Day four. Time to get back up on the horse. I logged some quality shut-eye on a surface that wasn’t rolling at seventy-miles an hour (pretty sure I didn’t move from the time I laid it down to the moment my alarm woke me!). I was excited to get myself back in the game; to make some quality photographs of this beautiful park. Our sunrise destination was a steep embankment in Many Glacier that provided one-hundred and eighty degree views of Swiftcurrent below. The sunrise was pretty mediocre on the grand scale of things. However, I always feel spoiled to make such judgements—the sun rose and I was in a National Park in Montana with a camera…yeah, it was pretty damn good! When the first light began to hit the mountain peaks above Swiftcurrent I started an instinctual ascent–I just felt that I needed to get higher. I got as high as I could in hopes of gaining perspective on the reflective lake surface below. To be honest, I felt really great about the morning shoot overall. I thought I banked a handful of really great shots on the memory cards. It was only upon returning home (Virginia) and getting things on the computer screen that I realized I really hadn’t done anything to write home about. The compositions were busy; the light was pretty bland; and worst of all, my technical execution was really weak. Happens, I guess.
On a side note, I’ve always found comfort in the idea that one must be while they are becoming. You can’t go from start to finish without the middle. The middle is where the work, the mistakes and the progress happen. I used to be shy about calling myself a photographer; I thought one had to gain some sort of distinction within the field before the title could be used. However, I now have no issue with calling myself a photographer. It’s what I do. Literally. I wake up every day, pick up a camera and make photographs. It’s the easiest and the toughest thing to do… to keep showing up day in and day out to practice a craft without any of the traditional external feedback common in other professions. I am a photographer. Now, whether I’m a photographer-of-note or a run-of-the-mill photographer is not my call really. The worth of my photographs can only be determined by others, those who must receive the communication and decide whether the message is clear, strong, interesting, representative, respectful etc.
On this morning I was firmly in the middle, learning a new landscape and making tons of mistakes behind the lens. Truth be told, once all the leg work has been done, the scouting completed, the great light tracked down and captured, all the elements put together, tidied up and made perfect into a beautiful frame… it’s only then that I can look back and really miss those early expeditions like this particular morning when I knew nothing at all about the landscape and every action was experimental and full of potential! Mornings like this one are the foundation of everything yet to come!
After a great breakfast over at the Many Glacier lodge (a buffet-style offering that would become our staple over the week) we all decided to make an ascent up Grinnell Glacier Trail. Due to the trail’s strenuous nature, we made the decision to bypass several miles of footwork by riding a boat shuttle across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes. Once we reached the far shore, we began our hump upwards, excited to rip off another slice of amazing beauty. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had different plans. As we ascended the trail, clouds filled the skies, swirled around the peaks of the high mountains, and settled into the deep valleys between. Visibility decreased dramatically and a steady rain began to descend upon us. Based on my own experiences in the Appalachian Mountains I thought for sure that our higher altitude destination (still two to three miles ahead) would be socked in for a number of hours, rain or no, as the moisture would keep things thick. We made the tough decision to abort the effort and return to our vehicle at Many Glacier Lodge. About two miles after turning and retracing our own steps down the mountain, the skies cleared and the sun showed brilliant against emerald blue skies. You’ve got to smile at that stuff! Having intimate knowledge of a particular place is so valuable to outdoor photography.
The evening destination was a sunset at Saint Mary’s Lake along the Going-to-Sun Road. Instead of standing idle at the easy-to-access roadside parking lot overlook, we all opted to take the loose trail network down to the shores of the lake. I remember commenting to Buddy, the workshop leader, upon arriving at the lakeshore that here again was a location where I would choose to go with the long lens. He disagreed and he was very much in the right. The theme of vast, empty space would be a common challenge for me during these western travels. My instinct was to eliminate these empty areas through the use of a longer focal length. In retrospect, it is these vast, empty spaces that define the west; that give them difference from eastern landscapes. Instead, I framed intimate scenes on this particular evening that, in hindsight, completely lacked the context and character of the place. My only moment of clarity was in recognizing the unique and special character of the stones that made up the beach-like shoreline. However, capture was imperfect at best.
Day five. Can I get things going again? So far Glacier was getting the best of me!