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Because Photos Need Stories.

A picture is worth 1000 words...the classic phrase we've heard since childhood. I've always been drawn to this idea but have never truly sat down and tried to think of 1000 words to describe a photo. Where do you even begin? Do you start with the obvious characteristics that stand out? What about the underlying theme or message the image is trying to convey? All these are great starts. However, they only scratch the surface. What I'm most interested in the story behind the photo...the stuff that you can't see by looking at an image. Sometimes the process itself deserves a bit of recognition. That is why I plan on doing an occasional post explaining the stories behind my favorite photos.

 
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Not all photos are handed out on a silver platter and not all photos can be planned. You can only use your best knowledge to anticipate a situation. This photo was one of those completely unexpected moments, a lucky "right place at the right time" kind of moment. Let's start by backtracking a little bit here.

Monday, the week prior, plans were being made. My girlfriend, Jadyn, and I knew we wanted to go somewhere out of town for the weekend, we just had no idea where. Death Valley crossed our minds, as did Big Sur. Once Mammoth was brought up, I had an instant desire to be there. "Yep, Mammoth it is," I thought. By the end of the day, we had a place booked, some friends committed to coming, and we were ready to make it happen. We were only able to get a cabin for one night on Sunday due to the holiday weekend, meaning, we'd be getting back late on Monday...just in time to start work again on Tuesday. Needless to say, the trip itself was already looking like it would be quite the effort.

Come Tuesday morning, the devastating mud slide that hit Montecito and the 101 occured. One friend had to drop out of the trip because she was on the other side of the slide and we had no idea when the 101 would open back up (it is still closed as I'm writing this article). The rest of the week was rough for all of us here in Santa Barbara but we did manage to hold on to our motivation to get out of town. We found another friend to come along with us on the trip that would now be an extra two hours making the trip a lovely 7 and a half hour drive with the 101 closure. This meant leaving at 5:30am on Sunday.

Sunday, 5:00am. Time to wake up. I could lie and say it was hard to wake up and make this more interesting, but I was keen on getting there and got right up. One Zizzo's coffee later, we were all headed North. "AWW DAMN," I yelled as we were getting on the onramp. "I forgot to get gas." I hate having to backtrack on road trips. I looked at my range and had just enough to make it into Santa Maria. Phew.

About 5 bathroom breaks, 2 gas stops, 2 Serial Killer Podcasts about John Wayne Gacey (gotta love clowns), and every single offline playlist I had later...we were finally entering Mammoth. It was about 2pm. We grabbed lunch and set off for the first location we wanted to check out, the Twin Falls overlook which has a nice vantage point of Twin Lakes. The road out to the lakes is closed during the winter so we had to race about a mile and a half through snow to catch the last of the light.  We made it to Twin Falls just in the nick of time but the lighting wasn't working and the photos were looking quite boring. Pretty views don't always make great photos. For reference, here's what the overlook looks like.

 
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Again, this image didn't really do anything for me. I had no idea how the light in the area worked and I quickly learned this was probably a better sunrise image. I gave up on the shot because it wasn't working, went and took some portraits of my friends, and began the dark, cold, walk back to our car. Needless to say, I was pretty bummed out that I hadn't gotten any "wow" shots.

As we walked past Lake Mary, about a quarter mile from the viewpoint, most of the light had faded but there was still a nice glow along the horizon. I decided to head down to the waterline just to see what I could find. As I drew near, I saw an interesting break in the ice that had some nice lines. The only issue was that it was about 6 feet away from shore, just out of range to be the framing I wanted. I decided to be a little risky and shoved my Tripod into the thinner ice in front. My tripod bounced right off. Okay, maybe it wasn't so thin after all. Three attempts and a close call with the icy water later, I managed to get my first tripod leg through the ice. At this point, I began vigorously hacking at the ice until I got my tripod where it needed to be. Finally...

I snapped a bunch of shots to be safe as I couldn't' really see what I was shooting with the low light and with my camera barely in reach of the shore. Once I reeled my camera in from the lake and checked my images, I was STOKED. I knew I had nailed it.

All that was left was a little over a mile walk in the snow. By this time, no other soul was out. I felt like I had the mountain to myself and my friend, Shawn, who stayed behind with me while I wandered off for this last image. We exchanged few words. All that was audible was the sound of our footsteps crunching through the snow as we continued on through the darkness, content with what we had made of the short time so far in Mammoth. Absolute solitude.

For a higher resolution (zoomable) image of the shot I've described, visit my image on Flickr here.

Solitude is creativity’s best friend, and solitude is refreshment for our souls.
— Naomi Judd
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