Saturday, July 23, 2011


Are we wedding photographers who photograph nature or nature photographers who photograph weddings?? I am always being asked that question in one form or another. My answer is always the same, I am a photographer! I mean why do I need to put more of  label on myself than that? Hell, I was proudly called a "writetographer" by a wonderful writer, Sulekha Rawat. 

I also photograph landscapes, portraits, pets and children. Quite simply, I am a photographer, I think photography everyday, hell I think of it pretty much every hour. You go to a movie or watch TV and hopefully you enjoy the film. I'm seeing scenes and thinking, "That would make a great image". I am photographing something or do post production every day!  

I have photographed many things: the immense happiness of a wedding day, the absolute wonder of the Grand Canyon, some of the great cities of Italy, the innocence of a child, the love in the eyes of a newly engaged couple and the hell on earth of the 9/11 rubble a short ten days after the attacks. I think photographing all these types of images improves me as a photographer. 

As a wedding/event photographer, I lean on many of the skills that I have honed while shooting in nature. Let me give you three examples: 

1) Stamina - Our average wedding day is eleven hours. We start with the bride photographing her preparation about two hours before the ceremony and end our day after the last dance. You need plenty of stamina to stay on your feet carrying a camera, flash and two or three lenses (14 lbs) around all day. On the other hand, if you're out in nature shooting wildlife or landscape, you're also carrying a tripod and a camera bag with all kinds of equipment  (average 24 lbs). You're walking, hiking and climbing great distances over uneven terrain for anywhere from four to eight hours. Believe me, stamina is important in either area.

2) Creativity - Do you know who wants to see new creative images the most? It should be the photographer. When I am shooting a wedding or a landscape, I do not want to cookie cut the images. Now, it is inevitable that some wedding images will be like other wedding images and that a mountain scene might look like other mountain scenes. But a good photographer will look for ways to juice it up, make the images either completely unique or at least have a unique quality to them. They will have a vision that shines through no matter what they are photographing.

3) Ability to think on their feet - Photography is challenging if done right! In the middle of a wedding or in the middle of a landscape,  something can change in a second. The bride's daughter (about three years old) leaves her pew to run up to her mother and she isn't leaving. You're in Alaska photographing a grizzly across a river from where you are and he suddenly charges in your direction. Believe me, you do not have the ability to call a time out in either example. You better be prepared and know what to do and what to look for in each situation.

What is the most important skill a photographer needs for any type photography?? Vision, the ability to see the important part of what is in front of him in his own unique style. 

It seems people have really liked the series of images from Arizona and what was going to be a single post has evolved into a series.
Today, I thought I would you show you a series of images taken in Sedona, Arizona. These were taken in 2010 on and around a mesa  (a large flattop mountain) Below is an example of one.

Ten years previous to this trip, we had climbed a mesa, a little over  a mile up on a trail of switchbacks with some hand over hand climbing. We had made it to the top and walked around looking at the views on a beautiful Sedona morning. The top was also a little over a mile around. I thought it would be a great idea to try it again ten years later. We were awake and on the road by 6 AM searching for our Mesa (Bear Mountain). We found the road and after a short while, I saw it right in front of us.

When we reached it, we parked and looked up to where we were planning on climbing: to the very top!!!

          As I looked at it, three questions came to my mind:

1) Can a mountain grow taller in ten years?????

2) Am I crazy??

3) What the hell is Phyllis doing here with me, after all she is the college educated one of the two of us???

But I'm a guy, so naturally I do not share any of these thoughts with Phyllis. Instead I ask in a confident, strong voice (OK, I'm writing this, that's how I remember it) "Okay, lets go, before we loose the light." We started out not seeing anyone on the mountain. We would seemingly be the first ones on it today. 

The climb can be dangerous and there are some areas where you need to be careful. One misstep and you could have a pretty nasty fall. We would stop and rest every so often. You need to focus on each step. There were areas when I would put my equipment down, (camera, vest with extra lenses, assorted equipment and a tripod) weighing about fifteen pounds and climb a five ft trail going pretty much straight up. When I was up and had a steady foothold, Phyllis would hand me all of our equipment and I would then be ready for Phyllis, when she reached a point that I could help her up. We stopped right before the very top and rested. We were tired but pretty happy that we did it; ten years later we climbed the same mesa and made it to the top!!

You can see Phyllis is happy to be able to rest after we made it to the top. You can also ee all the equipment we were carrying. That vest has many pockets and it is packed with lenses and other equipment. You can see Phyllis' tripod tucked in her vest.

This was the view we saw when we reached the very top and looked out.

From the top, you can see where we started. We then started walking around on top of the mesa, seeing the view from different areas, and seeing the valley below us and the mountains in the distance. In the upper right hand corner you can see a little bit of the roads we drove to reach here.

The actual top looks like any other area of the desert in Sedona. Trees and other plants are growing out of the red rock.

   In the background you can see another mesa, an even taller one.
It amazes me that there is so much growth on the top of this giant rock mountain.

We spent about an hour walking around enjoying the view, solitude and the wonderful clean air, always being aware of where we were and the danger that not being careful could bring! You must be very careful in an environment like this. No matter how beautiful it is, you cannot be lulled into a false sense of security. You could easily fall to your death.

We decided to start our trek back down the mesa before it became late morning, remember this is Sedona, Arizona in July, the air heats up pretty fast.

We took a last look around at nature's majesty, soaking in all the beauty. Truth be told, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had climbed this mesa as a challenge and we made it. Just before we started our climb down, I looked and saw where our car was parked. That white SUV is our rental!

Again, I asked myself those same three questions????????


Bec Owen said...

I guess we do things like this because (somehow) we know the end result is worth it?

From where I'm sitting (comfy at home, lol) your photos show it was well worth the effort!

Seeing all your beautiful photos makes me almost feel as if I'm there...I could almost smell the fresh morning air on top of the mesa!

Thank you so much, Jim and Phyllis!

Alpana Jaiswal said...

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is a beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it. And you both have lived up to it..thank you for sharing something so beautiful..u have seen it..I feel as if I have seen it too...

Hamlet's Lair said...

i come to your blog and i always get the same feeling...'awed'. nature is lovely but you have the gift to make them look lovelier. i like all the images but i picked my faves...the second and third photos.

Nelieta said...

What an incredible adventure Jim! It looks like you make a great team :)

Great photos!

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

I choose photos 6 and 7 as my favorites - I love the blue horizon with the red rock in the foreground. It's great to see another photo of Phyllis too. You both have more stamina than I do! All the gear we carry for photo shoots - I'm always worried I'll leave the exact piece of gear I need at home or in the car so I lug it all. Fortunately if my hubby is along he helps. A beautiful post and great tips!

BlogNostics said...

What great insights you have Jim! You're always a wonder just as your images are.I agree with Sulekha and that makes you unique. Keep it up!

melissa said...

Talk about stamina, creativity and being up to one's feet---that, I realize, makes you fit mentally and physically. I didn't know a photographer's life is that challenging :) Admirable!

I liked every image esp. the fourth, the one with Phyllis in it and the last two in your post. The "Mesa" reminded me so much of N. Africa, we use such places for retreat. The view is somewhat relaxing... loved it so much and your images made me reminisce my old life ;)...memories.

Regarding those three questions...only you could answer that. The second one, well, we have to assess, :P

Keep your creativity level to its optimum. That makes you and Phyllis young :)

I love your post :)I'll continue looking at the images now :P

Prasad N said...

Like a wise men once said in a Ping Pong movie:

Ping Pong not in Racket, Ping Pong in You.

Same way picture is not in camera picture is in the photographer.


Kerrie said...

Love the photos of nature that you take. No photo in your profile?

sulekkha said...

Thank you for the wonderful writer tag. Every time I read your posts accompanying your amazing pictures,I am at a loss for words. Your pictures speak volumes.Loved Phyllis with her thumbs up pose and cameras and bulging pockets. You carry a lot of stuff up the's real hard work but then the end result is spectacular

Alejandro said...

Give me a camera a mesa and a bottle of wine and I'll show you how!

Other than that i love your images Jim


Sea Green Natural said...

Loved the views and glad that you were safe! Good for both of you, for the challenges on and off the camera.

Debbie said...

The answer to your question, because weddings and nature are naturally beautiful..

Oh my, when I saw all that your lovely wife had to carry I thought "no wonder she rest contently with a thumbs up"

Lovely post as always jim.

Thanks for sharing

LOL... ok before I submit this my captiva word was moofflea (wonder if there is such a thing)

fantacy in practicality said...

jim, your photography is my all time favorite. i loved the second picture and the seventh. thumps up too all the energy you and Phyllis have to climb on the top of the hill. Phyllis is so happy and satisfied that she did it. i wish i could be on the top like you in silence. i wonder about the trees almost touching the sky. i feel the bond they have with the hill. they are the best friends supporting each other years after years. the pictures are just wonderful. now i know what attracts you to go over there.

Rimly said...

I think the fun and joy in an adventure is doubled when you share it with your loved one. You and Phyllis really enjoyed and the pictures are as always awesome Jim

Bongo said...

I'm amazed how I find myself holding my breath through your words ..and what you are showing me through your eyes...AMAZING and beautiful...Thank you...As always...XOXOXOXO