Serendipity God’s Gift to Photographers – Part II
The purpose of this three-part article is to review my experiences with serendipitous capture of unanticipated scenes and events, and to understand the subtle ways in which my photography has benefitted and can apply to future work. And, is there worthwhile advice that I can pass on to others?
Part I covered the circumstances underlying 18 images made in the years 1993 through 2012. If you haven’t read it, it you are advised to do so before reading this current article (Part II).
Publisher’s Note: My apologies for some long delays between articles. I had COVID on my Palouse Workshop and while I had mild symptoms; I was able to test negative after a week. Two other people also came down with COVID during the workshop and they are fine now. We had to cancel the next workshop and after I was negative test; I traveled home. Since then I have suffered from COVID fog or, as some say, a COVID hangover. I literally had no energy or enthusiasm to do anything. Luckily, that has now pretty much gone away and I am in major catch-up mode. So, there should be more articles on a more regular basis as well as updates to future workshops. Seems COVID is out there big time. I know of two other workshop leaders who have come down with COVID while on a workshop or had attendees that did. Let’s hope this soon ends. Thanks for your patience.
Part II: Years 2014 – 2020
Bobbie and I spent the 2014 Mother’s Day weekend at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, a place special to me when I lived close by as a child. Following a wonderful brunch, we stepped outside for a planned walk around the hotel grounds and were shocked to see several inches of snow on the ground with more on the way. The sun peeped out for a minute, and I stopped to look while Bobbie walked on. My momentary disappointment gave way to wonder as I saw one of the most serene snow scenes ever, including a swan in the lower left.
On another part of the lakeshore, a different type of family scene awaited.
I was surprised how easily these young goslings adapted to snow but shouldn’t have been. Migrating Geese do spend part of their lives in Canada after all. In less than five minutes I had two great candidates for Christmas cards. It is amazing how easily some great accomplishments occur with little effort. That’s why they should be viewed as gifts.
We had just checked into the Chicago Waldorf Astoria when my wife looked out the window and saw this scene. For both of us, who live in a small southwestern town, it seemed odd that anyone could relax in this dense environment (especially without a guardrail). There is something poignant about this scene.
As soon as we entered Badlands NP in South Dakota a large flock of Desert Bighorns appeared and took up positions on the sandy hilltops. I had anticipated shooting landscapes. But this was the first time I realized that South Dakota wildlife was abundant. The Bighorns’ antics were fun to watch and capture.
We spent our last day in South Dakota on a private 11,000-acre ranch dedicated to saving and sustaining wild horses. Having owned horses, I thoroughly enjoyed photographing these beautiful and sociable animals. We fell behind in our schedule but left just in time as a massive storm cloud was quickly bearing down on us. It was part of a wide-spread weather front moving south toward Wyoming, where we were headed. I grabbed a single shot, and then raced to stay ahead of the deluge. The one shot is a keeper. It shows brightly lit meadows under a darkening sky. I would have missed it had I left on schedule.
Besides Arizona these toads are native to parts of Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. They can grow to three inches in body size, and their skin secretions are toxic. I found this guy perched on my front patio table one morning and grabbed my camera. Because they have few enemies, they’re inclined to take their time, which was lucky for me, as a single closeup wouldn’t have much depth of field. I had to use focus stacking, requiring 12 exposures to get all of it in sharp focus.
On a South American cruise, we stopped at the eastern port of Colonia del Sacramento, a World Heritage Site, to see the original streets and buildings dating to 1690 when the town was founded. I spent a few hours photographing the charming old structures when four local teenagers wearing the latest sportswear approached me and said, “Take a picture of us!” I complied, though I didn’t realize at the time that this informal portrait was a better representation of Uruguayan life than a bunch of old buildings. Thank you, guys!
Photographing wildlife was the furthest thing from my mind when we stopped at Desert View at the East entrance of Grand Canyon NP – South Rim. The views are always breathtaking. While I walked around the historic site, I encountered this Elk cow who had no fear of me. Not wanting a bunch of people in the shot, I waited until she crossed the road, and then sat down on a rock six feet from her. Her calm demeanor resulted in a rare wildlife portrait with a magnificent old Juniper tree as a background.
My wife and I were enjoying a walk in Balboa Park and were about to enter the Botanical Garden building. There is a lovely Koi Pond in front with striking crimson-colored Water Lilly blooms. This time there was something extra. A wild Egret from nearby marshes discovered the Koi and was fishing for their young. I made several exposures before he took off.
Bobbie and I left our favorite Chinese restaurant one evening, and immediately noticed the red-striped sky with deep blue background. When we reached our car, I noticed an unusual coincidence and picked up my camera. The American flag motif of the sports car parked next to me echoed the sunset. The only challenge was to match the subdued reflectance values of the car to the sky brightness. Fortunately, the small camera that I kept in my car had a built-in flash.
I have visited Ouray, CO many times. Route 550 north from there follows the Uncompahgre River to higher elevations. Though pretty, I usually don’t stop until I get much further north. In October 2017 I did. It wasn’t because of the beautiful yellow foliage along the river. It was because of the iridescent yellow color of the river itself.
I suspected that periodic leaching of heavy metal minerals in old mines had been released into the river. Upon researching this I learned that these sediments collect at the bottom of the Ridgeway Reservoir as accumulated melt waters leach out the metal salts from the mine tunnels and then flow to the reservoir. At least annually, the Parks Authority releases sediment-rich water from the bottom of the reservoir to avoid excess buildup. This discharge goes into the Uncompahgre River flowing down to Ridgeway and Ouray and is what I photographed.
While closely monitored for downstream impact, there is no long term economically feasible remedy for sealing up the extensive honeycomb tunneling created during Colorado’s long uncontrolled mining history.
During intermission for an Orange County Performing Arts Center play in 2017, I stepped out onto the balcony and witnessed a striking sunset in an urban setting. Mounted on my camera was a Sony 12-24mm wide angle zoom to use on interior shots, which proved perfect for recording this unanticipated outdoor scene.
As might be inferred from the Mother’s Day snow image earlier in this article, this is not a day that I plan on taking photographs except of my wife. Yet, for the second time on Mother’s Day, something unanticipated happened. (I can hear some readers saying “Yeah, right!”)
My wife and I went to the Mariposa Restaurant which has some lovely views of Sedona red rock countryside. As we were waiting for dessert, I noticed that several wind-sheared clouds had blown in and pink edges were forming from the setting sun. I had a feeling that this was shaping up to be a rare scene and asked my wife to excuse me for a moment. When I got to the edge of the restaurant property the landscape was already in deep shadow except for a brightly lit foreground slope with pink Penstemon flowers. The clouds had turned a vivid pink as well. I took three quick exposures and returned to the table in less time it would have taken to visit the men’s room. From the smile on my face my wife knew exactly where I had been. As an ardent painter, she has compassion for the compulsions of a Nature photographer.
Making this exposure was not unanticipated. However, it proved uninspiring, and was set aside. Two years later I accidentally converted it to black & white and seeing potential I did more precise editing. This accident led to a striking image.
With family visiting for the 2020 Holiday season, we took them for a walk at Dead Horse Ranch State Park for something different. Though a pair of Bald Eagles live there year-round, the location doesn’t inspire many landscape images in the Winter, or so I thought. As we walked toward the lagoon, I noticed the line of a dozen bare trees and their reflection. I was only carrying a 50mm normal lens for family shots, but quickly took a series of overlapping vertical exposures. The resulting panoramic image was the perfect way to present this scene.
As I spend more time reviewing these images, I understand their significance better, and how they add additional dimensions to my work. Since I retired from business my focus has been on Nature photography, specifically landscapes and wildlife. I had forgotten an earlier time when I got pleasure from capturing a variety of subjects. In retrospect, I defined myself too narrowly, and in the process, lost the value and pleasure of spontaneity. I must have realized this subliminally, which is why I was compelled to do this review and analysis. I expect that more will reveal itself as I complete the last part of this article which I will gladly share with my readers.
To see the scope and essence of Harvey Stearn's photographic art please visit www.CameraStops.com. Mr. Stearn began photographing Western landscapes and wildlife at the age of 13, spent 50 years pursuing his passion in the field and in the darkroom before fully converting to digital photography in 2002. He developed color prints as well as monochrome, but switched over to digital capture and editing in 2002. Though he was a top executive for two large scale land development and home building corporations, he always found time for his fine art photography which won many awards. His work was exhibited in art museums in Southern California and Arizona, and was also featured in billboard advertisements and published in magazines. Mr. Stearn served on the California Arts Council for nine years, including two years as Chairman and another two as Vice Chairman. In addition, he was the founding Chairman of the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission in Orange County, California. Mr. Stearn’s work was sold through Arizona galleries for 15 years. In recent years he wrote 21 illustrated articles for PhotoPXL.com and 14 articles for Luminous-Landscape.com. In 2013 he published a book entitled “In Search of the Old West” which has been widely acclaimed. He was a guest lecturer on photography on a cruise ship visiting Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. His work was among the top 100 images printed in NANPA's Showcase publications in 2019 and 2020. Images have been edited and selected for two new books on Landscape photography which will be published in late 2022 and early 2023.