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.

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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?
storm clouds over the Swan Mountains
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.

Remembering Kansas

I’ve been living in Montana for almost two years now. And still I am constantly reminding myself not to take this place for granted. Pay attention. Look around. Get outside and into the wild. Photograph EVERYTHING!

I am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, in fact, there is a part of me that has begun to think this might be the place where I’d finally like to stay. None the less, I have to remind myself to do these things because otherwise I get blind to what is right in front of me. I forget to be awe-struck by what I see every day. I forget that the pattern of my life has so far been, to move to a new place, spend a few years, enjoy it while I am there, move on, and never return on any kind of permanent basis. I do not want to miss the opportunities that surround me here because I am aware that they may not always be mine.
One of the places I lived and once loved was Kansas. And last week I had a bit of a Kansas moment right here in Montana.

In 2002 I got my first newspaper job at a daily paper in Salina, Kansas. That was not my dream location. Kansas is not what springs to my mind when I think of scenic wonders. I wanted mountains, or an ocean, not the never-ending prairies and flatlands. But I was there for almost two years and in those years I did learn to appreciate the sprawling beauty of it.
When I was in the midwest I loved to storm chase. I never caught up with any of the tornados, but Lord knows I went looking for them. We had a storm come rolling into the Flathead Valley from the west and the famous big sky was violently filled with clouds pushing their way in. As I went looking for a view of the storm to photograph I headed west and found myself in the wheat fields of Montana. The golden wheat and the big sky, it was all so familiar. The one major difference was the line of mountains off to the west. Kansas definitely doesn’t have that vertical element along the horizon.
Sometimes I find myself missing the endless open of plains. I find myself thinking, it has been too long since I passed through that area, and far too long since I had the chance to really see and photograph it. Most of the photos with this blog entry are several years old. These are from my life then. But they are also a reminder to me. Again, always the message is: don’t take this place for granted.

I don’t want to leave Montana, whenever that day may come, and think, I wish I had done more. I wish I had photographed more. Explored more. Traveled more. Hiked more. Seen more. Captured more. When it’s time to leave I want to pack up my journals and my box filled with photos without one shred of regret. They are my tangible memories of my life and moments I lived and loved. They are my proof that I did not waste the time that was given to me.

There is a poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this best called When Death Comes. The last stanzas of it read:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.