“Day by Day”
The sun slowly rises while Mt. Hood looms majestically over downtown Portland on a frigid winter morning high above the city.
This vista probably looks familiar to all of you. In fact, this same location was featured as the January Moment and I almost decided to visit the archives to share some old photos instead as a result.
After discussing with Sophie, I decided that while it may not be a different viewpoint, it is a completely different, and important, story to tell. While the view is the same physical location, the shot is entirely different. That is such an important and underappreciated element in the life of a professional photographer.
Photography is not just about the place. It is not just about the time of day, nor the weather, nor other conditions. It is about all of that. The same place is never the same any more than two sunrises are the same.
As the Moment of the Month is all about revealing the unseen – the behind the curtains – I wanted to tell the real story of what it takes to get those photos that may seem effortlessly snapped and posted to Facebook.
We have now visited Pittock Mansion on 6 separate occasions. We have gone at different times of day to evaluate light and used apps and tools to try and isolate the best times to visit. 5 times we woke up at 5:30am to hike up the hill and attempt to shoot sunrise here, but only on this final attempt did we get the conditions we needed to feature Mt Hood.
After all that scouting and attempts, we finally saw Mt Hood and realized we were still about 2-3 weeks early for the shot we want, which has the sun rising up in conjunction with the peak. We will need to return a couple more times still and pray for the right clouds and conditions.
The Facebook photos and short captions are only the highlight reel. The real story is this: sometimes you just get lucky, right place and time and understanding of your craft to get the shot, but more often these photos take scouting, multiple attempts, and a bit of frustration. Funny enough, both are equally rewarding in very different ways.
A rare, clear morning forecast prompted Sophie and me to begrudgingly set our alarms for 5:30am. We had been attempting to scout one particular sunrise photo since arriving in Portland, but it required a lot of things to line up at once. Clear skies over Mt. Hood, and over Portland, and no fog at the viewpoint… this was a big ask in the winter.
We had been through this entire process just three days prior. Up at 5:30, barely speaking to each other while making coffee and trying to warm up, only to drive 25 minutes and hike up a hill to find ourselves in the thick of a high fog that had just formed. These forecasts are no sure thing, we knew, but it is always a lot more frustrating when sunrises go wrong compared to sunsets as the lack of sleep tends to make the entire day a slog.
As we cruised along the 26-East, we monitored the horizon with concern. It was supposed to be completely clear, but there were plenty of clouds. Of course, clouds are a great thing as they are what catches the light and color of sunrise, so long as they weren’t so thick as to block Mt Hood or the sun itself.
We parked up and began walking up the steep hill to our viewpoint. It was 26 degrees, but we didn’t feel it until we had reached the top. Now exposed to the biting wind, we struggled to get our tripods set up despite being dressed for the arctic. The metal legs had partially frozen in place and numb fingers made for poor dexterity.
A layer of clouds adorned the horizon, but Mt. Hood was looming majestically as we had hoped and it appeared as if the show would go on. When we eventually got our compositions and settings dialed in, it was a matter of pacing and waiting, fighting the cold by trying to stay in motion.
Little by little, the clouds began to burn with color. It wasn’t the most intense color we have witnessed, but more than enough to add drama to the scene. The city lights twinkled below and a glow began to form on the snowcapped mountain peak.
The sun finally crept up, much farther to the right of Mt Hood than we had hoped but still well within our frames. We began firing and didn’t stop until it hid behind a layer of cloud above. After 5 attempts we had finally got what we came for… kind of.
As soon as we could justify leaving to escape the cold, we packed up as quickly as possible and began our descent to the car and onward to home.
Flipping through the photos on the camera, we knew we had some special shots, but also knew all too clearly that we didn’t have “the one.”
Some of you may be thinking “what are you talking about, these are great!” It was a beautiful morning and the photos came out very nicely, but there is a difference between great and “the one.” The ONE will have a perfect sun-star creeping just beside the tip of the peak. It will have a fiery sky, and with any luck, a fog inversion below. The one is that photo that every condition is so aligned, you never feel the need to go back. Things can be different after that, but not better.
I wanted to share this story to give a clearer insight into just the first half of what goes into creating the images you see.
Everyone can push a button and take a photo, especially with how incredible cell phones have become in their capability, but the dividing line is all the things the audience never sees.
Its the numerous failed attempts that never got posted to get the one you DO see.
Its the hours spent scouting, studying, checking forecasts, and planning trips.
Its the days spent culling the photos for the true gems, only to then spend days more processing them.
Its the hours of lost sleep to hike to that location for Milky Way, or for sunrise.
It is NOT about the camera or the lens or the settings the photographer used. Those are just pots and pans and measuring spoons the chef uses to create a dish. They are the guitar and pick the masters use to make music, but tools alone only indicate potential – not results.
To be honest, Sophie and I have been struggling to find the motivation and conditions to go out and photograph at all at the moment. We have never had our own space to call home, nor been so surrounded by friends as we are in this moment. Combine this with the many challenges that come with winter and what you get are two months of stifled creative motivation.
But as the snow thaws and the weather warms and the milky way season creeps toward us, we hope to start ramping up. Things were easy when we lived on the road – there was no option BUT to explore and photograph. Now we have to prioritize; How many hours can we give to all the things that come with new photo creation: the research, the driving, the alarms, the processing? How many hours can we take away from building a website that we rely on for stable income? How many hours do we take away from meaningful friendships, forming new relationships, and seeing family? From spending quality time together?
This is our challenge in the year to come, and we look forward to sharing the victories, failures, and all the other moments to come.
Click the slideshow below to showcase the featured photos for February in full screen mode.
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We have created a ton of guides to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Whether you are a local or planning a visit, you may want to bookmark some of our top guides:
- Ultimate Oregon Guide: 130 Best Things to do in Oregon
- Top 10 Places to Visit on the Oregon Coast
- Top 21 Waterfalls in Oregon
- Southern Oregon Photography Locations
- Southern Oregon Coast Guide
- Waterfalls of Southern Oregon Complete Guide
- Top 15 Places to Visit in Oregon
- Silver Falls State Park & Trail of Ten Falls Complete Guide
- The Complete Thor’s Well Guide
- The Complete Painted Hills of Oregon Guide
Sophie and I have a lot going on and nothing all at the same time. We both are trying to settle into a new home, new city, and new lifestyle (and a new country for Sophie!) so our first priority is getting ourselves anchored in.
February has been busy with social obligations, tax preparation, and a lot of time staring at screens trying to create enough new content to make sure we can afford to continue to live here ongoing.
March is stuffed with out-of-town visitors and out-of-town visits, but looks unfortunately quiet in terms of photography. There may be a few opportunities presenting themselves, but we shall have to wait and see.
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WE TRULY HOPE YOU’VE ENJOYED A BEHIND-THE-SCENES, GENUINE LOOK AT THE LIFE OF TWO FULL-TIME TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHERS.
2 thoughts on “February Moment of the Month”
Adam and Sophie,
Great gratitude to both of you for “slogging it” up to was it Pittock? to get these photos. There is the one with the sun peaking over the shoulder of Mt. Hood that is perfect in my book. I am so grateful for your dedication and perseverance. I appreciate that you two share your trials and tribulations, as it is all truly the life of a photographer. I still liken you to Ray Atkeson – as he was just as dedicated, as his shots so showed. I bow down in gratitude to you both.
Thank you so much for your kind comment, it is so heartwarming to read. Yes, you are absolutely right, it was Pittock Mansion. We were happy to finally be able to capture something from there after so many failed attempts 🙂
That’s such a wonderful compliment, his work is so iconic. We are just as grateful to you for your support and kindness.
All our love,
Sophie & Adam