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Search for Serendipity, the photographer’s quest

© By Daryl L. Hunter

Grizzly Bear and Blue Bird exchange glances as the Grizzly strolls past in  Grand Teton National Park. (© Daryl L. Hunter - The Hole Picture/Daryl L. Hunter,)

Grizzly Bear and Blue Bird exchange glances as the Grizzly strolls past in Grand Teton National Park. Now finding a Grizzly is always serendipitous but to find one admiring a Mountain Blue Bird takes serendipity to the next level. Click on photo to buy print or license photo.


A bull elk checks the arrival of a black Yellowstone wolf onto the scene. (Daryl L. Hunter)

While photographing this bull elk a black wolf walked into the scene, what could be more serendipitous than that? Click on photo to buy print or license photo.

Luck favors the prepared mind, as does serendipity.  Webster’s definition-Serendipity – an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally.  Audacious, is the photographer who chooses to make his living stalking serendipity from one location to another then back again hoping to capture light as it has never been captured before or tougher yet as they may have captured it in the past.  But that is what we nature photographers do, and that is what we live for.

Armed with our accumulated knowledge of the magic hour, cloud diffused lighting, outdoorsmenship, storm lighting, instinct for peak action, wildlife behavior, camera mechanics, changes in seasons, composition, astronomy, etc., we set out to bring the natural world to armchair adventures, outdoor enthusiasts, publishers, and advertisers, and to do so we have to rely on serendipity. Accomplished photographers are serendipiters; serendipiters are those with an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

When I used to shoot windsurfing, nightly I would watch the news for wind and surf reports, however, my best day of shooting was by happenstance. Not much was expected this day but I showed up at the local windsurfing hotspot to meet a friend to compare notes on a manuscript we were working on.  He wasn’t there, and no one else was either.  Perplexed, I pondered the emptiness of this hotspot, and then on a hunch I drove up the coast a bit and found them windsurfing 10-foot waves where there usually are none. I had a half hour to shoot before I had to be to work, but I got some great wind surfing, shots, quite by chance.

Sunset, reflection Morro Bay, California, san luis obispo county, central coast,
On a return trip hope for serendipity reached fruition. Click on photo to buy print or license photo.

On the flip side of the coin, one day I looked up at the sky 2 hours before sunset, high, thin, wispy, cirrus clouds covered the sky, so off to the coast I went to a favorite spot, I set up and waited for what was sure to be a dynamic sunset.  8:30 brought the, anti-climatic, disappearance of the sun into an unseen marine layer of fog somewhere off the coast that swallowed the pinks, tangerines and oranges of my over optimistic mind.

Then there was the time I was driving around Yellowstone looking for the telltale, taillights that indicate wildlife found, when there it was! Three cars pulled off to the side of the road, in anticipation I looked down into the meadow only to see a cow elk.  The sun was sitting on the western horizon so this was to be the last opportunity of the day so I grabbed my tripod and gear and set up for what appeared to be some grab shots of something that would never sell when a full moon started creeping over the horizon directly behind the elk.  Pay dirt!

Green River at Green River Lakes under Squaretop Peak in the Wind River Mountain of Wyoming
My freezing vantage point paid off

We also have serendipity enhancement.  For instance, in route to the Green River Lakes in Wyoming I noticed the glassy surface of the Green River with the beautiful Square Top Mountain at the end of it.  Knowing that there would be a dynamic reflection, I hiked down to the river only to find the reflection framed up somewhere I couldn’t get to from the bank of the river.  Then the ice-cold reality hit me.  I had to strip to my underwear and wade to the middle of the glacier fed river.  Mercifully the current of the river swept away the ripples I caused swiftly past me and I quickly shot off a roll of film.  The camera’s perspective from 6 inches above the water surpassed anything I could have shot from shore, had I been able to find a suitable spot.

One spring when the coastal hills were covered with a new carpet of emerald green grass, a clearing storm had me hoping to catch a slate grey sky trapping the light of the evening sun coming in under the clouds and illuminating the grassy hills.  As an afterthought I stopped by a newspaper photographer, friends house to haul him along.  He didn’t want to go because it was raining.  I told him there wouldn’t be a photo opportunity if it weren’t raining.  I was rewarded with my slate grey sky, the brilliant green hills illuminated by a clearing western sky and a 180-degree rainbow framing a ranch house for a bonus, my friend was rewarded with a bud light and another Dan Rather diatribe.

Fighting  Bull moose herd in Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Daryl Hunter's "The Hole Picture" • Daryl L. Hunter has been photographing the Yellowstone Region since 1987, when he packed up his view camera, Pentex 6X7, and his 35mm’s and headed to Jackson Hole Wyoming. Besides selling photography Daryl also publ/Daryl L. Hunter)
Fighting Bull moose holding up traffic in Grand Teton National Park. Click on photo to buy print or license photo.

A case of serendipity enhancement run amuck is when I rented a house forty miles from my real job so I could drive past the Grand Tetons Mountains at dawn every morning.  The serrated skylines alpenglow covered peaks at sunrise was inspiring, the elk, moose, deer, antelope, and bison along the way were beyond belief.  I only wished that I had budgeted enough time every morning to pull to the side of the road to take a picture of it all.

I mustn’t leave out Murphy’s Law of serendipity.  I was on my way to a sled dog race in Montana Creek Alaska driving my trusty pinto hatchback, my seven huskies packed snugly inside with my sled tied to the roof when there in front of me were two bull moose fighting in the middle of the road.  I eased the car to the side of the road then reached to empty floor where I usually keep my camera bag at the ready, OOPS.  I sat and watched the moose lock antlers and shove each other from one side of the road, to the other, for 20 minutes with the sun rising brilliantly from the, alpenglow covered, Talkeetna Mountains, with the pink, tangerine, and orange of my over optimistic mind, this time, scattered all over the sky and the Ice covered pavement these moose were traipsing all over.  I’ll never forget it, picture or not.  I just don’t get to share it with anyone.

The searching for, and recording of serendipity may seem like a risky way to make a buck because it is.  If I weren’t a carpenter, cook, writer, wrangler, tour-guide, real estate investor, horse trader, and jack of a few trades I would never admit, I would never see the financial light of day, but it’s this quest to be a serendipiter that keeps me going and looking forward to waking up to a brand-new day.

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2 thoughts on “Search for Serendipity, the photographer’s quest

  1. Laura Horton says:

    You are so right! Dorothea Lange actually passed the road where she shot her iconic photograph. She had a feeling that she needed to turn around and we get to enjoy her serendipity!

    • Thanks Laura, it sounds like Dorothea Lange also had her intuition in overdrive that day. I was watching on google analytics as you read this, you also read several other blog posts – thanks 🙂

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