For a month or so I have been looking at the mountains to the east and scouting for locations from which to photograph them.
I’ve been in love with these mountains since I moved here and realized exactly how close I was going to be living to them. But this recent push to get the perfect view has less to do with my love of the mountains and more to do with a request from a friend.
One of my friends grew up in Kalispell. He grew up looking out his parents front window at those mountains at sunset. And he would like me to capture a very specific view of the Swan Mountains. Now, there are several parameters for this photo. It has to be shot in the winter. It has to be shot at sunset. It has to show the bright pink Alpenglow that he loves.
The way the eye sees and the way the camera sees are two completely different things. I’ve looked at the peaks from his old road. It’s a terrible view for a photograph. Houses, telephone poles, electric wires, and clutter that the eye can ignore and the camera cannot.
One of the first things you have to learn in photography is to see through the lens. The eyes and the brain can tune into a specific subject, mentally fading out all other distractions. The eye see things emotionally, seeing what it wants to see. The camera, however, is perfectly objective. It will record whatever you put in front of it, all of what you put in front of it. So when you are learning photography you have to learn how to eliminate the distractions. It is up to you to compose the shot and remove lamp posts and cars, and anything that takes away from the subject you are trying to capture.
The great thing about the mountains is, you can see them from all over the Flathead Valley. The bad thing is, everyone wants that view. So, there are houses, and fences, and roads, and cars, and wires, and barns and all matter of whatnot that get in the way of the clean, pure view I am looking for. The hard part about this project isn’t the mountains, it’s finding the perfect location.
On Saturday, I had a spectacular night. The peaks were brightly lit in the last rays of sunset and I just so happened to be in Bigfork. As soon as I saw what was happening, I knew I was going to get some great shots. Maybe even the shot for my friend.
This night was nearly perfect. The sky was filled above the peaks with dramatic clouds, that captured the light without obscuring the mountain tops. We had fresh snow and the peaks were positively vibrant. They glowed. In that light, the peaks were simply gorgeous. As I drove, looking for a place to stop and shoot I started wondering if my friend was seeing the peaks. A minute later I got his text: “The mountains are going to be awesome tonight” with the word tonight highlighted. I had to laugh at his timing.
As I said, the night was nearly perfect. I have to say nearly, because I don’t think these shots will be the ones he wants. He really wants the mountains alight with Alpenglow. But I am hoping one of these views ends up being the one he wants. At least then I will know exactly where to go when the right night finally comes.
I’ve got several snowy sunsets still to come for this winter, so I’m not worried yet. But I am determined. I have never tried to capture someone else’s vision before. I go. I find. I see. I fall in love with what I am seeing. And I record it. That’s how my scenic photo shoots usually go. Trying to record what someone else wants, a specific commission tied to what one person has seen and loved his entire life, has been one of the most challenging assignments I’ve ever taken on.