Every year during our summer vacation, my uncle would take my brothers and I on a camping trip somewhere in the Desert Southwest. We started looking forward to these trips months in advance. As an adult, I still look forward to time spent going to the desert.
I spent several days hiking through the Utah desert during Memorial Day weekend in 2011. I told everyone the purpose of the trip was to practice using my then relatively new DSLR camera. This statement was not entirely untrue. However, in reality, I was still reeling from some events at work that forced me to rethink many things about what I wanted out of my career. I needed time to get away and clear my head, and that's exactly what my time behind the camera lens gave me.
I hadn't been to Arches National Park in 10 years, and it was perhaps 20 years since I'd been to Canyonlands National Park. At first, I found myself looking through the camera lens frantically trying to capture the beauty and vastness of these remarkable places. But soon my pace slowed, and I found each park's (and my) natural rhythm. I recall one hike in Canyonlands along the canyon rim from Grand View Point Overlook. The trail ended at a sheer cliff edge. There I stood with this open rugged terrain stretching out below me as far as I could see. Not another person was around. The birds flying on the wind were my only company. I understood perfectly why this area of the park is called Island in the Sky.
Recently, I attended a week-long photography workshop in Sedona, Arizona, with Tim Cooper and the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. I'll write more blog posts as I continue to reflect on the experience. However, a fundamental lesson that my time in Sedona taught me is that photography isn't about rushing to get as many shots as possible. A memory card full of snapshots is no substitute for one or two well-made photographs. The key is to slow down and think about what I want out of each photograph. Why do I want to take this photograph? What do I want to communicate? What is the subject? Once these fundamental questions are answered, then I move on to the technical questions. What lens and focal length do I want to use? What depth of field do I want? Where will I set my focus point? What combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO will give me a good exposure?
My time spent last year at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and more recently in Sedona reinforced what I have come to value about going to the desert. Going to the desert allows me to slow down, listen to the universe, reconnect with myself, and rejuvenate my soul. A welcomed byproduct of this process is that I find countless opportunities for making great photographs!