I just wrapped up what was no doubt the most intense work/travel stretch of my 17 years leading photo workshops. It started the second week of January with 3 weeks in Iceland leading 2 workshops with Don Smith (with no break in between). After the long flight home (that’s a story for different day), I had just one day to recover before driving nine hours to Death Valley (still very much jet lagged) for another workshop that started the next day. Returning from Death Valley, I actually had a few days to lick my wounds before heading off to Yosemite for my Horsetail Fall workshop (with crowds that make it pretty intense by itself).
I have no one to blame but myself for this schedule (it seemed like such a good idea at the time). And I won’t say that I’m not looking forward to a few weeks off before my next workshop. But honestly, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. And I should also say that despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually home far more than I’m on the road, and when I’m home, I’m really home (unless I’m at Starbucks, without a lot of places I’m expected to be. So don’t feel too sorry for me.
The people I get to share my workshops with are constant source of energy and joy that sustains me through these difficult stretches. But today I’m (selfishly) thinking about the bucket-list worthy sights and locations my frequently nomadic life has afforded me. It’s an exercise I try to go through regularly to avoid taking my many blessings for granted.
I’m thinking about this right now because I returned just a few days ago from another Horsetail Fall workshop, where I could be at serious risk of taking for granted a truly beautiful and unique spectacle that I’ve seen literally dozens of times, but that is a genuine bucket list experience for so many others.
One way I try to avoid taking my blessing for granted is to revisit my annual Highlights galleries: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. I love creating these galleries not only because the process reminds me of the sights I’ve seen over the past year, but also because it gets me excited for the still unknown sights in the upcoming year. And each time I revisit them, I’m reminded of how lucky I was to have been witness to such beauty. Invariably, after opening a gallery, I’ll find myself thinking, oh wow, surely this was my best year (not necessarily my best photographs—just my best year for the things I got to see), then I go on to another year and have exactly the same thought.
Another thing this exercise makes pretty clear is the things in Nature that excite me most. I’ve always believed that we each make our best pictures when we follow our heart to the subjects we love most. For me that’s locations to which I feel a personal connection, like Yosemite and Grand Canyon, and natural phenomena like weather and all things celestial. Not so coincidently, these are also the subjects I most love studying and understanding.
For the longest time I would say the most beautiful sight I’d ever witnessed was a comet—I just couldn’t imagine anything matching it. Then in 2017 I witnessed a total solar eclipse and that list became two. Then (I bet you know where I’m going here) I saw the northern lights. So now my most-beautiful list is three.
I’ve seen the northern lights many times since that first experience, but that first one always stood out as the best. But Nature always seems to be trying to top itself, and this year it finally managed. The first Iceland workshop group got two consecutive nights with spectacular northern lights shows—the first night at least matching my previous “best,” the second night topping it.
Because I blogged about that night a few weeks ago, I won’t go into all the details. The image I shared in that earlier post was more of a spontaneous capture away from the best scene, simply because the display was so spectacular. The image I’m sharing today is the scene I spent most of the night pointing at because it had the best combination of foreground and aurora display. The dancing lights changed so much from one minute to the next that I could pluck any one of dozens of images from this scene, label it “best,” and get no argument.
All of them are unbelievably beautiful; I could not pick a favorite. I am always overwhelmed at your talent, ability, and your ability to capture just the right scene.
Sounds busy and rewarding.
Indeed—both of the above!
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It certainly WAS a blessings! Right! I still smile every time I think of the spectacular show we saw that night.