“LOST IN THOUGHT”
There are months where I cannot wait to scribe the Moment of the Month. The story and emotions feel trapped inside, waiting to be released into the world.
This was not one of those months which, ironically, could not be more fitting given the tone of the June Moment.
The region was in the grip of a heat wave but the schedule was set; despite temperatures reaching 122 degrees in my oven on wheels, commercial permit restrictions required that I plunge into the Southern California desert to spend 2-3 days photographing Joshua Tree National Park.
Three months ago, Joshua Tree was one of the stops I was most excited for. Despite having been to nearly every continental national park in the US, I had somehow never made it to this one. As the time approached for my visit, however, enthusiasm had waned.
For starters, I had been told I needed to choose 3 locations to photograph and schedule exact times to be there. A ranger was going to chaperone my entire visit, leaving no room for flexibility. Trying to schedule times and locations to photograph a park you’ve never been to is as backwards as sending a chef shopping for ingredients and then telling them the dish they’ll be preparing when they’ve returned.
The funny conclusion is that when the date of arrival was finally upon us, suddenly the park lifted the restriction! Personally, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a ranger had no desire to follow me around for 3 hours at a time each day during a 120+ degree heat wave.
But it wasn’t just the heat and the rigid scheduling that was causing my upcoming visit to feel more work than play. Sophie’s visa interview was coming up directly following and if everything went to plan, I would be picking her up in a little more than a week. The anticipation of finally being together again, of being able to share the journey (and the work!) and to be able to have someone I could count on through the highs and lows made every preceding day even harder to stay present. My mind was in the future and the moments were suffering as a result.
When I applied for “the dream job” (as it was described), I never ignored the keyword… job. Whether I felt in my heart and head like spending the day hiking in the heat and photographing didn’t matter. I had a job to do.
There was also a rapidly closing Milky Way window and I would only get ONE night to shoot it while at Joshua Tree. Though the park is a beautiful place any time of day, it was the night photos I had seen that had me most excited.
As the temperatures dropped to the low 100s in the hours before sunset, I made the most of the time by scouting out a location to shoot golden hour and Milky Way. A half-moon would be lingering through most of the night, which makes the Milky Way much harder to pick up in detail. There is a trade-off, however, in that it provides a lot of ambient light for the foreground. Though it would be challenging, I knew this would be a good night for shooting.
Fortunately, I had done some research of the area and knew where I wanted to shoot. As soon as I was done with sunset, I hiked straight to Arch Rock to set up for an evening shoot and waited… impatiently.
Eventually I found myself simply too bored to sit there any longer. This is an important distinction as I don’t remember the last time I was truly bored, whether out in the field or anywhere else. We live in an age where a world of information and entertainment is always at your fingertips, and I was sitting in Joshua Tree National Park under the stars with my camera ready for an epic capture… how was I bored?
I went back to the van, leaving the tripod where I had scouted the shot with plans to return when the Milky Way was in position. My hope was that some food and rest would reinvigorate the spirit. But when I returned to the scene and saw everything aligned and began getting the shots I would need, I felt nothing. No high, no low, no amazement, just acknowledgment and indifference.
Checking the back of the camera to review what it had recorded, I could see immediately that this was a winner. I knew it would be a photo that I really, really loved after processing… but I felt no joy in the moment.
For the rest of the night, I went through the motions of including the human element and collecting the secondary and tertiary shots I had scouted. Each time I would look at the photo that had just been captured with full confidence that everything was dialed in precisely, but the thrill of victory was absent. It was like being on a hamster wheel, dialing in the same old settings and just collecting photos.
And still, I stayed out shooting until the Milky Way was gone. I knew this would be my only chance to get these shots on the visit and treated it as such. When it was over and I was back in the van with just 2 hours of sleep available before getting up for sunrise, it occurred to me that this was a moment I would need to be mindful and cautious of. The idea that the thing I did for enjoyment, my biggest opportunity for fulfillment and escape, was becoming something I looked forward to being over.
If you are reading this wondering how someone who has dedicated their adult life to photographing the world’s most beautiful landscapes can be so indifferent in a moment like this, then that makes two of us. It is a moment that has forced significant introspection, and the only conclusion I have arrived at so far is that freedom of choice is a necessary ingredient in the recipe for enjoyment.
The Moment of the Month was created in part because I thought people would be interested in what life is truly like behind the scenes for a full time travel photographer. In a world where false narratives and realities are constantly presented through social media, I wanted somewhere that I could be honest.
So far there has been exhilarating sunrises, peaceful nights under the stars, terrifying cougar encounters, moments of redemption, and even first love. If this month’s moment is unexpected, it is worth knowing that I felt the same way while writing it.
Regarding my reunion with Sophie, we had some amazing news when her visa got approved and she received her documents in time to make the flight we had pre-booked. Being contracted for a full-time travel job makes organizing airport pick-ups and such challenging, but we had an opportunity to fly her in for a great price on a date that would allow us some days off to just relax and enjoy non-work time together, while also being right on the way to surprise family in Southern Oregon. We were excited for Sophie to see her nieces, who she has watched grow up from a laptop, and to meet her 3-year-old twin nephews for the first time.
Unfortunately, fate delivered another gut punch yesterday, the day before her flight, when she tested positive for Covid. Despite being fully vaccinated, the diagnosis was confirmed and everything had to be cancelled.
We will obviously work diligently on finding a way to sync up as soon as we are able, but are now at the mercy of negative tests and available flights, as well as maintaining the Pure Gold travel schedule.
Personally, I now intend more than ever to use a break in the schedule to put the camera down, surround myself with loved ones back home, and try to find a way to rediscover my joy in the sound of a camera shutter again.
Enjoy these additional photos taken in the month of June from Joshua Tree National Park.
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We have created a photography guide to Joshua Tree National Park, as welll as various guides to other national parks nearby. Be sure to check them out if you are planning a trip or daydreaming of one!
This month’s Photo of the Month was “Lost in Thought”.
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No new announcements pending Sophie’s negative test result and coordinating flights and schedules. We truly hope to have her here by the end of the month.
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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.
Where to Next?
The Michelob ULTRA journey takes a brief pause while I visit family in Oregon before continuing on to Yosemite and Death Valley… it’s gonna be a hot one!