When I travel each trip develops its own unique rhythm. Whether I’m in England or the American Southwest, a combination of factors—my traveling companions, the weather, timing, and the landscapes—gets me into a shooting mood that lasts throughout the visit. This is separate from day-to-day happenings on the road, be they an overcrowded train in the Lake District (a wonderful place to share cookies and good humour) or Loud People overdosing on TNT! in an adjoining Utah motel room. “Put the remote DOWN and your hands where I can see them! NOW!”
When I’ve returned home and have my pictures in order, I then see the patterns of how I’ve photographed. It’s like the connect-the-dots artwork we did as kids, except in this case roads lead from one point to another. The value of this is, I can see where I’ve fallen into one of those ruts we’re so prone to in life. (It’s a perfect analogy, considering a couple of the sandy roads I drove on during my just-concluded outing.) I invariably notice scenes I could have explored a bit more—from a different angle or with a different lens—but I’ve learned not to beat myself up over lost opportunities. They’re simply added to my to-do list for next time.
When I left for Las Vegas at the end of September I had a script to follow—an itinerary—written out for the entire four weeks. But after five days nature would have nothing of that. That first day out of Sin City, after picking up my friend Ulrich, I drove north up a freeway clogged with slow-moving traffic and runoff from a monster torrential rain/hail/kitchen sink storm headed in the same direction. Right then I knew the plan was
being modified kaput. But it didn’t matter, because I was already in a groove. An afternoon wandering the streets in the historic ghost town of Bodie, California, following by two days at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, had set me up perfectly.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim the next day as a storm was clearing, and for the next eighteen days didn’t want for interesting landscapes to photograph. The Cathedral Valley loop drive in Capitol Reef National Park eluded us, again (there was a four-foot drop in the road, washed out by the big storm), but it was replaced by a long evening at Goblin Valley and, the following day, a wonderful walk at Horseshoe Canyon. And everywhere, it seemed, photos were set up and waiting—all I had to do was frame them.
Of course, it wasn’t really that easy (it never is). I’ve (re)learned that my bi-focaled eyesight isn’t as accurate as it was twenty years ago, nor my hand as steady, and thus shutter speeds below 1/125 are to be viewed with suspicion, and focus rechecked on the camera’s LCD when possible. It didn’t help that I was using a new Zeiss 35mm manual focus lens for the first time on this trip, either—I missed my mark several times with that—but as with all things it improved with practice and was visibly superior to the zoom it replaced.
I also renewed my respect for tripods, especially the carbon fiber variety. I didn’t set it up all the time, I’ll admit, but I carried it everywhere.
And—I didn’t run out of gas on a back road, didn’t have to change a flat tire, met a diverse group of friendly people, greatly enjoyed my friend’s company, and returned home in one piece (albeit seven pounds lighter) with six thousand frames to edit.
If that’s a rut, I’ll take it.