Love of the chase

The alarm shrieks to life. After years of early starts to go climb, ski, or photograph, the noise is still jarring. I get up, sometimes questioning my choice of hobbies. Espresso machine switched on, the microwave set to two minutes to cook my breakfast burrito. It’s somewhere in these moments that I snap out of my grogginess and get excited for what lies ahead.

In the days before, I had researched possible locations, checked the weather, sunrise time, and maybe even the phase of the moon, and, while I pick my morning’s objective carefully, there is still no guarantee of success.

I grab my pack, gear deliberately chosen the night before, and head out.

I drive the windy canyon road 45 minutes west of my home, listening to podcasts and keeping an eye on the conditions. Is the sky clear? Is there fresh snow or dew on the trees? I reach Rocky Mountain National Park, then hike one hour by headlamp up the trail. If I’m behind schedule, the race begins to beat the light to that morning’s lake.

When I reach my destination, sometimes I know exactly the framing I want, while other times I explore the area until everything comes together. Maybe some flowers are blooming over here or the stream is flowing well over there. I hunt, place my bets, and then set up to wait for the sunrise.

Now, landscape photography isn’t quite an action sport, but when the light starts to break, it can feel like it. Click! Assess! Adjust! Repeat! Maybe a better subject will reveal itself in the light and I’ll race to set up somewhere else. In the blink of an eye, an hour of shooting passes and it’s time to head out.

Down the trail I go, passing early morning hikers, back to the car, and back into town and reality. While I was up early, the energy gained by the morning’s outing keeps me energized to dig into reviewing and editing my recent captures.

I think a moment of dread comes over people when they realize the time I often get up to make a photograph, or the prep work involved before even stepping out the door, or the (sometimes) tedious step of editing, but it’s all part of the process. If making a great photograph was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

For me, through that effort comes the meaning. People may only see the end result, but if all the steps were done right, the effort will show in the final print, and that’s what matters most.

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