As a self-employed landscape photographer, I’m governed by far more primitive time measurement constructs than the bustling majority. I work when there’s work to be worked, and (fingers crossed) play when there’s play to be played. The business side of my life sometimes requires a clock and calendar, but the actual photography part of my life is governed by fundamental laws of nature that transcend everyone else’s clocks and calendars: the earth’s rotation on its axis, the earth’s revolution about the sun, and the moon’s position relative to that celestial dance.
(The irrelevance of clocks and calendars is never more clear than the first morning following a time change. On the second Sunday of each March, when “normal” people moan about rising an hour earlier, the sun thumb its nose at Daylight Saving Time and rises a mere minute (or so) earlier than it did the day before. So do I. And the first Sunday of November, as others bask in their extra hour of sleep, I get to sleep an entire minute longer. Yippee.)
With my days inexorably tied to the arrival and departure of the sun and moon, and my seasons ruled by the changing angle of the sun’s rays, I sometimes long for a universe where the seemingly random events I so love to photograph can be predicted with the same reliability of a sunset or moonrise. Wouldn’t it be great to mark our calendars for the annual rainbow that arcs above Yosemite Valley at 7:15 p.m. on May 8, or the lightning bolt that strikes Grand Canyon’s Vishnu Temple at 3:05 p.m. every August 12. But Nature, despite the human need to measure, quantify, compute, and record everything still has its secrets. And as much as I long for predictability in my photography life, I think it’s the randomness that keeps me going out there
I love that the precision of a moonrise and the randomness of a lightning strike are both manifestations of the Universe’s celestial choreography: One coin, two sides. And I can’t tell you what thrills me more, the unpredictable explosion of a lightning strike, or the impeccably punctual appearance of a full moon above the landscape. But I love that relationship of earth, moon, and sun that we have down to the microsecond are also the catalysts for the clouds, lightning, rain, snow, rainbows, and so on that feel so random.
Last month I was at the Grand Canyon primarily to photograph lightning (fingers crossed), and as successful as that aspect of the trip was, one morning when lightning was not on the menu we nevertheless made the short trek out to Bright Angel Point. The pre-sunrise blackness was darkened further by a layer of clouds, but as the daylight advanced in the east, the clouds retreated to the west, revealing a waning gibbous moon above the canyon. Whoa. I had no plan to photograph, but adding the moon to an already wonderfully serene morning was just impossible to resist. I quickly set up my tripod and camera, framed a vertical composition, and clicked four wide frames.
Even though I hadn’t planned for it, I’m reasonably certain that the moon was exactly where it was supposed to be. If nothing else, that morning’s beautiful surprise demonstrated that ignorance-induced randomness feels no less random (and wonderful).
Planned and “Random” Moments in Nature