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Zig-Zag, Alabama Hills, California

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 20 April 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

What makes a "successful" image? Good question. You need to start by defining "success," which means different things to different people. As somebody who makes his living with landscape images, there must be a financial consideration to my image capture, which means I can't be satisfied with a "merely" beautiful scene--there must be something that sets an image apart from all the other images of the same scene. Of course I don't always succeed, but that's a primary goal whenever I venture out with my camera.

But there's another equally important goal motivating me: to simply please myself. When I decided to make photography my livelihood, I made a very conscious decision to shoot only what I want to shoot, even if that means leaving money on the table. I see many photographers, both pros and amateurs, sap the joy from this wonderful endeavor they once loved by shooting solely to make money, or to please others. For me shooting for myself first means no people in my landscapes, no weddings, no portraits, or pretty much anything else that moves (not even wildlife).

Given that I consciously shoot to please myself, I've been very fortunate that the images that make me happy usually please others too. I think other like seeing new things, or familiar things in a new way, so much of my professional success likely stems from the fact that I get little personal satisfaction from repeating what others have done. When photographing familiar subjects I enjoy putting myself on location during unique and/or spectacular conditions, and trying to render the scene in a new and compelling way.

Finding uniqueness in a familiar setting also requires not getting so locked on the scene in front of you that you miss other things happening around you. Last January I brought my Death Valley / Mt. Whitney workshop group to the Alabama Hills to photograph the moon setting behind Mt. Whitney at sunrise. The morning was a huge success as the moon, clouds, and light converged above Mt. Whitney and delivered a truly breathtaking scene.

But what was lost to many photographing the "main event" in the west were these amazing zig-zag clouds in the southern sky just as the day's first rays skimmed the prominent granite outcrops. I called to everyone in earshot (people tend to scatter out here), then quickly exposed, composed, and squeezed off several frames before the light cooled. There really wasn't time to analyze my composition, so I let my intuitive brain take over. Not until I viewed that morning's images at home did I fully register the repeating diagonals throughout the frame--the zig-zag cloud, the distant ridges, the faint, Z-shaped outline of the road to Horseshoe Meadow, and the slanting foreground shadows--that give me the sense that what I witnessed will never be exactly duplicated.

Whether or not this image becomes a huge financial success for me, it will always be personally successful as a reminder of the thrill I experienced when I saw this. And the day I lose the ability to be thrilled by these unexpected gifts of nature is the day I need to find another profession.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Incredible. Serendipity. Wonderful that you were there to capture this. And thanks for sharing it with us !

20 Apr 2010 6:16am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

These clouds are incredible ! And the landscape is really beautiful, I like the warm colors on the foreground !

20 Apr 2010 7:58am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Zorro's sky?...! Compo wonderfully graphic!

20 Apr 2010 11:19am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

great light.

20 Apr 2010 12:15pm

PD from Overland Park, Kansas, United States

Wow - great light, and that cloud formation is quite unique - congrats

20 Apr 2010 4:51pm

Julie from Easton, United States

Simply outstanding! The lighting is so beautiful!

20 Apr 2010 5:20pm

Sandy Weston from Madison, Maine, United States

The terrain in the foreground almost looks like something from out of this world....amazing! I love the shadow of the clouds. Gorgeous shot!

20 Apr 2010 5:35pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Magnificent! Spectacular terrain, light and composition! Masterpiece :)

20 Apr 2010 8:14pm

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thats a wonderful cloud. Well done

21 Apr 2010 1:06am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

The repeating zig zag is so wonderfully subtle. My eye didn't pick it up immediately as a road, but I could feel the repeating pattern all through the image. Also a wonderful reminder to always be open and aware to the whole environment around us- sometimes it is easy to be so enthralled by just one element that it's easy to miss something wonderfully unique right there waiting!

21 Apr 2010 3:22am

Jen from Bartlett, United States

I love the pattern that the clouds give here. The warmth of the colors in the rocks is wonderful. Yet, I get such as sense of coolness with the snow on the mountains. Makes me look over and over again. Nice.

21 Apr 2010 3:32am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

what an amazing composition! the zig-zagging clouds seem almost like a natural extension of the landscape! i love the warm bronze tones throughout - everything just works so well together in this photo!

21 Apr 2010 3:36am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria


21 Apr 2010 3:47am

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

This is a beautiful capture, Gary. I love the light and how you framed this.

21 Apr 2010 10:14am

Marie from FRESNES, France

cette lumière est fabuleuse !

21 Apr 2010 6:05pm

Joy from United States

Such an amazing sky capture......your work is awesome!

22 Apr 2010 3:08am

Bob Towery from Granite Bay, United States

Yes the clouds are great, and unique. But just part of a FAB image. I love the golden foreground. It's all wonderful. Wow, way to go.

24 Apr 2010 3:56am