My Worst and Best Moments as a Photographer

“My Worst and Best Moments as a Photographer”

by Frank Leonard

In the summer of 2012 I attended a Mindfulness-Photography workshop at Upaya Zen Retreat Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with master landscape photographer George DeWolfe.  It was a turning point in my life and in my photography, in the way I see and in the way I photograph.  Within a few week period of time, I would come to experience both my lowest and my highest photographic moments to date, in a love of photography that stretches all the way back to my youth.

One of the most important things I learned from George was to experientially allow myself to take in a location or a scene, rather than first grabbing for my camera and beginning to shoot.  To step back from the camera, from the tripod, to close my eyes, to come back into this moment and this place, to take a deep breath, and then, and only then, to open my eyes and slowly experience what it was that was calling to me to be photographed.  In the same vein, it was important to not assume what it was that was to be photographed, but to be open to the changes and the spontaneity of each moment.

My wife Joyce and I traveled beautiful locations in the Southwest following that workshop.  One of them was Monument Valley.  The day we were there was not the best for photography, overcast, rather bland coloration. On our way out of the park, about four in the afternoon, I noted that there was a strip of open sky on the western horizon, which the sun would move into at sunset.  We decided to stay, even though sunset was several hours away.  With great patience, I found just the right location, and had my camera all set up.  For hours we waited.  At one point I decided the wait wasn’t fair to Joyce and suggested we leave.  Her reply, “Would Ansel Adams leave right now?”  We stayed  :o)

Sure enough, just before sunset, the sun moved into that open space and threw its majestically warm light upon the scene in front of me.  Also at that same moment, a tour bus pulled up and dozens of people descended, one of them a little girl who ran right into my scene.  I was instantly irritated and made enough of a grunt about it that her mother noticed and quickly removed her daughter.  After cleaning up the sand of footprints, I took this photograph.

Evening Glow - Monument Valley

It’s a fine photograph, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I may have passed up a moment that would have made this photograph priceless, a little girl in a white dress dancing in the sand of this awesome scene.  Truly my lowest moment as a photographer.

A couple of weeks later, after returning home, a perfect storm of photography occurred; an illegal to enter spectacular location, which I had gained permission to hike into on a one-time basis, an unbelievably beautiful sunset and full moon rise, a young model, who while she had never modeled in the nude before, was an absolute natural, and my new eyes fresh from my workshop in Santa Fe.  The two of us started our hike in about an hour and a half before sunset.  About half way to our destination, we passed by a location on our left where a huge tree rose majestically into the air, with a huge rock alongside.  It stopped me in my tracks.  I asked my model if she would be willing to hike over to the rock and climb up on top of it, so I could photograph her with her arms stretched upward, just like the tree.  Her response, “But what if we miss the sunset?”  And here came my proudest moment as a photographer.  I gently put my hands to both sides of her face, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Please, for this shoot, let’s just take things as they come.  Let’s not pass up this moment in search of some other.”  She got it.  And here is the photograph we created.


And there you have it.  My least proud and my most proud moments as a photographer.  May these be moments that I never forget, as I live and as I photograph.

Frank Leonard – September 20, 2015 – Ben Lomond, California


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