By Gary Hart
One frigid fall morning a few years ago, my brother and I trekked in the dark to a remote Mono Lake beach. Our effort was rewarded when the rising sun illuminated a formation of parallel clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. As if that wasn’t enough, the drama overhead was duplicated perfectly on the glassy lake. I’ve never witnessed anything quite like it. But how to capture the electricity of being there, using a device incapable of reproducing the human experience? We all want to move others with our photography, to create images that transcend the literal and the evoke the emotion of moments like this morning at Mono Lake, but sometimes inexplicably our efforts fall short.
I’m fortunate to be able to photograph, and guide photo workshops through, some of the most beautiful scenery in the world—Yosemite, Death Valley, Hawaii, and the Eastern Sierra. Not only do these trips allow me to witness nature at its best, they also enable me to observe (and learn from) other committed photographers. Whether we’re photographing a full moon rising above Half Dome, Mono Lake by moonlight, sunrise on the Death Valley dunes, or Hawaii’s Kilauea Caldera beneath the Milky Way, I’m struck by these photographers’ single-minded concentration. When the magic starts they get right down to business, monitoring exposure and crafting compositions with the focus of a brain surgeon—the more dramatic the scene, the more they buckle down. While this focus is admirable, I’ve come to realize that most photographers (myself included) sometimes become so immersed in the act of creating images that they overlook the single most important component of transcendent photography: The feeling of joy and awe.
On mornings like this one at Mono Lake, instead of clicking like a relentless machine until the magic passes, for just a few minutes I stop shooting and start feeling. Not only does my photography benefit, so does my entire sense of wellbeing. Now when my workshop groups are gifted with nature’s magic, I encourage everyone to pause long enough to actually see what they’re photographing, to step away from their cameras, absorb the moment, and simply appreciate that they may just be witnessing the most beautiful thing happening on earth at this moment.