It occurs to me that many people are probably aware that I post a new photograph every day — but that few know how long I’ve been doing this nor my reasons for this seemingly obsessive task. Today I’m sharing a bit of the back story.
I’ve been building and operating websites since about 1995. I’ll skip over a bunch of other interesting (to me) steps in the previous millennium and my first adventures with weblogs (now known as “blogs”) in the 1990s — though this could be a story for another day. Early on I created a blog about backpacking and other outdoor subjects called “Dan’s Outside,” and it gradually came to hold more and more photographs. At some point — likely around the time I acquired my first DSLR in the early 2000s — the photographs began to be the primary focus, and in 2005 I created a photography blog. The photograph at the top of this post was one of the earliest I shared, back in July of 2005.
Although I have not kept careful records, it looks like the daily photograph posts probably began to appear about a month later in August 2005, and they have continued mostly without a break since that time. That’s a lot of photographs! I haven’t actually counted, but it must be getting close to 3000 or more.
Thoughts about seasonal light in the Range of Light…
It is no secret that I can find something to love about every season in the Sierra Nevada — the storms and snow of winter, the wildly flowing water and new growth of spring, and the lazy days of summer that bring easy access to the high country. But if I had to pick one perfect day in the Sierra high country it would be in fall.
This ideal day would come some time between the middle of September and the middle of October, when it becomes increasingly clear that summer really is ending and that winter really is on its way. This is not a wild season — no giant winter storms, no raging rivers and waterfalls, no spectacular growth and colorful fields of wildflowers. It is a quieter time. The crowds are almost all gone, and the people you do meet there are more likely to be those with a deeper relationship with this range.
The light is beautiful — perhaps as beautiful as it gets — and perhaps even more precious because it doesn’t last as long on these shortening days of the late season. The sun is lower in the sky and less intense, and there is often a muted, golden quality to the light, amplified by the golden colors of dry meadows, the beginning of fall colors, and softened by seasonal haze. And it is all the more sweet because we know that winter is just around the corner and that these days will end very soon.
A pair of trumpeter swans in flight above Skagit Valley farmland on a cloudy and rainy day, Washington
I had about four or five hours in the Skagit Valley area of Washington in the beginning of December, after the tasks I had gone to Washington for were completed early. I drove up from the Seattle area in the rain, and it was still cloudy, windy, and rainy when I arrived – just what one might expect in December in the Pacific Northwest! The last time I had been there, a year ago, I had encountered amazing flocks of snow geese in a field near the road not far from where it rises to cross the river, and my first thought was that I’d see if this was a regular event or if I had just been lucky the previous year. I must have been lucky! This time there was not a goose to be seen, at least at first, at this location.
Given this development, I decided to poke around on some back roads in the area and see if I could get close enough to trumpeter swans to photograph them with my meager little 200mm focal length lens – about half the length of what I would usually use for this sort of subject. By moving carefully, using my car as a blind, and sitting quietly and waiting, I was able to get a few close shots of the swans in a field. I soon figured out that they would occasionally lift off and fly to another nearby field where there were other swans, so I positioned myself (in the car) between the two flocks and settled in to see what would happen. Sure enough, before long groups of two or more swans started to fly my direction and pass close to the car, usually rising a bit as they passed over. This pair made a bit of a turn around me, so I photographed them against the cloud-filled sky.
First, why the heck do I post a new photograph every day?! I have been doing this now for more than five years, believe it or not. (I don’t know for certain when I started, but by dividing the number of photographs in my online gallery by 365, it looks like it may have been almost seven years now!) I have no illusions that it is possible for me to post something close to an incredible photograph 365 times each year, so for this purpose I’ll settle for merely credible! One impetus for this project probably comes from my background in music, where practice is regarded as central to developing and maintaining the ability to function artistically – and a goal is to do the thing so regularly and so often that the doing becomes almost intuitive and the technical stuff becomes less and less daunting – though it never quite disappears. So my daily photographs are essentially the part of my “practice” that I’ve chosen to make public.
Since I’m almost continually producing new photographs – continuing down familiar paths and trying to improve the results or trying things that are new to me – I generate a lot of photographs. My primary goal is to line them up for posting at the blog on that new-photo-per-day basis. I often have at least some photographs ready to go and queued up for posting well ahead of time.
Typically, I might have a week’s worth or so in the pipeline, though there is some variation. On a few occasions I have had nothing ready and I actually had to go out and make a photograph for posting on the day it was posted! On other occasions I’ve had a much bigger line-up of photos ready to go. (Right now my “problem” is that I have too many in the pipeline! I’ve already selected and lined up photographs through the end of March! This makes it hard to post work that I’m doing right now that I would like to share. For example, I have more work from a recent shoot at Point Lobos, some long-exposure work from early January, and there are still photographs from my extensive photography in Utah last fall. (I’m also working on a long term project to photograph musicians, and noneof that work has appeared here yet.)
When a new photograph is ready, it becomes part of a “sharing workflow” that accomplishes the following:
I queue the photograph up at my blog, scheduling its appearance there weeks or even months in advance. I write the descriptive text at the time I put the image in the queue.
Out of habit, I also post the image to my old Flickr account as part of the process to queue it at my blog. (Hint: you can often see my photographs at Flickr before they show up elsewhere, since I have no way to delay the posting there.)
On the day when the photo finally shows up at my blog, I do a quick bit of copying and pasting to create the daily posts at Facebook and Google Plus. The Facebook posts are rather minimal, usually containing little more than the image and the title and basic description, along with a link to the blog. I incorporate more information with the Google Plus posts, including an excerpt from the full post at my blog along with a link back to the blog post. A blog plugin also automatically shares a message on Twitter and a very brief one at Facebook.
From time to time I may also share some photographs at 500px or Pinterest, though that is not a regular part of my workflow.
There are a few variations on this process. At times I’m in places where I simply cannot go online and post – perhaps I’m backpacking or just too busy. When this happens, Facebook may only show the tiny thumbnail image that is automatically posted from the blog, and I may have to forego the usual larger image. I can use a Chrome browser plugin to pre-schedule new Google Plus posts on those days.
Sometimes people wonder how it is possible to find time to do all of this and whether it is worthwhile. The first question is easier to answer. At this point, I have the whole process simplified to the point that it actually takes me very little time. The second question is a bit trickier, but on balance it is worthwhile – though there are days when I think about how it might be a bit easier to simply not post every day… but then I do it anyway! :-)
Dawn light above a San Joaquin Valley marsh on New Years Day, 2013
I didn’t manage to post a real New Years Day photo on New Years Day this year… since I was out and about well before dawn on that morning, thinking that it would be even more fun to greet the new year in the field than to just share a post about it! We were staying in the Sierra foothills and had enjoyed a wonderful New Years eve with friends in the area the evening before. Although we had planned to “call it a night” soon enough to turn in early in anticipation for a pre-5:00 a.m. wake-up call, it was after midnight when we finally got to bed.
We were up at 4:45 – yes, on New Years Day! – and out the door shortly after 5:15, and on our way out into the San Joaquin Valley, where a small group of us assembled at about 6:30 in the darkness. After sleepy “Happy New Year!” wishes we headed off into the first pre-dawn light to look for geese and cranes and other critters. Within a few minutes I stopped along the levee road by these trees to make my first real photograph of the new year as the first light began to turn high clouds over the Sierra a beautiful shade of pink.
A small group of trumpeter swans on a misty day in a Skagit Valley field, Washington
Finding myself in a wonderful place to photograph birds, but without the (rather long!) lens I would usually rely on, I had to think differently about how to photograph the migratory birds of Skagit Valley, Washington earlier this week. I was in Washington for something else entirely, but had brought along a minimal kit “just in case…” but wasn’t really thinking that bird photography might be on the agenda until plans changed and I found myself with nearly a full day free. So despite having nothing longer than 200mm, I decided to drive up there from Seattle and see what I could find.
Among the locals, I hear that the area is especially renowned for eagles – which I saw and (barely) photographed a year ago. But I’m also, and perhaps predominantly, fascinated by the snow geese and the trumpeter swans. The geese remind me of the very similar Ross’s geese that I photograph in California, but the trumpeter swans are birds that I don’t really get to see at home. While the geese collect in huge flocks of many thousands of birds, creating an audio uproar that must be heard to be believed, the swans don’t seem to be such social creatures nor nearly as noisy. When I’ve seen them, they collect in small groups, sometimes very small or perhaps including a few dozen individuals. They seem to assemble quietly – apart from the occasional “trumpeting” – and don’t do anything like the swirling, flocking behavior of the geese. Instead, even so often a couple of them will lift off – taking a long, shallow trajectory like an overloaded airliner lifting off – and then fly at low levels across fields.
Having only my “short” 200mm telephoto, it proved nearly impossible to photograph them in the usual bird photography style – trying to come as close as possible to filling the frame with a bird or two. Instead, I started by thinking about how I could incorporate the birds into the landscape. Here, near the end of an empty road, I turned onto an even emptier road and slowly drove up to where I was reasonably close to this group. I remained in the car, using it as my “blind” so as not to disturb the birds, and I sat quietly making a few photographs as they fed in the field. I decided to go with an interpretation of the subject that did not attempt for anything like objective realism, instead trying to evoke the subjective aspects of these birds, caught in a momentary beam of sunlight against a misty and rainy sky and hills.
An emerging daylily flower in the Commemorative Garden at the Gene and Irene Wockner Hospice Center.
I’m posting today with little additional commentary. This photograph was made at the beginning of August during a quiet hour-long walk in the garden of the Wockner Hospice in Kirkland, Washington, where there was a large bed of these flowers in a shady area.