I Hiked To The Most Beautiful Place In California And Didn’t Take A Single Photo Of It
Hey there. In this video I wanted to talk about a really important idea when it comes to taking pictures, which is being 100% totally okay with not taking any pictures. So, let me back up a second and I’ll show you what I mean.
Today. Today is a mental health day for me. Like many of you, I have been spending way too much time over the past few months stuck inside, sitting on my fat ass, doing absolutely Jack shit and eating way too much pizza and ice cream and cookies than is healthy to do in such a short period of time. And to be honest with you, it hasn’t been that bad because where I live, the weather hasn’t been wonderful. So getting outside hasn’t been that appealing. But today, today is one of those blisteringly beautiful Sierra days that calls to you. It’s one of those days that would be offended if you didn’t get outside to take advantage of it.
So today, today I decided I had to go out for a hike. And the reason that I chose this specific hike is, well you see, I have an ankle. I mean I guess most people probably do, but my ankle is totally *bleep*. I completely demolished it playing volleyball earlier this spring. And at the time I didn’t know if I had sprained it, broken it or just grounded it up into a pulp inside. And actually I still don’t know because I didn’t go see a doctor. And partly the reason for that is because I’m a stubborn idiot. And the other reason is the American healthcare system sucks and I didn’t want to have to pay a thousand dollars or more out of pocket just for an x-ray to say, actually your ankle is fine. Go ahead and walk it off. And over the past three months, my ankle has started to heal a bit, but it still bothers me.
And so I’ve been doing a lot of PT. Stretching, strengthening, walking, and it has improved to the point where I was ready to give it a challenge. And so I decided to pick a hike today that would really put my ankle to the test. I decided to come here to the North Fork of Big Pine Creek because it’s five miles in, five miles out, and about 2,500 feet of elevation change in each direction. And this trail leads to one of the most beautiful places in California, if not the US, if not the entire world. And of course I brought all of my photography equipment with me. But here’s the thing, I actually don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it. If my ankle is going to tolerate hiking the entire way in and the entire way out. And so, I started today’s hike knowing very well that I might not actually make it to the destination that I have in mind, which means that all of the purpose and enjoyment of my hike today has to come from simply being here and being outside. Not from making it to a specific place, not from having a specific destination or specific goal that I achieve. Which means that my goal for the day, ironically, is to not have any goals at all. And that got me thinking a lot about the journeys that we take as photographers.
See, the journey that every landscape and nature photographer goes on in their life is a circle and you start so much closer to the end than you ever realized. And hold on a second, let me just take this off because I’m sweating like a greased hippo in Alabama sandstorm.
Okay, so like I was saying. Circles. Every photographer I have ever met has told me a story like this. I got into photography in the first place because I love being outside and I was having these incredibly beautiful moments and then I wanted to learn how to better capture and share those moments with the people that I love. Right? Does that sound like you? I know that’s how I got started. So, you get a camera and you start to learn a little bit more about landscape photography and you take your first step around that circle and somewhere along the way, 180 degrees across the circle from where you started, it becomes all about the image itself instead of the experience. But when you start to prioritize the image over the experience, and this is totally normal, it happens to every photographer, it happens to me.
But when you do that, a lot of bad things can start to happen, not the least of which is that you stop paying attention to the magic that’s going on around you all the time. You stop paying attention to the experience when your thought process is, “I have to get to this spot in order to take this photo.” You don’t pay attention to what you’re actually going through in the moment. You start to lose out on all those beautiful, wonderful, magical things that are happening around you all the time in nature. So you get this tunnel vision that completely cuts you off from so many amazing things that are going on all the time. And because of that, you start to miss out on the hundreds of photos that you could be taking because you’re so fixated on that single photo. That’s your objective. And in order to complete your journey as a landscape photographer, in order to start back down that other side of the circle, you have to give up on that idea of photography as a destination.
You need to start looking back at the idea that photography is an extension of your experience in the outdoors. It’s your opportunity to capture the magic of what’s going on right now. Photography is not a destination and one of the best ways you can start to do this is to completely give up on the idea of taking photos. Give up on the idea that you have to come home with a specific photo from a specific spot. How many times have you been so fixated on a place? You’re rushing to get there,that you’re not even paying attention to what you’re walking on, where your feet are going? Maybe you’re accidentally trampling brush or you’re stepping on flowers because you have this objective. You have to get to this spot to take this specific photo. It’s happened to me more times than I can count and I really want to break that habit in myself.
So today, just like I have to be okay with the fact that my ankle might not allow me to get all the way to the end of this trail. I want to be okay with the fact that I might not take any photos at all. But let me be clear about something because it’s not about deliberately not taking photos. It’s simply about not having a destination photo in mind, which allows you to be way more present and open to what you’re actually seeing in the moment and to be able to create photographs that represent those things.
Well, good news. My ankle feels great and I was able to make it all the way here to a place called Second Lake, which as you can see, looks out on this gob smackular view of a mountain called temple crack. And having actually made it here, I asked myself, would I be disappointed if I hadn’t been able to do it? If I had to stop a mile back and turn around, would I be disappointed? And quite frankly, yeah, the answer is yes, I would be. I’m not totally zen monk buddhist about this whole thing – yet. But in terms of the photography, as stunning as this view is, I have to say it’s not actually doing anything for me photographically speaking. Whereas along the hike on the way up here, I found lots of really beautiful, cool little scenes just off the side of the trail that were really calling to me and I was able to enjoy being a photographer.
Whereas if I’d had it in my head that the entire success or failure of today’s excursion depended on getting here to take the most epic photo of temple crack, this would have been a failure. Right? But because I had no expectations, I completely got rid of the idea that I needed to take a photo of this destination. I was able to stop and enjoy a lot of those different scenes along the way. Are they the most monumental photo of this area that anybody’s ever seen? No, of course not. Far from it, but there were scenes that spoke to me in the moment and I enjoyed photographing them. And honestly, at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.