2016.12.30 — Maybe this is a beginning. I have long enjoyed photography, but it has been primarily as a consumer, being awed and inspired by images in climbing magazines, outdoor- or nature-themed calendars, and, of course, the vaulted pages of National Geographic. And I have taken a lot of pictures, but I do not really consider myself a photographer.
A good friend gave me my first camera as a present for my eighteenth birthday, a long time ago. It was by far the coolest piece of technology I had ever held in my hands—an all-black Canon AE-1 Program. It was the dawn of one-hour developing (1980s) and I made print after print. I have boxes of fading prints, and hot air balloons seem to have been important. The camera sat idle for a while, but I eventually learned about Kodachrome 64 slides while reading Galen Rowell, and that seemed a big step forward. I taught archaeological field school and tried my best to get my field teams to take useable documentary photos of excavations and artifacts; the Pentax K-1000 was our go-to beast of a field camera – almost student-proof in its simplicity. A few of us enjoyed friendly competitions trying to capture the best sunsets from our field camp in Warner Valley, eastern Oregon, US. I still have binders with sleeves of slides from across the 1990s. I even have a few framed prints hanging on walls of friends and family from those days. However, photography was always a biproduct of other activities and pursuits.
Over time, I seemed to take fewer enjoyable pictures as my professional research career grew. Most every photo was documentary without any thought to composition or ultimate presentation. The Canon had taught me “Program” and I rarely moved away from “Auto” mode. The auto habit grew even as I went digital. A relatively early adopter, I recall lugging around a Sony Mavica 0.3MP camera using 3.5” disks that stored seven or eight images—and I thought it was pretty cool. I have rotated through a variety of point-and-shoot cameras since then, trying to keep up with image quality as I perceived it—that is, megapixels. Otherwise, I continued to document climbs and hikes, excursions across the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada, with the point-and-shoot of the moment. Once in a while, I captured an image I can enjoy today; many trigger memories, several might accompany journal entries, but few evoke emotions of time and place.
Recently, I started thinking earnestly that the photography of my vocation and avocations needed improvement, and that meant improving the photographer, me. I noticed that a colleague, and excellent field partner, was trying a variety of perspectives on artifacts we documented on field surveys. He talked about trying to capture detailed images of archaeological sites, the field teams, and the towns we passed. At the same time, I felt strongly that I had not been appropriately communicating the work that I do. My conference presentations are ok and my teammates produce binders and binders (or their digital equivalent) of inventory and occasional excavation reports but the photography can be lacking.
I travel back and forth across the Great Basin, into California, and beyond. I live along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada, just downslope from Lake Tahoe. I work on public lands and it is a privilege to do so. I have long known how fortunate I am to live and work in places many take valuable vacation time to simply visit. I thrive on remote locations, especially arid desert or steppe environments. I must respect and share what I see and learn. And it is time to add some creativity to the scholarship and fieldwork that I thrive upon. This is also about rekindling motivation. I should visit and re-visit places and environments that I might otherwise pass because I’m too deep into one project or another.
I am also prone to compulsive, deep-dive syndrome; or something like that. I am all in, and it can be detrimental to other interests, work, and the bank account. I took up golf and was soon on the driving range and putting greens for most non-working hours. I decided running would fill a hole in my exercise routine and within a year I was an ultramarathoner. My wife could list several other examples—I can get a bit out-of-control when it comes to hobbies. The highlight of the syndrome is that I enjoy the learning and development as much as, or more than, mastering something. I never do.
So, here I go again, an old passion, and yes, all in. But photography crosses, healthily and seamlessly, the boundaries of vocation and avocation. It can help communicate my joy and fascination in natural science, travel, landscape, backcountry trails, and the list goes on… I purchased a Canon 80D and a 18-135 kit lens in late December of 2016. The camera does not make the photographer, but it is time to take things off “Program” and chase some light.
This is what LightOpt Photography is about. Follow along with me as I try to develop a craft of landscape photography and see if I can weave it into the various things that I am passionate about. The is basically a blog or photography journal that will revolve around various photographic excursions made during my fieldwork, wherever that takes me. The blog, and its TrailOption components, will focus on geography, landscapes, natural science, and trails traveled.
*Option: beyond the standard, the other; not required, not always better.