"I want a unique photo of the temple like the others you've done," she told me.
I've tried several times to catch the perfect photograph of the Bountiful Temple. On December 31, 2014, when I was very first learning how to use a camera and compose a photograph, I tried to get a photo of the temple. It was OK, not terrible. I submitted it to the State Fair fully expecting to walk away with a blue ribbon but I got nothing for it. I didn't give up, though. For about a 6 month period, a couple years later, they were doing major construction on the spire and had scaffolding around it. Another time I showed up too late in the Autumn season and missed all the good leaves. Another time I got there too late and it was dark before I could come up with a good composition. For 4 years the Bountiful Temple has eluded me.
Back in January or February of 2018 I was at my cousin's house for a family get together. She said she wanted a photograph of the Bountiful Temple (where she was married) because the only image of the temple she had was a rather small print displayed on a curio cabinet. "I want a unique photo of the temple like the others you've done," she told me. "Your temple pictures are so original and incredible."
When my cousin commissioned me to produce the best photograph anyone has ever seen of the Bountiful Temple, the pressure was on. I began thinking of what image could be unique, astounding, and immersive. What kind of photograph could I take that would stop someone and cause them to gaze upon it? One day, I had a vision. I saw the temple high on a hill, overlooking the City Bountiful, standing watch; a sentinel. Like something straight out of Tolkien's Middle Earth, I saw a beautiful image of a castle guarding a kingdom.
A unique opportunity is present with the Bountiful Temple. The ability to use the surrounding landscape as a dramatic element that acts as a foundation of the photograph of the temple is hard to achieve. There is a hill across the street from the temple, behind the row of houses, that has some hiking trails. In order to achieve this vision, I would have to find a spot somewhere on that hill that opened up to the view of the landscape. I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my camera, and one day after work in late February I set out to find the spot.
I began hiking near the Bountiful B and headed toward the temple, stopping every here and there and checking the perspective. There were no trails where I needed to be along this hill side. I was bushwhacking over, under, and through thistles, shrubs, and scrubby trees. My arms were being lacerated by thorns and bare branches. I took a few test shots on that trip, purely for an understanding of the composition from various locations. I tagged each spot as GPS coordinates on my phone so I could find them later. I hiked back to my car, losing my jacket (which was looped around my backpack) in the trees somewhere along the way. I really liked that jacket. When I got home I processed the images and nothing stood out as spectacular. I still hadn't found the spot I needed. The search will continue.
About a month later I went back, this time starting from the trailhead across the street from the temple. I hiked up and around the hillside, stopping every now and again to take a few photos. This trip also bore no fruit. A couple weeks later, I tried again for the third time, now accompanied by my wife for date night. We hiked and wandered all over, around, up, and down the hillside. Eventually we found a decent clearing that gave a pretty good view of the temple and the city spilling out below it. From this perspective I could see the Oquirrh Mountains in the background, rising up into the sky and sheltering the valley. We had found the perfect spot. I marked it on my map.
Over the next few weeks (now the beginning of April), we checked out the temple and the view of the city from the foothills. I was waiting for the perfect moment when the trees were in bloom and waking up from their long winter nap. All the trees bloom at different times and not all trees have blossoms (or rather their blossoms aren't that remarkable), so I had to wait for the perfect moment when some trees were blossoming and other trees had leaves. I've learned that taking photos of trees with bare branches isn't that impressive, if the tree isn't the subject of the photo. I wanted this photo to look alive and youthful.
One Sunday afternoon at the end of April, I drove up again (for the third time) to check things out. The row of trees along the fence line of the temple were in FULL BLOOM. I'm talking "We're at 100%, take the photo in the next week or you'll miss this forever" full bloom. These trees had beautiful, deep magenta blossoms. The city was blanketed with rich, full trees with new, bright leaves as well. I got home and told Chelsea, "Now is the time. I have to take this photo in the next week if I'm going to do it."
The temple is closed on Sunday and Monday, which means no cars in the parking lot, which means I don't have to Photoshop out a bunch of cars. Those were the days I needed to hit. I had the next day, Monday, or the next Sunday to take this photo. Not only would I miss the blossoms after that, but I was leaving on a business trip the following week as well. I began my research into the weather to see if it was going to cooperate with me. The next day, Monday, it was supposed to rain all day but clear out by about 5pm.
"Tonight is the night," I told Chelsea the next day. I wolfed down dinner, gathered up all my gear and headed out of the house at 5pm. I retraced my steps to find the same clearing on the hillside that gave me the perfect window from which to see the temple and the city. I wandered around a 15 foot radius to find the perfect spot to set up my tripod. Amazingly, there was a tree growing tall and proud, compared to its friends, rising up just off to the left of my view of the temple. This one would be an anchor for my composition.
Post-rain storm clouds almost always guarantee a beautiful sunset. These clouds are so dramatic and catch the light in a way that you never see at any other time. The rain also clears all the dust and pollution from the air so I had a crystal clear view of the mountains in the farthest reaches of the horizon. As the sun set I snapped my shutter, capturing every unique transition of the last sun rays of the evening. When you photograph a scene lit by a sunset, you aren't quite sure when you have "the perfect" shot. For this reason, it's smart to stay all the way through the sunset; in case something spectacular happens with the light in the last 20 seconds of the sleeping sun. Also, the ragged and randomly arranged clouds can dance the light around in the most interesting ways. Once I was satisfied I had "the shot," I packed up and headed home. I normally can't keep the images on my SD card for very long because I'm too excited to get them on the computer and into Lightroom. But it was late and I was tired so they waited until the next day.
The next evening, once the kids were in bed, I imported the photos into my Lightroom catalog, summoned the spirit of Ansel Adams, and began working. This was THE MOST complicated photo I have ever done. Not only is it a panorama which requires a perfectly level tripod (hard to do on a rocky hillside), but I also had to focus stack the images on the left side because the trees/bushes were so close to me they weren't in focus. I had to take two exposures for each of those images (one focusing on the temple, the other focusing on the trees), focus stack them in Photoshop, then merge them with my other images to create the panorama. This meant I had to maintain a perfect shooting discipline while on that hillside or else the panorama or the focus stacked images wouldn't line up correctly and the entire set would be worthless.
Once that was done, I was now free to ignite the right side of my brain and realize the vision I saw so many months ago. The setting sun bathed everything in this warm splash of light, slowly fading into the night. A blanket of lush verdant trees, flowing over the hillsides and into the valley. The snow capped Oquirrh Mountains catching the very last rays as the sun slipped beneath the horizon. The row of gorgeous blossoms leading the way to the temple, adding a valuable slice of color that cuts across the bottom of the scene, and most importantly of all, the resplendent Bountiful Temple, keeping watch over a 171 year old city, named after an ancient metropolis.
**A quick note about color theory: one of the reasons I love this photo so much is because of a great execution of the "Split Complimentary" color palette. To accomplish this, you take a color wheel and chose your base color, let's say green for the carpet of trees in this photo. Then you draw a "Y" that points to two colors on the opposite side of the color wheel. In this case, purple and orange; purple for the mountains and orange for the sunset. This creates color harmony that is pleasing to look at and creates a sense of calm balance. It is hard to force this to happen, and honestly I got pretty lucky with a bit of planning for a good sunset. Nature provided me with a beautiful palette to work with.**
Over four hours later, now well after midnight and with tired eyes, I was finished with my first draft. I would come back 7 more times over the next week to do clean up work and to make minute changes to the color, luminosity, and saturation. And then I was done. I had brought this vision into the real world to share it with everyone.
Almost a month after taking this photo I finally had a print to surprise my cousin. We went over there yesterday to hang out and let the kids play and I brought a huge 24x48" aluminum print. She absolutely loved it. "The detail in these mountains reminds me of a Boss Ross painting. It feels so peaceful," she said. She had her husband hang it up on their living room wall that evening. When I am commissioned to take a photo, I like to keep it (mostly) a secret until I am able to present it to them. I've done this several other times with other temple photos and the anticipation almost kills me. I'm happy to finally be able to share this photo with everyone. This definitely set a new bar for me to reach.
A couple weeks later, my aunt sent me this email:
Just wanted you to know how thrilled Jordan and Ryan are with the photo of the Bountiful Temple you gave them. Jordan called me right away after you and Chelsea left and immediately took a picture of the print and texted it to me. It is absolutely phenomenal and so unique!! I am amazed reading your account of the process you went through to get that shot. You really have a tremendous talent and I really hope you get to a place where you can focus on photography full time.
This was such an amazing note to get. It made me feel so incredible and put me on a high for days.