Chasing someone else’s vision

fb20150215_big_mtn_1393I have a friend. A great friend. A very particular friend. One might even say a persnickety friend.

This friend loves my photography. Sweet, right?

This friend likes to hang my photos on his wall. And I’m honored.

This friend likes to come to me with projects. It will start off simple enough. Something like…  “Ok. Here is what I want a photo of next.” I listen. And as I listen my head usually starts to hurt. There is this thing that he loves, or this view he remembers from childhood, or this place that is important to him and his family. And so I get an “assignment.” He tells me what he wants, and I go out and try to capture it.

It is incredibly difficult trying to capture someone else’s vision. I go. I see what I can see. Find what I can find. But with these assignments, I’m not looking for what interests me. I am looking to capture the elusive whatever that makes this site special to him.

It isn’t easy. Last time we did this it was a view of the Upper Swan Mountains at sunset. A view he grew up with. This assignment took me all over the Valley and lead to some photos I was really happy with. It also lead to a new photo on his wall. Finally. Now it’s a view of Big Mountain with the nighttime ski lights on.

fb20150215_big_mtn_1463I do not doubt there are more attempts at this to come. The odds that I have successfully captured something he’ll approve for a place on his wall in one attempt are virtually nil. No way I’m getting that lucky.

But while I whine about how hard these assignments are, the truth is I love them. He has good tastes for what will make a beautiful photo and anything that drags me out into the world and makes stretch those creative muscles has to be a good thing. Plus, there are usually other views, other images, other photos to capture while I am work on his project. That was definitely true on Sunday night.

So here are the first round of photos of Big Mountain and some of the other shots I found. I’ll update this post later once I have the stamp of approval or once I have a round two of images to share.

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Those are my favorites of Big Mountain. Here are some of the other views from that night.

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What a night… More to come. Cheers!

 

 

— 30 —

 

Looking back: the best of 2014

The end of the year draws nigh. On the one hand, I am finding it difficult to imagine how an entire year got away from me. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago I was struggling to sign my checks 2014 instead of 2013?

During this holiday week I have been going back through my files from this year to pull together my best of collection from images for the Daily Inter Lake. I’ll use this same set of photos to decide what entries I want to submit for our annual newspaper competition. The great thing about this is, that even though I feel the days fled far too swiftly, I look back at all that was accomplished and I’m suddenly ok with the changing of the calendar. 2014 was good. So now, before I jump into 2015, I want to take this moment to post my favorite photos from this year.

Most of these are going to be chronological. Most. One exception. This first image is a combination of work. The moon and star is an image I captured from Big Mountain, in Whitefish Montana on April 15th. The “Blood Moon.” My fellow Daily Inter Lake photographer, Patrick Cote, was south of Kalispell photographing the same thing. He created the sequence of shots.

Blood Moon over Whitefish

Some of these photos are going to have notes or short stories. But many times, I am going to simply let the image speak for itself. After all, photojournalism is supposed to be about story-telling images, I’m going to them tell their own stories. At least, that is my plan at this point…

Washing Windows

Sunset Peaks

Flathead Girls vs CMR

Boys Basketball: Flathead vs Missoula Hellgate

Class AA State Speech and Debate Award Ceremony

Newspaper work involves an unbelievable amount of driving around, randomly searching for subject matter. You drive the speed limit, even a bit bellow, carefully scanning for signs of some human out living their life. It’s called wild art and most photographers that I have met, hate it. It’s hard. Sometimes you are looking for hours and there are just no people. That’s when you get desperate and start looking for pretty leaves, crazy squirrels, interesting bugs, anything!… Winter is particularly hard. In the summer everyone is outside, in the cold…not so much. That’s when finding a kid out playing street hockey in the middle of the road feels like a prayer has been answered! Yeah! A person! A person outside! A person outside doing something! A person outside doing something that I can photograph for the front page! Thank God my job is saved….

Snowy Street Hockey

Scene from a homicide in Hungry Horse on Valentine’s Day.

Fatal Shooting in Hungry Horse

Profile: Travis Davison

Trumpeter Swans on Flathead Lake

Pond Hockey Tournament

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Crosstown

Hope for Noah

All Saints' Episcopal Church Annual Chili Open and Golf Tournament

My friend Jake Bramante has not only hiked all 734 miles of trail in Glacier National Park, he created a map and hiking guide based on his personal experience. This guy is fantastic. If you are day dreaming of a trip to Montana to see the famous park check out www.hike734.com

New Map of Day Hikes from Jake Bramante and Hike 734

Zachary Klundt in Court

Wrestling: Glacier vs Helena High

Little Guy Wrestling

This photo is a sunrise over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. I like this first version. But I keep getting out voted. Most people like the second version. Including USA Today. Montana was voted the state with the most pride and they used on of my photos to illustrate the story. :)

http://archive.courier-journal.com/usatoday/article/8140879

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Stocking the pond at Dry Bridge Park

Hiking the Highline

Lunch at Logan Pass

Easter at Fresh Life Church. Followed by Pastor Levi Lusko preaching.

Fresh Life Easter

Fresh Life Easter

Swing dancing is one of the great loves of my life. This is my instructor Peter Flahiff, dancing with my friend Miss Caitlin Hills.Dancing the night away

 

Drop Everything and Move at Hedges

Montana SunsetSunset view of Big Mountain

Montana Spartan Sprint Race 2014Florence Nightingale's Birthday

 

This Week in the Flathead: Bibler Gardens

Just another day of driving down the road in Montana…

Bear in Glacier

Memorial Day Ceremony in Columbia Falls

Sunset StrollMontana High School Rodeo State Finals

 

Montana High School Rodeo State Finals

Harlow

Not all the stories are fun. There was a fire at a local mill. In the initial reports 60 people were unaccounted for. This is the group of guys who got in my face and tried to physically intimidate me in an attempt to keep me from taking photographs. I understand the high emotions of the day, but I have a job to do, even when some people don’t like me doing my job.

Fire at Plum Creek

 

 

Mary Lloyd Retires

Father's Day

Montana Life: The Lens Hub

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

Deer at Dawn

Deer at Dawn

Sunrise Meadow

Driving up to North Glacier

Every year, when Going-to-the-Sun Road is finally plowed and opened to the public, the first vehicle in is one of the famed red buses. Rhonda Hendricks, always wanted to be on one of those first buses. This year, with months to live, Hendricks got her wish. Here is the caption:

Rhonda Hendricks takes in the view of the Logan Pass Visitor Center from the famous red bus that carried her and her family up Going-to-the-Sun Road, officially opening the road for the season, on Tuesday, July 2, in Glacier National Park. Hendricks’ family managed to keep the surprise bus tour a secret until the day of. Doug Hendricks, her husband commented that is was wonderful to see her so grateful that she became tearful. The ride was a highly emotional one. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Opening the Road

Fourth of July Golf Tournament

Moonset

Photographing fly fishing is kind always special to me. I loved the book A River Runs Through It, and although this isn’t that river, there is just something about fly fishing in Montana. Later this year, I got to go on float trip/fly fishing expedition. I caught my first fish! It was spectacular. Cold. But worth it.

Montana Life: Cork Coffee Mug

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National Dance Day

Double Rainbow over Flathead Lake

The home coming of pilot of No. 6  Major Jason Curtis, a graduate of Flathead High School, and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds was one of the biggest stories of the year. The Tunderbirds performed for two days at the air show which was attended by 25,000 people.

Major Jason Curtis returns to Flathead High School

Thunderbirds Practice

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Mountain Madness Air Show

North End Swing's annual Smooth Sailing event

Acknowledging Veterans of the Korean War

Cabo Survivor Returns to Montana

Glacier Starscape

2nda Annual Pink Me Up Run

Creston Sunrise

Fire Prevention Week

Black Swan Cygnets

Fall Football Fun

Profile: Halladay Quist

Veteran Profile: James Edmiston

Veterans Day at Whitefish High School

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

 

 

Profile: Micah Groschupf

Hockaday figurines at the KM Building

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

This final portrait is of my favorite story of the year. Mr. Wayne Bolton is a former Untied States Marine who survived the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. I got to tell his story in both words and images. https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/remembering-chosin/

Remembering Chosin

 

 

 

 

Another attempt at the perfect Swan Mountain Sunset

Last night as I left the office for the day, I looked up at the sky and just knew the sunset was going to be incredible. I hopped in my jeep and took off toward Bigfork, to the place where I had such wonderful views last time. But the light was fading fast and honestly I didn’t know if I could make it. So half way there I veered north toward Columbia Falls. This is what I caught….sunset and snowI am adding these photos chronologically. So you can see the way the light changes as it disappears.swan mountain rangeThese photos are part of a project I wrote about a few weeks ago. This is my attempt to capture a beloved set of mountains for a highly particular client. To read that entry click here.storm over the swan mountainsAfter a night like this it is impossible to not feel outrageously blessed. Life is good and I am happy and what could possibly be wrong with the world when there is beauty like this to take in? I know, life is never as simple as that, but in those moments standing alone in a snow covered field, watching the light strike the peaks and bounce up into the low hanging clouds above, my life was perfect.Swan Peak with cloudsI didn’t get to show these to my friend yet. He’ll see them today I hope and maybe, just maybe, one of these shots will be the one that finally wins a space on his wall.Swan Mountain sunsetWhether these win his final approval or not, I had an incredible night. Nights like that, sights like these, remind me how good life really is, and how blessed am I.
Love and best wishes to you all, BrenSwan with Clouds
Favorite of the Swan?
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Vertical of the Swan
Cloudy Swan Mountains
Last light on the Swan Mountains
Last light on the Swan Mountains

The Most Challenging Assignment Ever

Swan Mountain SunsetFor a month or so I have been looking at the mountains to the east and scouting for locations from which to photograph them.

I’ve been in love with these mountains since I moved here and realized exactly how close I was going to be living to them. But this recent push to get the perfect view has less to do with my love of the mountains and more to do with a request from a friend.
Swan Mountain SunsetOne of my friends grew up in Kalispell. He grew up looking out his parents front window at those mountains at sunset. And he would like me to capture a very specific view of the Swan Mountains. Now, there are several parameters for this photo. It has to be shot in the winter. It has to be shot at sunset. It has to show the bright pink Alpenglow that he loves.
Brenda Ahearn PhotographyThe way the eye sees and the way the camera sees are two completely different things. I’ve looked at the peaks from his old road. It’s a terrible view for a photograph. Houses, telephone poles, electric wires, and clutter that the eye can ignore and the camera cannot.

One of the first things you have to learn in photography is to see through the lens. The eyes and the brain can tune into a specific subject, mentally fading out all other distractions. The eye see things emotionally, seeing what it wants to see. The camera, however, is perfectly objective. It will record whatever you put in front of it, all of what you put in front of it. So when you are learning photography you have to learn how to eliminate the distractions. It is up to you to compose the shot and remove lamp posts and cars, and anything that takes away from the subject you are trying to capture.
Swan Mountain SunsetThe great thing about the mountains is, you can see them from all over the Flathead Valley. The bad thing is, everyone wants that view. So, there are houses, and fences, and roads, and cars, and wires, and barns and all matter of whatnot that get in the way of the clean, pure view I am looking for. The hard part about this project isn’t the mountains, it’s finding the perfect location.
Flathead Valley SunsetOn Saturday, I had a spectacular night. The peaks were brightly lit in the last rays of sunset and I just so happened to be in Bigfork. As soon as I saw what was happening, I knew I was going to get some great shots. Maybe even the shot for my friend.
Sunset Peaks of the Swan MountainsThis night was nearly perfect. The sky was filled above the peaks with dramatic clouds, that captured the light without obscuring the mountain tops. We had fresh snow and the peaks were positively vibrant. They glowed. In that light, the peaks were simply gorgeous. As I drove, looking for a place to stop and shoot I started wondering if my friend was seeing the peaks. A minute later I got his text: “The mountains are going to be awesome tonight” with the word tonight highlighted. I had to laugh at his timing.
Alpenglow on the Swan MountainsAs I said, the night was nearly perfect. I have to say nearly, because I don’t think these shots will be the ones he wants. He really wants the mountains alight with Alpenglow. But I am hoping one of these views ends up being the one he wants. At least then I will know exactly where to go when the right night finally comes.

I’ve got several snowy sunsets still to come for this winter, so I’m not worried yet. But I am determined. I have never tried to capture someone else’s vision before. I go. I find. I see. I fall in love with what I am seeing. And I record it. That’s how my scenic photo shoots usually go. Trying to record what someone else wants, a specific commission tied to what one person has seen and loved his entire life, has been one of the most challenging assignments I’ve ever taken on.

Year in Review

I always love looking back through the photos of year. What I did, where I went, what I captured: it never fails to leave me feeling proud of what I accomplished and challenged to do even better next time.

I believe that great things are coming for 2014 and am really excited, but before I close 2013 for good I wanted to share these, my top 12.

Best wishes to you all!
Bren

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Flying Over Glacier

I will never get tired of Glacier National Park. It is my favorite place to visit…photograph…hike…see…explore…look for the Milky Way…wander…sit on a rock by a river and read…see the wildlife…see the sunrise…see the stars.
I love Glacier.

Glacier is never the same. Every day there is a new light and spark of wonder to find. There are countless angles and views and shafts of life and sweeping clouds.
In the years I have been in Montana I have been fortunate enough to fly over the park a few times. But this week I got to go up with a pilot/amateur photographer who understands the light and importance of time of day.

We had an incredible sky. Enormous clouds that made us question the decision to go when we were on the ground, but ended up being a blessing because they gave contrast to the sky and drama to way the light played over the mountains.

I don’t have a lot to say about these images but I wanted to share my new aerial views of Glacier. Ironically the park reopened today after the government shutdown and I was up at Avalanche Trail this afternoon. But I will share those photos another time.

One last note: for those of you who like my photography facebook is the main way I share my images. If you’d like to see more of what I do, send me a friend request.
https://www.facebook.com/brenda.ahearn.1

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12:44 a.m. text messages are awesome!

fb_aurora_borealis3158 It’s 12:44 a.m. It has been an outrageously long day. The dancers are in town for the workshop. There are three more days of classes and dances to be prepared for. Life is outrageously good, but overwhelmingly busy. Then your phone starts beeping. This isn’t my normal alarm clock beep, and not the beep of a call coming in. It’s my work phone. And it is the loudest, most obnoxious sound I can find because this is where I get my text messages from dispatch alerting me to fires and car wrecks and all the other things I have to cover at the drop of a hat. I groan. Make myself get out of bed to get the phone. I keep my phone just out of reach because if I can stay in bed and “accidentally” turn it off,  I may not get out of bed at all. But the message isn’t from dispatch, it’s from a friend who works for the Sheriff’s Department. “Northern lights are over big mountain!” … Ok. … Go!

I have never seen the Northern Lights. I remember hearing of them when I was child, seeing videos of the dance across the sky and dreaming that some day I would get the chance to visit Alaska or Norway or wherever, so I could see them for myself. As it happens, Kalispell, Montana at 48 degrees North is north enough to see the Aurora Borealis. Still, I’ve been here three and half years with no sign of them. So when that text came in, suddenly it doesn’t matter that I am sleep deprived, or that the next few days are going to be exhausting. All that matters is I need to be outside, with my camera, RIGHT NOW!

I grabbed my clothes, boots, camera, and keys and was out the door in minutes.

fb_aurora_borealis3161Wow. What a sight. From my back porch (which is near downtown) it was hard to discern the difference between the Northern Lights and the light pollution. Where to go? Answer: call the friend who sent the text. He sent me south of town toward Highway 40. I actually got on JP Road and this was where I got my first clear view and fell instantly in love.

As I said, I had never seen the lights, I had no idea how long they would last. That uncertainty led to some moments of silliness on my part. I was speeding and scrambling and not really thinking about compositions early on. Luckily there is a bridge on JP Road and as I crossed that I suddenly knew exactly what was needed — water. If the sky is gorgeous, find water to reflect the sky and voila! twice as much sky. This is an ancient photography rule. One I know well. It wasn’t until after I crossed the bridge that I figured that one out. But finding that bridge actually set the tone for the night.

fb_aurora_borealis3173After JP Road, I went to Whitefish State Park. I have to admit I felt a little guilty about this one. To get to the beach, at 1:30 in the morning, you have drive through the camp ground. People are sleeping. People are missing the Northern Lights, but I’m not their alarm clock. Maybe they don’t want to be woken up in the middle of the night the noise of my Jeep engine and me stumbling around in the dark looking for the beach. Note to self: even the places I have visited before become uncertain and difficult to navigate in the pitch black dark of night.

As my friend had been able to see the lights from Bigfork (about 50 minutes south) I started wondering if I might be too close. That decision set the tone for the rest of the night. I was out until 4 a.m. basically working my way south to Kalispell and east.

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fb_aurora_borealis3209My favorite photo of the night is the next one… Actually, this is one of my favorite moments in my life. And it came at 4 in the morning. The sky began to pulse. I can’t think of a better word for it. It was as if the energy behind the lights was sending out waves or blasts that quietly electrified the sky and caused the Northern Lights to really dance. I have no words for this. I can’t really explain what I saw, or what I felt. It was a moment of a lifetime for me and one I shall never forget. There was, standing beside the retaining wall on the bridge on Highway 35 that crosses the Flathead River. This is NOT a safe place to stand. Especially at 4 a.m. when all is dark and the drunks are out. But this was the view I wanted and this was where the show became it’s most spectacular.

fb_aurora_borealis3219In most cases, photography is inferior to human vision. The eye can discern more than 200 shades of gray. Cameras aren’t that lucky. In slide film there are five f-stops between black and color. On negative film there are nine. Digital I’m told runs between 11 and 13. But there is something a camera can do that the eye can’t. It can collect cumulative light. Long exposures. All of these images were shot with a tripod, something I seldom do. The exposures ran from 30 seconds up to one minute. By letting the light play over longer periods it’s effects are made more visible. The Lights were incredible to see. Nothing like them in my life. The Lights on film are even more dramatic, even if they don’t convey quite the same level of power as the pulsing sky.

fb_aurora_borealis3222It wasn’t the rising moon that put a halt to the show. It was the dawn. This was the first time I can ever remember wishing dawn would hold off, wait… Of course, it didn’t. The sun continued to climb and slowly the white light of new day began to wash out the other worldly green.

fb_aurora_borealis3240I have now seen the Northern Lights. Seen, and instantly loved. Instead of being ready to cross this item off my bucket list, I’ve moved it to the top. I want to see them again. And again. And again. I want to see the sky dance.

And… I want more photographs.