Oh, The Things I’ve Done For A Photo

I’ve had friends say it must be nice being so creative. Honestly, it is and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But like everything, there is always a yin for every yang. Having a creative imagination is great, but it can also be a curse when you’re unable to see your vision through to completion and match that perfect, imagined, mental image that haunts you.

Herein lies the rub. There is a moment when everything is up for grabs and anything is possible, and then it happens. The creative spark can be based on anything; lighting, action, emotions, shapes, motion, humor, memory, color, whatever. My brain ‘sees’ the shot, a shot, usually incorporating more than what is right there in front of me, right then. My brain has no problem imagining elements that aren’t there and are usually difficult to achieve; perfect golden sunset rays at high noon, the view from 1,500′ looking straight down, or any countless other perfect, nearly impossible conditions. And it’s usually not enough to just see what’s actually there in front of me. Oh no, it has to be more–the creative curse.

I have a running list of dreamy, far-out, Christo-like, crazy, fun, creative ideas that someday I will probably create. For now, I’m able to park the big wacky ones, but usually it’s the medium-sized, somewhat do-able ideas that really get to me. The real problem with these fun creative ideas isn’t in their inception, nor when the final product is on display. No, those are the sweet times, when it’s all clear and rewarding and perfect. No, it’s all the time between the birth and completion of the idea. It’s in that time when I have to wrestle internally and say things to myself like, ‘what exactly AM I doing, anyway?’ It’s then when I recite my favorite crazy-creative-artist quote from William Falkner – “an artist is a creature chased by demons, he knows not why they chase him, and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.” And then I simply keep moving forward.

So here are some of the crazy things I’ve done to capture the photograph my brain is so determined to get;

  • Woke at 2:30a.m. to drive across the U.P. of Michigan to photograph first light on the Bete Grise lighthouse
  • Stood in lightning storms making multi-second exposures of strikes less than five miles away
  • Had 160mph wind nearly rip my hair off while shooting antique airplanes mid-air from an open cockpit Boeing PT-13 biplane
  • Sat, stood, crotched, collapsed for hundreds of hours waiting for the right light
  • Jumped countless fences and property lines. I think there’s a name for this activity, but I’ve removed it from my vocabulary 🙂
  • Balanced, spread-eagle, on two-inch round tubing temporary fence above the calf shoot at the pro rodeo
  • Rented a six foot diameter inflatable balloon, bought two huge tanks of helium, and lifted a camera 150 feet in the air directly over a Fourth of July parade.
  • Had numerous 2,000 lbs+ horses charge me. (actually they’re just big scaredy cats)
  • Speaking of cats, I almost got into a cage with a full grow female lion. Luckily I got to see her ‘playful’ side before I got in. (I do have limits)
  • Hung from a five-point harness in a helicopter with the doors removed, on several occasions. (this is actually my favorite thing to do)
  • and many other things, some I can’t mention, others I’ve blocked from my memory

Recently, I’ve been focusing on ‘My Tree’ and she’s not doing too well. It’s become obvious her end is nearing and while her beauty remains, I must create more images. Because of my attachment to this tree, I’ve done a few more things ‘to get the photo’ that I really didn’t think much about until afterwards.

See it’s like this, I think the creative mind is similar to an addict’s in some ways. Once something is decided, it’s just not going to be stopped and the creative mind will justify and rationalize extreme means to get to the end result. I started thinking about this fact when the hum of the gas-powered weed-eater started to numb my lofty creative thoughts.


I’ve photographed ‘My Tree’ for years now at different times of the day and throughout the year. And that’s when it clicked. My creative brain, had to take it a step further. Why not photograph the tree throughout the course of an entire day, around the clock.

With this creative plot gelling, the elements began to take shape within seconds. Including the fact that there were now unsightly over-grown weeds surrounding the base of ‘My Tree’. A trip to our garden shed, a quick top-up of fuel and fresh cutting lines, and the next thing I know, I’m was trimming the weeds under ‘My Tree’. Mind you, this really isn’t MY tree. I don’t even know who’s tree it is. It’s in a huge field and I can’t tell who owns the land or the farm, but now I’m not only trespassing (oops, I do have that word still in my vocabulary), I’m operating a gas-powered weed eater and trespassing! My creative brain declares it’s all okey-dokey, because the weeds looked really bad and soon they and the whole tree will look much better. Perhaps I should be seeking help at this point.

Landscaping complete, it’s time for the shoot. Arriving at 5a.m. I started by capturing dark sky images, working my way to the process of light painting the tree. Dawn and sunset proved to be spectacular as predicted, but I also had a nice log of the day. Every hour on the hour, I photographed ‘My Tree’ from the same vantage point. The experience alone was fantastic. It was like spending the day with someone very special. The photos were almost secondary to the overall experience.

Oh, and by the way. I followed up on a rumor that our neighbors are somehow related to this property’s owner. I spoke with our neighbor, who in turn spoke with the owner, and I do believe it was all OKed…um…kinda…after the fact. Apparently, they didn’t notice the trimmed weeds. 🙂

So, what do you think? If you’ve read all this, you must have formed some opinion, right? Am I nuts, or have you experienced similar creative inspirations? What things have you done to ‘get the shot’? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to know. 😉