Marines in their blues

For me, few things are as inspiring as seeing United States Marines in their dress blues. They look sharp. And strong. And good. All the qualities that remind me of my father (Sgt. Michael James Ahearn, USMC, Vietnam War Veteran).  I have a deep appreciation for all who have served in the Armed Forces, but I will admit, I have a particular bias is for the Marines.

This week the Daily Inter Lake sent me out to document the festivities on the Fourth. Highlight of the day: seeing the local Flathead Marines looking good and stepping sharply down main street in the annual Fourth of July parade in Kalispell.

Semper Fi Marines! Well done.

northwest montana kalispell parade fourth of july

parade kalipsell

KPD Kalispell police Marines

fourth_4373

fourth_4449

fourth_4467

Other scenes from the day…

fourth_4289

fourth_4320

fourth_4411

fourth_4519

fourth_4166

fourth_4590

fourth_4284

Monochrome

Black and white wedding in Glacier National ParkOn of my favorite things with weddings is to go back and pick out photos to re-edit in black and white. When I started out in photography (in 1996) I started on black and white film. Tmax. Tri-X. We used bulk loaders to fill reusable film canisters and chemicals like Dektol and Stop bath and Fixer. One of these days I have to write about my mentor, Tim Webb, who opened my eyes to photography and the amazing world that goes with it. I am always so grateful.

I now shoot everything digitally. Part of this is related to being a newspaper photographer. Newspapers embraced digital early and didn’t look back. Even before the technology was as good as it is now, digital gave the media a new and incredible speed, and journalism loves that. But even though I have no wish to switch back to film, I still love the look of black and white. And so, when I have finished photographing a wedding, I go back through the images and choose favorites (mostly from the portraits) that I believe would be (dare I say) better in black and white. I love color. But monochrome…it will always have a place in my heart.

For Armed Forces Day I was lucky enough to photograph a soldier and his bride in Glacier National Park. To see the color photos from this, you can check out the blog I wrote before this (http://www.brendaahearn.com/glacier-wedding). I would never want to photograph a wedding on black and white film or with digital in black and white mode. Once you make that choice, the color information is lost. But I’ll happily spend the time with color files to convert them to grayscale and re-tone them. Black and white is elegant and has its own magic. It’s worth the extra time and trouble, and so far, my clients seem to love it. It’s something extra I get to give to them and it connects me to my own photography roots. Win/win.

I’m attaching some comparisons here, black and white vs. color. I have to admit, it’s not entirely a fair comparison, the day of this wedding we had incredibly overcast skies that were hours away from a complete downpour. That made for some wonderful soft light at noon, but it also meant that the colors don’t “pop” the same way they normally do. Still, the side-by-sides show the way black and white really focuses in on the composition of a frame. I love monochrome for this reason.

black and white wedding dress

mother of the bride and bride at Lake McDonald

first kiss in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald wedding on Armed Forces Day

Lake McDonald Lodge wedding day, bride and bouquet

A soldier and his bride and their wedding in Glacier

Montan Veterans Home chapel Army wedding

Montana Veterans Home chapel Army wedding

black and white wedding photos

Glacier Wedding

Glacier National Park wedding

May is a risky month for weddings in Montana. Some days are warm and sunny, some are cold and beautiful, and a lot of days are rainy and dower. There is little in May that can be described as predictable. So it’s touchy scheduling wedding May weddings. The simple truth is, you never know what you are going to get.

Armed Forces Day weddingA few days ago I photographed the wedding of my friend Collin and his bride Miss Liz. We had a perfect day in Glacier National Park with soft light and overcast but dry skies. We didn’t get the dramatic light and bold colors we were all hoping for, but neither did we get doused and that was a win for everyone.

It was the day before that was craziness…

bride and mother

On Friday I was on the phone with both Collin and Liz. I wanted to make sure they didn’t need any last minute details taken care of by me. When I called Miss Liz she was tied in knots about the weather and the predictions for an incoming storm. She didn’t want to cause problems for anyone of the guest, but neither did she want to give up her dream of getting married in Glacier.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park wedding

For my part, the answer was pretty obvious, go with Glacier. Even if we get rained on. Even if it isn’t what you dreamed of. Buy umbrellas (they bought a dozen clear umbrellas) and go for Glacier and hope for the best.

Armed Forces Day wedding

And the best is what they got. They had there ceremony on the banks of Lake McDonald, bright flowers at the Lodge added a touch of color, and the overcast skies made taking photos at 1230 in the afternoon not a complete photography nightmare. And, as an added bonus, the couple decided to hold two ceremonies. One at Glacier, and then a second at their wedding reception for the people who couldn’t get to the park. More photo ops for me.  😉

happiness

I so love that one of the reasons they considered not going to Glacier was out of concern for me and my gear. I am also outrageously happy I was able to tell both these wonderful people that I was good to go and we should take the chance on the mountains and the park.

And it worked. The gamble paid off.

ring detail

One moment I will not soon forget was driving home from the reception, looking south and seeing the storm front moving in. The rains kindly waited until this wedding day was complete. It makes a photographer smile…

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography wedding dress

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

here comes the bride

best man

Lake McDonald wedding

with this ring

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

groomsmen

bridesmaids

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Glacier National Park wedding

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Montana Veterans Home chapel

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Montana Veterans Home chapel

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Montana Veterans Home chapel

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photos by Brenda Ahearn Photography

Photographing the Northern Lights

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater LakeBefore moving to Montana I had never seen the Northern Lights. The first time I saw them was because I got a text from a friend at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office: “Northern Lights over Big Mountain.” That came through a little after midnight. I got up, raced out and started shooting. Mesmerizing. That’s what the Lights are. They sway and pulse and dance across the sky in colors and beats that are wildly beautiful and unpredictable.

Tonight I woke up at 1:39 a.m. and noticed the particular shade of green that indicates that outside the lights of the city, the Northern Lights are putting on a show. In a matter of minutes I had my keys, clothes, camera and tripod and was starting up the Jeep. The question is where to go…

If you have never seen the Northern Lights in Montana go to Glacier National Park. The dock at Apgar is one of the best viewing spots there is. One, it’s Glacier (you can never go wrong there). Two, you’ll have the benefit of the frequently smooth as glass Lake McDonald. Three, there are no annoying city lights or power lines to contend with. Four, there is that famous silhouetted horizon the mountains at the east end of the lake. It really is quite perfect.

Aurora Borealis over Glacier

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Last year I took this photo of the lights from Apgar. The picture was a complete surprise and people responded to it in a way I never expected. So tonight I was faced with the question of whether or not to return to Apgar. The location is perfection, but would it be really any different than the last time I photographed there? It’s Saturday night, one of the nights when people can be out photographing the Lights and then sleep in the next day, so I knew I wouldn’t be alone if I went to Glacier. And one of the things I wanted was a shot different from what everyone else would be getting.

Years ago I was at a photography workshop and one of the photographers there was a shooter for National Geographic. He wasn’t a teacher, he was on a personal retreat and he didn’t talk too much. But I noticed the way he deliberately moved away from the crowd. He avoided the obvious shot and would hike much further to get something unique. In one of the few times I was brave enough to talk to him, he mentioned that he hated it when people followed him. He didn’t want to be copied, he wanted to find his own images and wanted other people to find what would speak to them. When I was a young photographer I didn’t really understand this. It made sense to me to follow him, after all, he knew what he was doing. Now that I’m a pro, I understand better. There is something powerful and magical about going you’re own way to find your own view. What you find may not match the perfection of the well known, but it will be your own. I wanted that tonight.

So, two roads: I could go with what I knew would work, or I could take off on an adventure and simply hope for the best. I went with the second option and it was so worth it.

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater LakeInstead of going to Glacier I drove north of US 93. There is a lake called Upper Stillwater and it’s the name that made me want to seek it out. I wanted the reflection to double the effect of the Lights. I’ve seen photos of the Northern Lights from latitudes in the 50s and 60s. And the farther north a person is, the more the Lights seem to fill the entire sky. One day I hope to travel in those regions and see the Lights the way I have seen them photographed. From Montana, (based solely on my own experiences) the lights seem to pretty well hug the north/east horizon.

Since the lights aren’t going to overwhelm the sky here like they do up north, when I go looking to photograph them I go looking for north facing water. It’s not the easiest thing to find in the pitch black dark of night. But when you do find it, the water becomes a mirror. That’s what I’m looking for, that’s the shot I want.

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater LakeIt is fascinating to stand alone in the dark surrounded by the sounds of the night under the light of the stars. In the coolness of the predawn hours my overactive imagination goes wild with fears of bears and wolves and mountain lions. But even those fears heighten the experience and make me feel more alive. When the Lights are out the stars create points of stillness that accentuate the speed of the solar winds pushing the lights across the sky. The sky dances and it is lovely.

These photos were taken with a Nikon D600 and a 17-35mm f2.8 lens at ISO 640 and exposed for 25-30 seconds. The location is the bridge over Upper Stillwater. What a spectacular night, what a perfect way to begin Mother’s Day.

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater Lake

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater Lake

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater Lake

f20160508NorthernLights_5215

Northern Lights over Upper Stillwater Lake

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights

Northern Lights over Sunday Lake, near Stryker, Montana

Art and Fear

“When your work is counted, will it be counted as art?…Acceptance and approval are powers held by others.”
— From Art and Fear.
montana_0012

There in a great and terrible power in the negative voice.

Why are criticisms so much easier to believe than compliments? When someone says something kind, I smile, say thank you, and go on my merry way — grateful, but forgetful. But say one negative thing, even without malice, and I find myself coming back to those hurtful words over and over again. I feel like an oyster desperately trying to protect myself form the irritation of a tiny grain of sand. Maybe all this would be easier if I thought at the end of it, I would at least have earned a pearl of wisdom, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. The pain and suffering seem useless, futile.
I have the perfect example for this. Six months ago I posted a video slideshow to my Facebook page (the photos in this post are a few of the shots from that slideshow). I got a huge response to this. I’m not a famous photographer so my numbers might be lackluster in the eyes of some, but to a mostly-anonymous photographer in the middle of nowhere Montana, the numbers created by this video far outmatched anything I’ve created before or since.
If you want to see the video and have a Facebook account, here is the link:
Here is what this video did for me.
More than 1000 likes to my Facebook page in about a month. That was a nice ego boost.
2,536 people reacted to the video.
7,997 people shared it.
197,594 people watched it.
I got hundreds of comments from people. Most consisted of simple things like: “Wow,” “Beautiful,” and “Thank you.” And everyone one of these made me smile, made me grateful.
But a lot of the comments were more personal. I now have a Facebook friend who follows my work from France and comments in French (a language I sadly can’t speak — thank God for google translator). Her comments are so encouraging and because they’re in a foreign language, each one is like a delightful treat.
A woman who lives in Costa Rica offered to let me stay at her place if I ever wanted to come down and photograph that country. Wow.
For the slideshow I matched the photos with the song “Bury Me in Montana” by singer/songwriter Mike Murray. The song is incredible and is on his album Tumbleweed which you can find on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/tumbleweed/id1008787372 (it’s track number 11 the Alternative version). Some people who viewed the video really connected with their grief and I got comments from people about lost loved ones and how this video touched them and was a comfort to them. I am an artist who has lost both of her parents, so these types of comments were dearest to my heart.
montana_0013
Some comments people wrote:
“Absolutely wonderful, Brenda, thank you for this beautiful work of love! Makes me miss Montana all the more! I will share this, too gorgeous not to! Blessings to you!”
“Your work is beautiful. Being a lapsed photographer I do know the hours that went into your presentation. Keep going with your passion you have a real talent.”
“Brenda your photography is insanely good!! What you capture through the lens is gorgeous. If you words don’t make it into some kind of printed compilation it will be a shame. Beautiful work!”
Who wouldn’t want to get comments like these? And there are hundreds of them. So much good. So many kind people. So many expressions of love and gratitude.
And yet…
montana_0022
Of course, it isn’t all perfect or kind. There is one person in particular who couldn’t be kind a wrote a comment that started off with “I’m sorry” (because if you’re going to insult someone you should always start with an apology.) “I’m sorry but…” she basically said that she was sorry but she felt compelled to point out that my photography really isn’t all that good. She went on to link to another photographer’s Facebook page as an example of what a “real” artist can do.
I didn’t respond.
I mean really, what is there to say?
“Thank you.” Nope. Not grateful.
“The photographer you admire sucks.” Nope. I don’t need to go on the attack.
I could acknowledge how much she hurt me, but why give her that kind of power?
So, I said nothing. I ignored the comment and since this was six months ago, I couldn’t get back to it to find it if I had to. After all this time, after thousands of joyful, positive, enthusiastic, great, amazing, heart-warming, inspiring, edifying, uplifting, unique, thoughtful, and gratitude-inducing moments that have come from this video there is still only one comment that I remember clearly, and it’s the negative one. One negative voice, in a sea of compliments, and that is the voice I hold onto.
Why is that?

Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake A sunrise view of Reynolds Mountain over an alpine meadow on Thursday, September 13, in Glacier National Park.

After the deaths of my parents I remember finding a beautiful little poem that I memorized and have remembered now for 15 years. He wrote:
“Our joys as winged dreams do fly,
Why then should sorry last?
Since grief but aggravates thy loss,
Grieve not for what is past.”
Sunrise Over Dickey Lake
A few weeks ago I read a great little book that has been helpful and challenging. It’s called Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Making Art by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
There are so many great quotes in this book, I took pages of notes while reading it. But for the purpose of this blog I am going to end with three. These are the three things I am trying to remember, trying to hold onto and learn instead of getting wrapped around that negative voice.
“Making the work you want to make means finding your nourishment within the work itself.”
“The viewer’s concerns are not your concerns. Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work.”
“Catering to fears of being misunderstood…you discard your own highest vision in the process.”
Colorful Sunrise
I’m going to hold on to what was worth holding onto from this experience. I am going to hold onto the people who wrote with love and kindness in their hearts and who touched my life and left me feeling alive, and appreciated, and so very grateful. This has been a bit of a challenge, but the work should always be a challenge. My mentor (and best friend) always used to quote Tom Hanks from the movie A League of Their Own.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Whatever else my life ends up being, it certainly has offered moments that  were truly great. Every bit of challenge has been worthwhile.

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

montana_0046

(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

North Fork Buck

Blue Sky Morning

montana_0034

2010 Looking Back

montana_0025

Trumpeter Swans on Flathead Lake

Spring Thaw comes to Lake McDonald

montana_0019

montana_0029

See what a difference 18 minutes can make…

This is my favorite photo of the sunset last night at City Beach, Whitefish, Montana.
b20160315city_beach_0995But the night didn’t start off looking like this. It started off with some great clouds and good light, but the very tip of the mountain was shaded. This is what it started off as…
b20160315city_beach_0876This first photo of the night isn’t ‘bad.’ But it isn’t anything I would normally post. I am only adding this to show the difference that 18 minutes can make.

Photography is a waiting game. You see the light, you see the clouds, you go. You find your location and you wait. In the wind, and the cold, you sit on some rock and wait and hope. You hope that as the sun continues to drop eventually it is going to strike the top of Big Mountain. And the clouds will light up with color. And you know that if you’ll just wait you will have a chance at getting so incredibly lucky, or you’ll get nothing but colder.

The days that are hardest are the ones when the light doesn’t quite do what you need it to, and you walk away with photos that are just “meh.”
Eighteen minutes. Biting cold. Shivering in the wind. The sound of the water making me feel even colder. Battling doubt as the minutes creep by and wondering, ‘am I wasting my time out here?’ And then at the very end of sunset the last, most colorful light, struck the top of Big Mountain and just like that — Boom! — worth it.
Absolutely and unquestionably worth the wait.
Patience is always a virtue, but that is especially true in photography. In that 18 minutes most of the people who beat me to this location packed up and left. They didn’t see the finale.
I wish I could say that every time I wait and watch I get rewarded, but that isn’t true. A lot of the time, I just get cold. But I always know there is this chance for pure delight. And even when I don’t get it, I don’t regret it. I guess the simple truth is, it’s always worthwhile — photos or no — because it restores my soul.

Here are the in between photos. Enjoy.

b20160315city_beach_0899
b20160315city_beach_0950
b20160315city_beach_0971
b20160315city_beach_0988
b20160315city_beach_0993
b20160315city_beach_1004

The Big Mountain Location Challenge

Big Mountain from downtown Whitefish at dawn.

Big Mountain from downtown Whitefish at dawn.

This post is really going to only apply to people who have some connection to the Flathead Valley. I need help with a project and I’m getting desperate. So I have decided create this Big Mountain Location Challenge. The winner will get a complimentary 16×20 print of either the photo they made possible, or any of my other photographs that they wish.

Here’s the back story:

It’s hard to believe this started at least two years ago. I have a friend who loves my photography. He has consistently purchased aluminum prints to decorate his house and I’m honored. As friendship has grown and changed over the years he’s gone from picking photos that I’ve taken to hang on his wall, to giving me assignments. I’m basically making custom artwork for him. He’s from Montana, so when he told me has this mental image of the Swan range at sunset, he’s not really talking about the view he saw from his living room window growing up, he’s talking about a lifetime of seeing and loving those mountains. And so I get to go out, drive around, scout for locations and then wait until the weather is perfect to go and try to capture his vision. It’s hard enough to be working on my own artistic vision of a scene, but add to that the challenge of taking a modern photograph that somehow captures a lifetime of memories and associations…it’s not easy. But it is worthwhile.

In my personal photography work the only person I am shooting for, and the only person I have to please, is me. If others like what I create, great. If not, oh well. Trying to capture someone’s predetermined mental image is vastly different than shooting for myself. But like Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great.”

After many attempts I got the Swan Range photo. The challenge I am currently working on is Big Mountain with the ski lights on. I shot this a bit last year, but none of those were quite what was wanted. This week I went to dinner with this guy and his family and I got the not so subtle hint that the lights on the mountain are on again on Saturdays and Sundays (what we was actually saying is: “Get back to work”). Skiing with the lights on is significant to him because of the memories it provokes of time with his wife and kids and maybe even times from when he was a kid skiing under those lamps. The weight of the nostalgia connected to this mental image of his, is only adding to challenge for me.

I went out for sunrise this morning, because it turns out the lights are on for dawn as well. Yeah, more changes for me. But I am still not finding the ideal location.

wBig_mountain_8631

So, if anyone reading this has a suggestion for the perfect location from which to photograph the ski lights and Big Mountain please message me via Facebook. I will need to scout the location in the day time and then randomly show up there when the light is right. If you have a friend or family with property on the lake, or a vast field that looks across to the mountain, or whatever, I want to see it. If your location creates the photograph that finally gets the approval of my most persnickety friend, then I will give you a 16×20 photograph of either the photo you made possible, or any of my other photographs that you may prefer. Please message me if you are interested in submitting a location.

The first person to submit a location gets it, so if you have more than one idea, mail them in. Two, I am NOT the person who will be deciding this. He is. And honestly, I never have a clue what this guy is going to choose.

Thank you in advance!

wBig_mountain_8722

wBig_mountain_8690

wBig_mountain_8698

2015 Year in Review: part one – Photojournalism

View from atop the Evergreen Fire and Rescue ladder truck of a fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. The helicopter is from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake) (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

It would be difficult to pick a non-fire related photo to start with because the 2015 fire season was one for the record books. This is from the massive Evergreen fire in August.

Welcome to a brand new year! In true procrastinator style I have waited for the end of 2015 to write up my reflections on the year. In my defense, I don’t really feel my year is over. Personally, I have always counted my birthday (April 4) as my year, so by my reckoning I still have three months left. 🙂

This is the year I turned 40. That number seems impossible. I can remember being a child. My mother had this framed saying that she had cross-stiched which read: “Life begins at 40.” I can actually remember thinking, “Forty is ancient. How could anybody live to be that old?” Only now, I don’t feel ancient. I feel like life is just beginning. I wanted 40 to be memorable, and it has certainly been that. In many ways this has been one of the best years of my life. I’m excited for 2016, but I wonder how it could ever top 2015…

Still, the best day is the next day and I am so looking forward to what’s coming. But for right now, I have to stop and give a word of thanks for all the ways I was blessed this year.

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

My biggest news was this: For my sixth anniversary here in Montana I created a video retrospective of some of my favorite shots from my time here. I combined this with a song I fell in love with by Mike Murray called Bury Me in Montana (if you’re interested you can find it on iTunes on his album Tumbleweed). As of today the video has been seen 130,000 times.

If you want to see it, it’s at the top of my Brenda Ahearn Photography page on facebook. https://www.facebook.com/BrendaAhearnPhotography/

The other major milestone for me this year was having on of my photos published in Time magazine. It’s a bit odd, the way things hit me. I’ve been working full time for a newspaper since 2002. And I’ve been seeing my work get printed since 1996. One would think that after so much time, I would be pretty well immune to the thrill of seeing my work in print. Not so. I still get a kick out of it. I love it when I get the front page of the paper I work for. Or even one of the inside pages. All I really care about is that the printing looks good and thanks to our press guys most of the time, the prints look very good. I love it when I find the AP has picked up one of my photos and it went out nationwide or even worldwide. I’ve had photos show up in some pretty major papers. My favorite was five years ago when I got my first photo in USA Today. Ironically USA Today isn’t delivered in Montana. Go figure. Still, it was a thrill. And this this year… Wow. It started with an email: would I be interested in having one of my photos considered for publication in Time magazine. Hell YES!!!! Except, of course, I wrote something far more professional in response. And come to find out they loved the photo and wanted it. Were even willing to pay the Inter Lake fee to get it. After all, I shot the photo while on assignment for the DIL so I don’t own the rights to it. They lady at Time graciously sent me 5 copies of the magazine. It’s the October issue with Pope Frances on the front. I am so honored.

Copies of the magazine sent to me courtesy of Time, as well as the photo they published with a story on the popularity of adventure racing.

Copies of the magazine sent to me courtesy of Time, as well as the photo they published with a story on the popularity of adventure racing.

This year I photographed 14 families, 2 surprise engagements in Glacier, and 9 weddings. I got to see the Pacific ocean for the first time in too many years and I got to be a part of two of the best swing dance workshops ever followed by a trek to Seattle and some photos of the ones I love out there.

This was also one of the most epic years I’ve had medically. Three hospitalizations. I broke my left arm in April. I had surgery in June. And after photographing fire season in September I ended up in the ER with the most dangerous asthma attack of my life. But I survived. And as I look back at the fear and pain they only make grateful for this incredible life.

Now…how to organize all this? I’ve narrowed it down to my top 100 photos. And that was painful to do. But it’s still too much. So I am going to post these over the next three days. First off will be all my newspaper work. This includes my Scenics from Montana because frankly, our readers love them, and I’m lucky enough to work at a newspaper that let’s me put these kinds of pretty pictures in the paper. Then photos from the music and entertainment world. And finally, weddings and family stuff.

To everyone who shared this year with me, the good and the bad, thank you. I am so sincerely grateful.
Much love,
Bren

A large snow covered gate makes a frame for a winter scenic near Echo Lake on Thursday morning, January 8. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Yellow Bay at Flathead Lake

Structure Fire in Evergreen

Glacier National Park

A singing Valentine's from Classic Touch

These two images started with a text from a Deputy that read: Truck in water in Bigfork. I never mind getting woken up at 2 a.m. when I get photos like this out of it.

These two images started with a text from a Deputy that read: Truck in water in Bigfork. I never mind getting woken up at 2 a.m. when I get photos like this out of it.

 

One year anniversary for ImagineIF Library

Eric Michael Krop, one of my favorite local talents.

Eric Michael Krop, one of my favorite local talents.

 

Playing in Puddles

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park.

A view of the Northern Lights over Lake McDonald at 11:56 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, in Glacier National Park.

 

2015news_0012

John Dunnigan at the Great Northern Bar in Whitefish, on Thursday, May 14. In the middle of a portrait session Dunnigan looked up, saw a friend and had to wave.

John Dunnigan at the Great Northern Bar in Whitefish, on Thursday, May 14. In the middle of a portrait session Dunnigan looked up, saw a friend and had to wave.

Of my photos of John Dunnigan this was my favorite. But for those who know his personality, the first image is more authentically him.

Of my photos of John Dunnigan this was my favorite. But for those who know his personality, the first image is more authentically him.

 

Structure fire in Columbia Falls. May 2015.

Structure fire in Columbia Falls. May 2015.

 

Memorial Day 2015

A view of Kalispell at sunset from the forth story tower of the Kalispell Fire Department downtown station on Wednesday, May 27.

A view of Kalispell at sunset from the forth story tower of the Kalispell Fire Department downtown station on Wednesday, May 27.

 

Snow in June in Glacier National Park. Oh how I love life in Montana.

Snow in June in Glacier National Park. Oh how I love life in Montana.

 

"Gramma" Jean Livesay, 86, gets a hug from her neighbor James Francis on Friday morning, June 12, in Kalispell. Jean has been waving to students from the window of her Wyoming Street home for two years. For the last week of school she made a sign for her front yard and for Friday, the last day of school, she moved from her window to her front yard to wave at students and parents as they pass by.

“Gramma” Jean Livesay, 86, gets a hug from her neighbor James Francis on Friday morning, June 12, in Kalispell. Jean has been waving to students from the window of her Wyoming Street home for two years. For the last week of school she made a sign for her front yard and for Friday, the last day of school, she moved from her window to her front yard to wave at students and parents as they pass by.

 

I know photographically this photo isn't much. But the story was fantastic. I mean really, how often does one hear the words "airborne" and "minivan" together? The van went off the road, went airborne, and landed on top of the red car. It was funny but that's mainly because no one was seriously hurt.

I know photographically this photo isn’t much. But the story was fantastic. I mean really, how often does one hear the words “airborne” and “minivan” together? The van went off the road, went airborne, and landed on top of the red car. It was funny but that’s mainly because no one was seriously hurt.

 

2015news_0021

A view of the main runway at Glacier Park International Airport. I am amazed sometimes at all the places my work takes me to...places that most people never get to see.

A view of the main runway at Glacier Park International Airport. I am amazed sometimes at all the places my work takes me to…places that most people never get to see.

 

Daniel Kirk's ordination as the new priest for Saint Herman’s.

Daniel Kirk’s ordination as the new priest for Saint Herman’s. I wrote the story for the paper on this one as well as doing the photos. To see more of it go to: https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/too-close-to-the-story/

 

A view of the Reynolds Creek Fire near East Glacier on Wednesday, July 22.

A view of the Reynolds Creek Fire near East Glacier on Wednesday, July 22.

 

Steampunk family in downtown Kalispell.

Steampunk family in downtown Kalispell.

 

2015news_0026

The Evergreen fire. August 2015.

The Evergreen fire. August 2015.

 

Smoke from the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park pours into the sky in this view from Lost Creek Road and Farm-to-Market Road in West Valley. This photo got picked up by the Associated Press and ended up in USA Today. Ironically, this photo was used nationally to illustrate the wildfires in California.

Smoke from the Thompson Fire in Glacier National Park pours into the sky in this view from Lost Creek Road and Farm-to-Market Road in West Valley.
This photo got picked up by the Associated Press and ended up in USA Today. Ironically, this photo was used nationally to illustrate the wildfires in California.

 

Marston Fire

I'm flying in a Blackhawk photographing this Blackhawk. Life is so awesome.

I’m flying in a Blackhawk photographing this Blackhawk. Life is so awesome.

 

This was my first photo back on the job after being in the ER for the most severe asthma attack of my life. Clean blue skies never meant so much to me before.

This was my first photo back on the job after being in the ER for the most severe asthma attack of my life. Clean blue skies never meant so much to me before.

 

One of the most devastating wrecks I have ever seen: The driver of a Budweiser truck takes a moment off to the side of a collision with a Ford f250 truck on September 9, at the intersection of U.S. 93 and Farm-to-Market Road north of Whitefish.

One of the most devastating wrecks I have ever seen: The driver of a Budweiser truck takes a moment off to the side of a collision with a Ford f250 truck on September 9, at the intersection of U.S. 93 and Farm-to-Market Road north of Whitefish.

 

Benghazi Memorial 9/11 ceremony in Bigfork Montana. This was the second year for the event and this year featured a former member of the CIA and founder of the organization DeliverFund, which is a group of former special forces operators now dedicated to rescuing victims of sex trafficking.

Benghazi Memorial 9/11 ceremony in Bigfork Montana. This was the second year for the event and this year featured a former member of the CIA and founder of the organization DeliverFund, which is a group of former special forces operators now dedicated to rescuing victims of sex trafficking. I have written a blog about these guys and their work: https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/do-something-good-in-the-world/

 

2015news_0035

Serene Scene along the Flathead River

2015news_0037

Montana Life: Scarecrow Sue

Fall Feature

A colorful sunrise lights up the sky from Fairmont and Kinshella Road east of Kalispell on Thursday morning, October 22. I posted both of these photos to the Daily Inter Lake Facebook page and we let the readers pick which one would run in the paper. The top photo was the hands-down winner.

A colorful sunrise lights up the sky from Fairmont and Kinshella Road east of Kalispell on Thursday morning, October 22.
I posted both of these photos to the Daily Inter Lake Facebook page and we let the readers pick which one would run in the paper. The top photo was the hands-down winner.

 

Fire in Evergreen

2015news_0042

Last year I wrote a story about USMC Captain Wayne Bolton. This year for Christmas Wayne ended up recovering from triple-bypass surgery. But he wasn't alone for the holidays. The Marines turned out to Celebrate Christmas with him. Semper Fi!

Last year I wrote a story about USMC Captain Wayne Bolton. This year for Christmas Wayne ended up recovering from triple-bypass surgery. But he wasn’t alone for the holidays. The Marines turned out to Celebrate Christmas with him. Semper Fi!    Here is a link to the story of Wayne, one of the survivors of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Korea: https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/remembering-chosin/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do something good in the world…

Here you will find details on your chance to get $100 dollars off family photo sessions  and the rest of the money goes directly to saving a life. (Please note: there are only 14 photo sessions available and you must contact me to confirm you are one of the 14. Details below…)

df_blog_vandykeIn 2005 my beloved friends, Jon and Michelle Duncan, gave me a wonderful Christmas present: a copy of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. I read it at least once a year. If I only read it once, it’s always around this time. I have loaned this book out on occasion, but I always experience a certain about of trepidation about doing this. I love the story and want to share it, to bless other lives the way mine has been blessed. But I worry that someone won’t understand how precious this battered old book is to me and won’t be careful…

This is one of my favorite stories. It’s the shortest book I own, but I would put it in my top ten of all time, right up there with Man’s Search for Meaning and The Little Prince. There is just something so eloquent about this story…something that stirs the soul and ends with such power and beauty that it is truly magical. And the best part is, it’s so old, and so forgotten that you can get it for free on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Story-Other-Wise-Man-ebook/dp/B0084C98FO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1449079809&sr=8-2

 When Jon gave me the book he told me, don’t judge the first pages. He cautioned that it takes a little time to get into the story. I’m glad he warned me because without that, I might not have given the book the chance it deserves.

By now you are probably wondering what the heck does this have to do with family photo sessions and discounts. Patience, I promise I’ll explain.

Last night I read my book again. The pages are old and soft and have that yellowish-brown tinge that comes with age. The first time I read the book, I sort of slogged through the beginning. But now, I love every word so much that when I read this book I read it cover to cover. Including the introduction (which is not part of the amazon version).

The Story of the Other Wise Man is a bit of fiction based on the Biblical Magi who travel from the East to find Jesus in Bethlehem. In Van Dyke’s story there was to be a fourth member of that party. But circumstances arise and he is forced to miss departing with his friends and follows later on his own. The story follows the life of Artaban as he searches endlessly for the King. Near the end he faces his final challenge, he can continue his quest or he can save a young girl.

df_blog1I’ve read this over and over. But this year, when I got to the scene where the girl cries out and begs him to save her “for the sake of the God of purity” I couldn’t help but think of DeliverFund.

DeliverFund is a group of former American Special Forces warriors who are taking their incredible knowledge and skill set and applying it to battling sex trafficking.

Here’s their mission statement:
“DeliverFund disrupts global human trafficking markets by combining uniquely qualified personnel with the best technologies, and then leveraging them in new ways to reach and rescue victims of human trafficking.”
Can you imagine this? It’s amazing. We’re talking about the most elite of the American military and intelligence communities, Navy SEALs, CIA, Army Rangers, Delta Force…. These are people who spent years attaining the highest levels of physical preparedness and military training. People who know all about leadership and command and tactics and special operations and counterterrorism. What does one do with that sort of education once their time in the military is over? Well, for these guys the answer is to take what they know, and who they know, and combine their resources and do surveilance and tracking and gathering evidence to give to law enforcement officers to put those who traffic in the selling of women and girls and boys and anyone they can sell for any price, to put them in jail. DeliverFund is out there working to stop the source of it. Not just to rescue a victim and take them out of that hell (though they do that) but to get the pimps and pushers and the genuinely evil off the streets and behind bars.

The girl in the story, when she begs for her life, she says, “Save me from worse than death.”

Worse than death. That is what prostitution is. Every time I think about this, I find myself thinking, I wish I could help. But really, what can I do? I’m one person, and I’m not rich, and I am certainly not capable of helping with the work they do. But I want to help. So…here’s how you can get a great discount on a family photo session and help out with a genuinely worthy cause. I normally do family photos for $250. This is usually around 30 photos. You get a dvd with the images and the right to print them as you see fit. If you will donate $150 to DeliverFund.org  I will do a family photo session for you for free. (There are important restrictions to this! See below.) When you donate through their website you’ll get an electronic receipt. Print that out and give show it to me you’ll get to pick a date and get some new family photos. DeliverFund is a 501C3 so donations are tax deductible. I’m not interested in making any money on these. All of the money will go directly to the charity. And here’s the best part, I talked to one of the founders. A pimp usually runs five girls. The cost to stop one of these monsters is about $10,000. That’s $2000 per victim. I am going to do 14 of these photo shoots. That will raise $2100. That’s one life that is going to be saved. One life! One victim. One person who will no longer live in a hell that is worse than death.

Restrictions! I am only going to do fourteen of these so, contact me asap if you want one. If you donate and fail to contact me to confirm that you are one of the 14, this offer is invalid. You can send me a text at 406.471.7462. The sessions have to be paid for at the time of purchase. Normally, I don’t ask to be paid beyond the deposit until the time of the photo shoot, but this is for DeliverFund and I want it to get it to them by the end of the year. The photo sessions must be scheduled for no later than May 31, 2016, but you don’t have to pick your date right now. Pay for the session and we can figure out the dates later. Beyond May gets into wedding season for me and after May, I’m pretty well booked until the end of autumn. That’s why we have the May 31 deadline. A family photo session is one family – two generations. Maximum number of people = 6. Exceptions can be made, but need to be discussed prior to booking. Larger family groups count as a reunion and are not eligible.

Final note: here a link to a short video about DeliverFund and the work they are doing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YujkCiDl17k&feature=player_embedded
If you want to win excessive amounts of loyalty and admiration from me, make the donation out for more than $150. This is an organization that deserves it. If I could do more, I would….

Thank you all in advance for your consideration. Merry Christmas.

P.S. before anyone comments about consenting adults and what they choose to do, watch the video and listen to the girl. Pretty Woman isn’t reality. It isn’t the prostitute who is in charge.

voucher

Today I am celebrating six years in Montana. Six years at the Daily Inter Lake. I love this place. I love the job. I love my life. And for the past couple of weeks I have been working on a video slideshow and an article for the paper that was published yesterday.

About 24 hours ago I posted my video. Tonight I’m looking at the Facebook stats and honestly I’ve never had anything behave the way this video did. It has reached more than 100,000 people, had 28 thousand views and been shared more than 1000 times. The experience is rather humbling and definitely surreal.

Thank you for your interest in this story. For my blog I am going to focus on photos that didn’t make it into the video. Here is the story that started all this. I hope you enjoy. — Bren

aMontana_Life_Brenda

Photographic Memories
Photos and story by Brenda Ahearn
Layout and design by Seaborn Larson

Tomorrow will be my sixth anniversary as a photographer for the Daily Inter Lake, and I’d like to give readers my personal thank-you note. In my years here I have had many people reach out to me, give me positive feedback and make me feel welcome. I am deeply grateful. But when I think of the people who have made this job such a positive experience, the person I think of first is actually the photographer who had the job before me, Karen Nichols.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park at sunrise.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park at sunrise.

Karen Nichols is beloved. When I first started working for the Inter Lake, I would go out on assignment and every day, every photo shoot, I would introduce myself and people would say something along the line of: “Oh you’re the new photographer? We LOVE Karen.” They let me know very clearly that I was following in the footsteps of someone great. Karen is a true talent and an amazing person. Every time I heard someone say how much they loved Karen, all I could think was, “Yes. I’m trying my very best.”

Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana.

Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana.

After several months on the job, I got an unexpected phone call from Karen. She invited me out to lunch. I didn’t have many friends at the time, and I remember being really impressed that she would reach out to the new photographer. We went to Gresko’s and as we ate our sandwiches Karen told me she had been watching my work, and that she wanted me to know I was doing a good job. This compliment felt huge. For months all I had heard was how amazing this woman is; to have her tell me I was on the right track was exactly the encouragement I needed.

Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish, Montana.

Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish, Montana.

I told her what I had been hearing, how every person I met seemed to have some story of her, or some compliment of her work. And Karen smiled. She bowed her head a bit and took the compliments I passed on humbly and graciously. I remember thinking that she had true grace. Then she looked back up at me and told me that one day, I would have people who felt that way about me and my work.

A view of Glacier National Park from Swiftcurrent Trail.

A view of Glacier National Park from Swiftcurrent Trail.

That didn’t seem possible at the time, but it became my goal. And now, six years later, I find she was right. I still run into people who love Karen. And they make me smile. But I also run into people who appreciate me. Believe me, when you have bright red hair and a press pass your identity doesn’t remain a secret for long. And that’s OK, because I have had people over and over stop to me to tell me that they like my work.

Dickey Lake north of Whitefish, Montana.

Dickey Lake north of Whitefish, Montana.

I find it sweet when someone sees my name on a form and they get this puzzled look on their faces as they wonder why my name looks so familiar. A couple of times a year I’ll get an email from a firefighter in Ferndale, telling me he’s made one of my photos his new computer background. Once when I was out photographing a car wreck I had a person figure out who I was and start telling me how much they like my photos. I didn’t have a lot of time because I had work to do, but I never forgot that person or the effort they made to let me know my work matters. There are people who call and leave messages. Or write emails. Or send flowers. Once I did a portrait of a World War II veteran. He was so pleased he sent the reporter and me each a box of chocolates.

Sunset in North Glacier near Polebridge, Montana.

Sunset in North Glacier near Polebridge, Montana.

These people do more than offer a pat on the back; they remind me of some important truths:

1. Community journalism is the best. When I was a young photographer I met a famous photographer to the stars. He said something that shaped the direction of my life. He told me that what we must not forget is that photography is about people, places and things. He said as you climb the ladder the people get more famous, the places get more exotic and the things get more expensive, but they are still just people, places and things. He said if he had understood that when he was young, he would have stayed at a smaller newspaper where he could really be a part of the community and use his talent and position to make a difference. I love living and working in the Flathead Valley because this is a place where I feel I can make a difference.

2. A photo in the newspaper is a big deal. I’ve been working for newspapers since 1997. When you are in this business it’s easy to get to a point where a front page photo is just another day in the life. However, it is a very big deal to the person who is in the photograph. Because of my job I have gotten to meet some incredible people and be part of telling amazing stories. It is a daily challenge and a daily responsibility. There are a lot of aspects about this job that are fun, but there are aspects that are important. And doing the job well is important.

3. “Work is a blessing.” My grandmother used to say this. When I applied for this job I was one of more than a hundred applicants. And the other photographer at the time let me know I was not the first choice. But the first choice said no, and so here I am. Over the years I have become the senior photographer for the Inter Lake, and my Grams was right, my work has been a blessing.

It’s a blessing I am grateful for. I love where I get to live and love what I get to do. I meet people who challenge me, inspire me, fill me with respect and push me to live life more fully. That’s the best part of working at a newspaper.

Boats on the dock at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Boats on the dock at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Last year while on assignment for the Inter Lake’s This Week in the Flathead publication, I was photographing the Northwest Artist Syndicate’s singer/songwriter competition. That was the first time I heard Mike Murray sing “Bury Me in Montana.” The song wrapped around my brain and instantly stole my heart. When I started thinking of how I wanted to share a look back at my years here, I knew it had to be a slide show and it had to have Mike’s song as the sound track. Here is the link to the video: https://www.facebook.com/BrendaAhearnPhotography/videos/1658748397701285/?fref=nf

Double rainbow over Flathead Lake from Lakeside, Montana.

Double rainbow over Flathead Lake from Lakeside, Montana.

Thank you to every person who has let me photograph them, and every person who has written or called or just said “well done” in passing. You mean more to me than you know.

Sunset south of Whitefish, Montana.

Sunset south of Whitefish, Montana.

I spent a lot of years hoping I would find a newspaper that I could settle down at, a place where I could build a life and stick around for 20-plus years. I think I finally found it.

Super moon over Flathead Lake, from Rollins, Montana.

Super moon over Flathead Lake, from Rollins, Montana.

Aerial view of Glacier National Park.

Aerial view of Glacier National Park.

Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish, Montana.

Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish, Montana.

Sunrise at Dickey Lake, north of Whitefish, Montana.

Sunrise at Dickey Lake, north of Whitefish, Montana.

Sunset at Whitefish Lake with a view of Big Mountain.

Sunset at Whitefish Lake with a view of Big Mountain.

Storm over Creston, Montana.

Storm over Creston, Montana.

Sunrise view north of Kalispell, Montana.

Sunrise view north of Kalispell, Montana.

Winter sunset near Polebridge, Montana.

Winter sunset near Polebridge, Montana.