with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Open Your Aperture

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness – all foes to real understanding. Likewise, tolerance or broad, wholesome charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in our little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
~ Mark Twain

Moose in Alaska, photograph by Brent VanFossenWhen you think of Alaska, don’t you imagine it as the last refuge for large wild animals in the Northern Hemisphere? A place where elk, caribou, moose, and bear still wander wild and free? On our first trip to Alaska, we were sure we would return with film covered with all things wild and woolly.

Instead, we found mosquitos, rain, and empty fields and mountain ranges. Nothing.

By the end of the first week, rain pounding our tent, we were angry and frustrated, biting and snapping at each other. The truth was we were disappointed. We didn’t find any great herds of elk, caribou, moose, or even the wandering lone bear. Just a few Arctic ground squirrels, soggy and boring. Nothing close to our stereotypical vision of the last wilderness frontier. What a waste.

Waterways from the glacier melt cuts across the fall colors of the tundra, Denali, Alaska, photograph by Brent VanFossenAfter a week of sneers and stabs, we called a truce. “We’re in Alaska!” I shouted, “Who cares about anything else!”

We rearranged our thinking and changed our photographic mood to photograph what was THERE, visible to the eye, not to keep looking for what should be there.

Icebergs floating on Portage Lake, Alaska, photograph by Brent VanFossenA few days later we did find some moose and bear, but by then we were relaxed and more casual about the event, ready with our cameras, our attitudes in place. We returned to Seattle with glorious images of snow-capped mountain scenes, icebergs floating on Portage Lake, fall colors on the tundra of Denali, brilliant red high bush cranberries glistening with water droplets, fascinating patterns of trees and plant life, and a few bear and moose pictures, along with a lot of Arctic ground squirrels. We returned happy, the most important thing.

We are still learning lessons about expectations, even ten years later. While we spent months preparing to evacuate Israel due to the war with Iraq, the time between the decision and the leaving was very short. We kept changing our minds about which photographic equipment to take and at last minute took only the barest minimum. We landed in Spain and decided to just play tourist, since we had left behind “our best equipment”.

At first it was frustrating not to have the full range of equipment choices, regretting leaving this and that behind, ignoring some angles because we didn’t have the “right stuff”. After a while, we accepted our limitations and kept on working with what we had.

Sunrise on Toledo, Spain, photograph by Brent VanFossenBefore we knew it, we pushed those self-imposed limits and started “seeing” things differently through the equipment we had instead of regretting what we didn’t have. Brent dusted off his wide angle lens and started “seeing” the world through an even wider perspective. Stuck with only one tripod, we propped our cameras up on the floor, benches, window sills, and anywhere, using coats, hats, and tour guide books to aim our lenses for long low-light exposures.

We took more risks, not sure how well our experiments were going to turn out. Working with less, we opened our minds up to even more possibilities. The result, we captured our time in Spain through fresh and refreshed eyes.

Matching Expectations With Reality

Drop your expectations as you travel. Sure it’s nice to have a plan, but be open to all there is to see and photograph. Be willing to lower your camera once in a while and just enjoy. Sometimes we spend so much time behind the camera, we forget that there is life in front of it. Let your mind be an aperture, willing to open as wide as possible to let the light in. There’s a lot of world to see and learn from. Just be open to it.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
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