I left the house with the intention of finding and photographing elk. Lower Lake Mary, with its sweet grass, is a favorite grazing location for elk in northern Arizona. I’ve driven by when literally hundreds of bulls, cows and calves were spread across the broad expanse of the dry lake bottom. It is an awesome sight and I had a hunch there would be at least a few elk to be seen on this particular evening.
My hunch was wrong. There were no elk; at least, none within view. But the late afternoon monsoon clouds were starting to catch that golden light of sunset and water fowl were playing in a marshy area near the road. So, I pulled over, grabbed my gear and started to work the field. I circled the marsh in a counter-clockwise direction looking for an interesting subject to photograph. It wasn’t until I had almost completed the circle that I found the shot I was looking for; the image atop this post.
I worked this location a bit before moving on. There was a small rise to the east of me and it looked as though the top might offer a vantage point from which to compose a nice landscape. But en route to that destination, I found myself walking through a small sea of long grass. The tassels were similar to wheat in texture and their green, silvery hue captured the warm light in wonderful ways. It was completely unexpected.
Unexpected, however, is where a photographer often finds hidden treasure. These are the moments when you need to trust that internal voice whispering, “Ooh, that’s cool.” When a scene captures your eye and you stop, resist the temptation to give the scene a passing look before moving on. Pause a while. Study the scene. Give it consideration and ask yourself if this photograph could be a keeper.
After all, you’re a photographer – a visual artist – and your eye, your sense of composition, is your strongest asset. If you think it looks cool, trust that others will do the same. Or better yet, don’t care what anybody else will think. Take the photo because it pleases you to do so.
I left Lower Lake Mary with zero photographs of elk on that late summer evening. I captured several nice landscapes. The setting sun painting dramatic clouds with yellows and golds over lush green grass and water always makes for a lovely image. But the image I’m most pleased with from that shoot is the image of the long grass. It’s a wonderful combination of textures, tones and hues. The subtle abstract quality lends itself to a diverse set of interpretations. Everyone sees something different in this image and that is something that pleases me.
So, don’t let the absence of a specific plan or subject stop you from doing photography. Trust that, when you’re out and about with your kit, you’ll find an image worth taking. You’ll recognize opportunity when it knocks.
Now, get out and shoot.
Bill Ferris | September 2013