Color my world

Wouldn’t it be great to hang out in a place like Yellowstone, get acquainted with all the trails, scenes, special places and views?  I mean really get to know the place like your own neighborhood so you can predict where to be and when for the really great photography opportunities.

It’s just too far away for me to spend that kind of time there but wandering around the park and eavesdropping on conversations among hikers and photographers there are certainly plenty of people who do have that luxury.  I’m very envious of people who have the time to develop that level of knowledge and then have the time to exploit it to create those “seen in a new way” perspectives.  Getting that conversant with a location like Yellowstone is a definite goal of mine.

But then sometimes you just stumble on the right place at the right time.  I’ve never visited the Artist Point below the lower Yellowstone Falls so one morning I thought I’d drop by and see how the sunrise worked on the scene.  It’s a popular spot, one where many artists have found inspiration in the colored canyon walls, rushing waterfall, trees and sky, so I expected there to be a crowd.  I was surprised, however, to find so many photographers getting camped out at the overlook.  I don’t mean hanging around – I mean serious tripods and cameras.  One glance up the canyon and I knew it was time to use a few more large format slides, so I lugged all my gear down to a spot with a good view and set up with the rest of the horde.

Well, after the attention generated by a 50 year old view camera on a wooden tripod started waning (definitely a conversation starter!), I picked up on some of the conversations around me and realized this crowd wasn’t an accident of overachieving early risers.  That particular time had meaning to this specific location.  Then I glanced up the canyon and saw why.

Lower Yellowstone Falls, Fuji Velvia 100, 4x5" format, 120mm lens

As the sun comes over the canyon wall and starts to shine on the bottom of the falls, the mist thrown up from the rocks starts refracting the light and creating a rainbow.  So that’s what everyone was waiting on, all these knowledgeable photographers who were there just for that moment.  As I set up and made my shots I wondered how many of them had calculated when to be there for this, or had gotten advice from the rangers, or like me, had stumbled on the scene.

The image above doesn’t do the rainbow justice – it’s slightly overexposed.  The colors are very delicate and soft, and short-lived.  Within 15-20 minutes the sun had come over the canyon rim enough to wash out the colors, putting the mist into a brilliant white.

Yes, it’s a standard postcard image, bringing nothing new to the world’s perception of Yellowstone.  But it’s my image, made with my large format camera and color transparency film based on a composition I created and an exposure I set, granted at a time of day I stumbled onto by accident.  Slightly over two years ago, though, I’d never visited Yellowstone, never composed with a view camera, never held a 4×5 transparency in my hand, never thought I would and probably would have laughed at anyone suggesting that was in my immediate future.  Now I have this image and all the learning that comes with it, including a desire for more intimacy with enchanting places like this.


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