Why Sleeping in a Car for Three Hours is Normal on a Photography Trip

Rick is nudging my shoulder to wake up and the only thing that I can do is try to murmur something threatening to him, after all it was his idea to try to take sunrise pictures anyway. We were up til 3am doing photography of the Milky Way at Oxbow Bend, and now he's trying to wake me up while I rest.

"Ryan, there are buffalo in our photo. Hurry up!" Says Rick trying to convey his excitement while wanting to remain quiet.

I hear the word "buffalo" and my eyes pop open and I get up from the reclined front seat of Rick's Dodge Caravan, "yeah ok Rick I'm ready to go."

It was the summer of 2013 and we were in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyoming to shoot landscapes for a week. The trip was winding down but our "hit list" was still going strong and one that Rick and me had agreed on was getting a shot with some bison in frame with the Tetons.

Landscape Photography Means Making Sacrifices

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Don't let anyone kid you, landscape photography isn't just some easy gig with normal hours and a guarantee to get good shots. Chasing light means waking up while you'd rather be sleeping, sleeping when the rest of the world is awake, and often times for Rick and I, very late nights. In fact, landscape and nature photography is similar to a drug in some regards. You get the great light, a beautiful scene and you're in the right place at the right time; it feels like you're getting high. Everything is wonderful and you feel this euphoria over what was just witnessed. The opposite can be like going through withdrawals or crashing, you find yourself sleep deprived, moody, irritable, and you even question why you do this photography thing in the first place because you don't make any money off it. Those great moments are the ones that keep you coming back, keep chasing that light.

I've slept the night in a car more times for the sake of photography than all others combined, I have a custom mattress for my Toyota Tundra that fits in the bed of my truck. I'm the furthest thing from a "morning person" and yet the light is best at sunrise on the Front Range in Colorado. If that's not irony, I don't know what is. Rick and I joke that when we get together, we are detrimental to each others' health because we're always going, always sleep deprived, always trying to squeeze the most out of a day. It's unsurprising that I have taken most of my "best" shots with Rick, because I found someone that I can make sacrifices with and that is what makes the journey fun.

The hardest part about doing landscape photography for me as an extrovert is spending time alone doing a creative pursuit. Almost every time I get the itch to go and do photography, I realize that I would rather be doing something with a group of friends instead of spending time by myself practicing my art. I have to be willing to make that sacrifice though, I have to deny myself the pleasure of being able to spend time with friends to go out and chase the light. There are other times when I have to sacrifice doing photography because I should go be a good uncle to my niece and nephew, or go be a good friend. There is a balance there and lately, the balance has been all time with friends for me and rarely any photography. Which leads me to my next point below.

I’ve slept the night in a car more times for the sake of photography than all others combined, I have a custom mattress for my Toyota Tundra that fits in the bed of my truck.

Landscape Photography Requires Perseverance

North Clear Creek Falls is a gorgeous waterfall in southwest Colorado and is a highlight every time I get to visit the area, plus the added bonus of having a family cabin nearby means I have made a lot of visits to this great waterfall. In fact, I have made no less than 20 visits since 2006 and those are just the visits I have made with my camera. I've scrambled on the rocks below the rim, I've sat next to the waterfall at the top and at the bottom, and I have been there in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. I have been there at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, and night too. I have seen my fair share of North Clear Creek Falls.

 North Clear Creek Falls near Creede, Colorado at sunrise on a summer morning.

With all of those visits you might expect me to have a whole gallery of photos just decided to North Clear Creek Falls, and yet I have three photos from the falls that I have ever made for sale. I have COUNTLESS photos that are really quite rubbish from all of my visits, and that's the way I think it has to be. Is the light going to be spectacular the first time you make a visit to a spot? Probably not. Maybe it will the second time, the third time, the fourth time, etc. and it's also possible that you'll never get to see that truly special light. In order to do landscape photography, you have to be willing to visit a place many times to fully capture your vision of what you want to produce. At least that's the way that I look at landscape photography, I "see" a photo in my head and I think about the way to produce that photo. What time of day do I need to be there? What time of year do I need to be there? Good weather? Bad weather? Sunrise? Sunset? All of those questions go into the planning long before I have taken a photo.

Landscape photography requires perseverance to keep coming back, to keep pushing onward in your journey of learning, and to keep getting up while everyone is sleeping. Often times, my best photos come with I'm exhausted, sleep deprived, and yet somehow feeling creative. It's like a shot of adrenaline to see the elements coming together that will make a great photo. More often than not too, photography in general just takes a willingness to persevere. Keep shooting, even if you think the light isn't good, the scene isn't epic, it's cloudy, it's sunny, or whatever the reason. You have to keep shooting, keep practicing, and keep learning if you want to have any sort of passion for a creative pursuit.

What keeps you going when it comes to photography?