This was an exciting year for me. I saw and photographed many beautiful landscapes and met new and amazing photographers. I received several awards this year which thrilled me to no end. Now that we are approaching the last few days of the year I want to share the stories of my journey this far.
To start the year, the very first day of the year in fact, I met up with a good friend of mine, Nathan St. Andre, to drive out and see if there was anything good to photograph at The Great Salt Lake. We were hoping for a good sunset shot of some interesting ice/snow/salt formations. The clouds were in the wrong part of the sky and we didn't see any amazing landscapes in the first area we were scouting. Close to the end of the evening during the last few rays of sunlight, we were at evaporating pools for the Morton Salt Company and we had a mirror reflection of Stansbury Island. We ran over to the edge of the water and snapped a panorama of the island as the final bit of warm light splashed over it. A pretty decent photo turned out in the last few minutes of the day; this happens more often that you might think.
The next trip I took was to photograph the lunar eclipse in late January. I wanted to capture the transition of the Blood Moon over a fantastic landscape scene and thought Horseshoe Bend might be a good place to do this. Part of the reason I wanted to head down south was because the forecast called for overcast skies all throughout northern Utah and only partly cloudy skies in southern Utah. My friend Nathan, who lived in Hurricane at the time, had posted on Facebook that he wanted to shoot the eclipse at Zion National Park but had no way to get there and was looking to bum a ride. I found an alternative location at Lake Powell that might prove to be interesting. I messaged him on Facebook and asked if he was married to the idea of shooting at Zion. He said he was up for another location and asked what I had in mind. I sent him a link to Alstrom Point and he said we should absolutely do it. The weather during the eclipse (which took place at like 3am) was mostly cloudy. We got about 15 seconds of empty skies to shoot the moon in full totality before the clouds came in and blocked our view. We then moved over to the cliff edge to shoot what would end up being a fantastic panoramic image of Lake Powell at Gunsight Bay. Nathan had correctly predicted an amazing sunrise with the forecasted cloud cover and we saw the most amazing sky-on-fire light up a peaceful other-worldly landscape. Once we left, I dropped Nathan off at home and thought I could make the drive back to Salt Lake but ended up stopping at a rest stop about halfway and took a nap for a couple hours. I had only about 2 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours.
I wanted to expand my winter portfolio and get a beautiful winter scene with perfect snow and fabulous colors. I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon and found a great area that is frequented by snowshoers and kids with sleds. This area has a small stream which wasn't quite frozen over. There is a large dead pine tree that towers over everything else in this open meadow and that made for the perfect subject for this image. I planned a day to come back after we received some new snow. A couple weeks later the forecast called for 6 inches of new snow in the mountains so I planned to go back up in the early morning. That morning, as my alarm went off at 4:30, I thought to myself, "I should just stay in bed. I bet the sunrise isn't going to be great anyway..." But I knew I would be upset if I missed this opportunity so I packed up my gear and put on my snow pants and 2 coats and drove up. I was awarded with the most amazing sunrise that seemed to splash over the hillside in the background like water from a dam. I was very happy I didn't miss it.
The next event was a photography contest I entered at the invitation of a woman I worked with. I had been setting up prints of my photos along a cubicle wall for the past few months and I had amassed a pretty decent photo gallery. Lucky for me, I had a prime location that was right in front of the stairwell and the break room. Many people would stop by and comment on my photos and I was able to talk to them about the images and the stories and methods behind them. So this woman was part of the arts council for Cottonwood Heights and they have a photography contest every year. She invited me to submit some work because she thinks my images are beautiful. I accepted her offer and submitted three prints. I didn't win first, second, or third place in my category (advanced/professional) but my image of Lake Powell received the highly coveted "Mayor's Choice" award. He said he visits Lake Powell often and absolutely loves the photograph I made.
My next photography adventure began back in January/February when my cousin asked me to take a photo of the Bountiful Temple for her. So much planning, scouting, prepping, executing, and editing went into this image. The Bountiful Temple overlooks the city of Bountiful and there is an amazing opportunity to include this view and be anchored by this resplendent House of the Lord. Several trips to scout the location for the perfect composition, several trips to check on the blossoms of the Spring trees, and one super lucky evening with post-rain storm clouds in the sky and an empty parking lot all came together for the most perfect, most amazing photo of the temple. I printed this photo on metal at 24x48" and personally delivered it to my cousin. It hangs on the prominent spot on their living room wall.
My next photo was something of an experiment that came from pre-visualizing a scene and figuring out how to make it work. I wanted to capture the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan, Utah positioned in front of the grand Wasatch Mountains. I also wanted to make this a vertical panorama because I had never done one before and I thought it would be a fun experiment to try. There is no way to accomplish what I sought out so I had to plan for a composite image. I rented a 400mm lens to photograph the Wasatch Mountains from across the valley and get some wonderfully crisp detail in the rocks and mountain peaks. Next, I photographed the temple as it would look facing the mountains. I brought these images into Photoshop and carefully aligned them with an image of a starry night sky and placed a photo of the moon from my lunar eclipse trip just to make it all that much more fantastic. I had to learn several new blending techniques to get the image to look realistic. For being my first attempt, I am very happy with how it turned out.
The next events are somewhat bittersweet in my development as a photographer. For the past 2 years I have tried to establish myself as a real estate photographer and start a business with the hopes of turning it into my full time job. Many late hours and early mornings, missed dinners, and shoots for home owners and real estate agents happened in these two years. I learned so much about marketing, website design, emotional conversion in the buying process, and of course, photography and editing. Sadly, my efforts to market my business, justify my prices, and the stress of balancing a full time job, a full time family, and a side gig never got me to what I thought was my dream. One of the many, many lessons I learned was that you will ultimately be more successful if you are running toward a dream instead of running away from a nightmare. For me, I was running away from a job I hated more than I was running toward starting my own business. I found a new job at a great company and decided that I was going to be done marketing myself as a real estate photographer. I let my website settle (I had even reached the front page of Google through careful SEO practices) and after 2 months of not getting any calls for shooting houses, I sold most of my gear and just kept what was necessary for continuing to take landscape and architecture photos. I killed my Facebook business page and my YouTube account. It was a sad day when I shut down my website to see all the time and effort I put into my marketing blog (a couple dozen posts with great info and insight), the website design, and my portfolio of amazing real estate images. However, the most important lesson I learned, I believe, was that I do not want to own my own business. The stress of dealing with clients, trying to impress those that can't be impressed, and bending over backward to maintain a business relationship was exhausting and frustrating. It also didn't help that I was charging more than my competition (quality is expensive) so if a client got upset with me for any reason, they had an easy reason to "fire" me (being too expensive). I'm glad I tried it and gave it my all. I'm not sad it didn't work out, I'm sad that I didn't see an equal result when compared to the effort I put in. But I am very happy I realized I didn't love it before I got in too deep, such as quitting my job.
Now on to something more exciting! With a new job on the horizon, I planned a trip to Southern Utah to get some photos of places I had never visited before. I saw a photo of the Utah Badlands and thought it was amazing and wanted to visit it myself. I planned a 3 day trip to include the Badlands, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell. While visiting Monument Valley, I hoped to get a Milky Way panorama over the 3 prestigious monuments but the forecast called for thunderstorms (it was monsoon season, apparently). I stuck around for sunset and got a spectacular image of low purple thunder clouds sitting just barely above the red rock formations. I visited Antelope Canyon through one of the two tour companies and was able to get a last minute slot in a photography tour. Usually they don't allow tripods in Antelope Canyon because it is so crowded but for the photography tour (which you pay extra for) they allow you to take tripods (they require it, actually) and they will pause the flow of traffic so you can get photos without people in them. Some people (photography
snobs purists) say this amounts to cheating and that the canyon doesn't really look or feel like this and it cheapens the whole experience. I think the photos turned out great and I'm really happy I was able to take the trip. I was going to backpack into Reflection Canyon (a 20 mile hike across the open desert with no water) but figured in the middle of July with temps in the triple digits it probably wasn't a great idea. I had a really uneasy feeling about it so I postponed the trip until a later date (maybe April of 2019).
In August, submission are due for the Utah State Fair. I've entered the photography competition several times in the past and have won first place and honorable mention ribbons before. For the first time, I decided my images were good enough to submit to the 'Fine Art' category. I printed my Monument Valley photos on 20x40 metal for this category. I also submitted 3 other images into the 'Professional' tier of landscape photography. The State Fair doesn't alert you when you win a ribbon, you just have to show up and see if you got anything. The opening weekend of the Fair came and my wife and I made a bee line to the photography exhibit. I looked all over the Fine Art section for my print and didn't see it anywhere. Puzzled to where it could be and thinking I must have missed it, I made a second loop around. My wife grabbed me and said, "I found it!" At the front of the exhibit they have a special wall to showcase the "Best in Show" winners and my Monument Valley print was hanging up, big and bold and beautiful for everyone to see. I had won the Best in Show for Fine Art. You can't imagine how THRILLED I was! I gandered at my achievement for a good while before moving on to see the excellent artwork of the first, second, and third place winners. The next day the Fair judges had an open Q/A session where photographers could talk to them about their judging of the photos and why the photographer did or didn't get a ribbon. This is a great way to learn what you're doing well and what you can work on for the future. I spoke to a judge who said they were just blown away by my photo. They loved everything about it and couldn't find anything to be nit picky about. "Believe me," he said, "we get REALLY nit picky with the Fine Art submissions. This is actually the hardest category to judge and to win because of how meticulous we are." I was absolutely beaming. About a week later, my sister was at the Fair and sent me a text saying, "Were you aware you got another award?" I had no idea! "You got the People's Choice Award too!" she said. You can vote for your favorite image and after 10 or so days they will tally up the votes. I couldn't believe it!
I've had an itch to get some Autumn colors added to my portfolio (in addition to my wife telling me "Will you take a picture of a tree every once in a while??") so we planned a trip to Colorado at the end of September. I was tracking all the "color forecasts" and they said the last week of September and first week of October were going to be the best weeks to see grand colors this year. I chose a little town called Ouray because it was a central point in several places that I wanted to see. The first grand overlook had only about 10% of the leaves changed! Most of them were still very green like the middle of summer! Totally bummed, I thought the trip was going to be a "scouting" trip. Some very nice ladies at a pizza joint told us to keep driving south a few miles out of town to see the colors on fire. Sure enough, we made our way south and we saw a total explosion of color! The aspen trees mixed with the evergreens was so amazing. I scouted a location along a small lake for another vertical panorama. I lined up with a reflection in the lake and a rising hillside of evergreens peppered with golden aspens. The image turned out phenomenal and I am very pleased we saw some great color while we were there. I still have a few spots bookmarked for next year to try again.
After this trip I was tagged by my aunt in a Facebook post that a local credit union made. They were running a photo contest for their annual calendar. I usually don't participate in contests like this because the terms USUALLY state that by entering your photos into the contest, you grant the contest owner licensing in perpetuity (no expiration date) to your submitted images AND that they can use your images however they see fit and don't need to notify or credit you when they use them. So, basically these contests are a way for a company to get a couple hundred high quality images for the cost of a couple gift cards (versus buying stock images from Getty Images for $750 each). So after reading the terms of this contest, it appears the credit union is only licensed to use the images for the printing of the calendar and future contest-related marketing. That's was pretty agreeable to me, in addition to the zero cost of entry (some contests require a $20 or $30 per image submission fee...a somewhat sleezy way to "make" money). The winning prize was a $1000 gift card to a local camera shop. I figured I'd throw my Monument Valley image into the ring and see what happened. A few weeks later I got an email saying I was chosen as one of the 11 finalists and my photo would be featured in the calendar. The prize for this was $100. Great! A hundred bucks is a hundred bucks. I can use that money to rent a couple lenses. About a week after that I get another email saying the original grand prize winner was disqualified because his photo was outside of the geographic boundaries they set for the contest and that I was the new grand prize winner! Holy smokes! About a week after that I got a letter in the mail with a $1000 gift card! I was so thrilled! This one image is getting me a lot of attention.
To finish off the year, I snapped a photo of the Draper Temple for my brother's step-son's wedding. The Draper Temple is just up the street from where I work so I stopped by a couple times each week to check on the progress of the Autumn leaves. Once they had reached the perfect color, I came back with my camera to get a great golden sunset. I printed this on aluminum and presented it to the happy couple at their reception. They both loved it.
It has been a wonderful year and I'm really happy at the progress I've made and the return I'm seeing in the form of recognition by my peers and community. I've been so richly blessed to see great things come from what used to be a casual hobby. I hope next year will have further opportunities for growth, learning, and building relationships with other people that love photography. Did you have a great adventure this year? Send me a message because I'd love to hear about it!
Happy new year to all the artists and art lovers out there.