One of the most difficult bridges that photographers have to cross is the one between passion and profession. Crossing isn’t quite the right word for it. I think a more apt description would be that you are never fully on just one side. As financial pressures mount (most of the time) you find yourself more on the profession side of the bridge. You produce what the market wants and you put your own dreams on hold for the sake of money. When there’s more money and time then you give a bit of your soul back to the other side and just when you’re about to have a creative breakthrough it is sucked back by a tornado of money driven ambition.
So the bit of you on the passionate side has to make do with what resources and opportunity are available. Amazing light on workshops, the odd few days in the year that you can escape the admin or a trip that you earned with blood, sweat and tears. When you do finally do these things and achieve these goals, your brain seldom has the time to realize that you just achieved a dream from two years ago. Ambition and impatience are best friends and the less results you see, the harder you work. I always find myself reminding myself that things take time and that I need to be more patient and give myself recognition for what I have achieved. If I don’t do this I end up hitting a low and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. So perhaps this blog post could just have been an argument with myself to show me that I have taken a few good photographs over the past 6 months.
It’s certainly difficult choosing, but here are 6 of my most sentimental photographs from the past 6 months. I say sentimental because a photo might be my favorite because it’s very popular, but that might be the only meaning it has to me. Sentimental photos are images that tell a story to me about achieving a creative vision or a goal. Not about satisfying market demand and earning money.
Crystal Clear Canyon
I’ve visited Blyde River Canyon 5 times over the past 5 years. That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that it is 1800km from home. It is one of South Africa’s most iconic landscapes and no matter what you have to say about it, it’s an amazing landscape.
If you want to photograph iconic locations then you better make damn sure that you do it better than everyone else, because you didn’t discover it and there’s usually no more space for originality in composition. Over the years the Canyon really screwed me with weather. It was always hazy and it took all those failed visits to realize what the ideal time is to visit. This year I finally visited in that time to host a workshop there. We had two amazing mornings in a row and I got more than just one image that I will be content with for a long time.
Magoebaskloof in Flood
I know that 90% of the people who read my blog posts know my Magoebaskloof story. Searched the country for forests, got Malaria and tick fever, found amazing indigenous forests in Magoebaskloof, bla bla bla. I may have found the forests last year, but what is a forest photo without a fairytale-like stream flowing through it? I first visited Magoebas last year in May, which is the dry season. There was barely a stream and I never got anything close to a stream flowing through a forest.
On the same workshop that I got the Blyde shot, we had monster thunderstorm move over the escarpment on the last afternoon. The workshop participants were comfortable shooting on their own and I could wander off to a spot I had scouted earlier. The river was pumping with brown mud-washed water and the mist was thick below the canopy. I finally got a shot that I can happily hold next to a Columbia River Gorge shot by one of America’s talented scapers.
Autumn in the Free State
The Free State is one of South Africa’s provinces that have been eluding me big time. I have one great shot of Golden Gate, but I’ve never been a big fan of Golden Gate NP. The frank truth is there isn’t that much in the Free State that makes for great landscape photos.
For a great landscape photo you usually need a great landscape paired with great weather. Every now and then you’ll have a 3/10 landscape and 15/10 weather and the result is amazing. Exactly that happened on a trip to the Parys area and I got a shot of amazing low-lying mist over the Vaal River with a softly diffused sun on the horizon. I’m not quite sure what’s so special about this shot. It puts a Free State cracker in my portfolio and its nothing like anything else I have. For me it stands out amongst the rest.
Hole in the Wall
I have three reasons for putting a Hole in the Wall image on the list. It’s not so much the specific image, but the visit as a whole.
The first thing is that just like Blyde River Canyon, HITW is damn far away from home and all my previous visits had been fruitless. This year I was there for three weeks and the weather played along very well. I have HITW images to feed the publishers for a good few years to come.
When I started photography the slightest heights made me dizzy. Many hikes and encouraging words from friends have helped my fear of heights a lot. While at HITW I climbed a cliff that I previously thought was not climbable, the weather played along and I plucked the fruits of years of small progress.
It’s obvious that if you ask any professional photographer if he/she enjoys teaching others they’ll falsely tell you that they do. It’s not necessarily that its not fun, its just that I’d rather be shooting by myself. I hit a turning point in this attitude on my Hole in the Wall workshops this year. It’s a great location, I had amazing groups of people and for the first time ever I really enjoyed teaching. If I look at the images that is what it reminds me of. I had an amazing time while teaching others, getting great photos and making a living. It made me appreciate my job.
South Africa may have amazing diversity, but it lacks scale in many areas. You can argue as you wish for the Drakensberg, but it just doesn’t give the peaks of Patagonia a run for its money. South Africa’s biggest lack is definitely proper snow-capped mountains and that amazing red Alpenglow that goes with it in the right circumstances.
Seeing that blood-red glow on the peaks of Torres del Paine more than an hour before sunrise was a moment of accomplishment for me. About two years ago I decided that I want to work towards visiting one of earth’s best mountain landscapes. I decided on Patagonia and I saved and worked my ass off to earn the time and money to go. While shooting that sunrise I was not only excited for the extra bit of exposure that image would give me, but it made me look back at the road that got me there.
Keeping it Natural
When I criticize people that process excessively I always ask myself if I would have gotten where I am today without photoshop. The scary thing is that the answer is often no. Many of my best photos are dependent on digital blending, but I have to argue in my favor that if photoshop didn’t exist I’d use my filters a lot more. Every now and then nature gives you a little gift in the form of unbelievable natural light that you can capture in a single exposure. Those images make me feel liberated from Photoshop.
This is one of those images, just a touch of saturation and contrast from the RAW file.
The next six months may not be as productive behind the camera, but I hope they will be behind the computer. Long hours behind the computer are what make trips to places like Patagonia possible.