areas. Photography is a way to bring the glory of nature into the home and into the soul. A beautiful image can stir; it can awaken.

Ansel Adams successfully lobbied congress to protect thousands of square miles of wilderness with his exquisite black and whites. He made mountains special to people who had never seen them.

Professional and serious amateur nature photographers are hard-core. They endure all types of elements, wake up at all hours of the night, and lug pounds and pounds of gear over difficult terrain.

Synchronistically, the following is an excerpt form an email that was literally just sent to me. It was originally sent from my photographer step-dad to my mom. He’s currently in Alaska.

Last night we had a good auroral display in a great location. It was cold, but all my clothing preparation paid off well. We were out from 10 Pm to 2 AM; it was -7 by the time we left; and I was still warm throughout. Tonight should be a stiffer test. By midnight it is forecast to be -12, but the kicker is that it has turned windy. We may not stay out as late, as we could well be driven in by the cold.


Myself? I just, say “wow, that’s gorgeous,” snap a photo with some thought for interest, and move on. Later, at home, I might crop and reduce contrast to polish it up a bit. My photos will never win awards, but I hope they will convey the art of Gaia’s creation and uplift.

A whole post without a pic? Nonsense!


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