top of page

Seeing Light

I grew up in two places at once. The first, was Western Pennsylvania, filled with green forests and an urban jungle. Spending my days playing in the woods of Ohiopyle State Park, making forts from tree branches, doing archery in the weeds across the alley, and going on adventures to find bugs and colorful rocks. The second, was a fantasy world of my own imagination, inspired by The Neverending Story, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings. With my days spent playing in the woods of Fantasia, making forts from tree branches on the planet Endor, doing archery in the grasses of Middle Earth, and going on adventures to find bugs and colorful rocks.


I remember the way that light and shadow defined the trees, reflected from the glass and steel of the buildings, and pierced through clouds after the rain. One early memory I have, is sitting in the car as my mom was driving, and looking up as the sun was shining through the clouds. I don’t remember where we were coming from, or where we were going, but I do remember asking my mom, “Is that Jesus?” while feeling awe at the way the sun separated the clouds, with pillars of golden light.


A few years later, I was lucky enough to be gifted my dad’s old SLR camera, which went with me on countless trips to the zoo to take “real, professional” (often blurry and poorly exposed) pictures of tigers, or to the park to take pictures of my dog Buddy. That camera led to me taking photography classes, which introduced me to the magic of the darkroom and black and white film. Seeing the world in black and white, meant stripping away the colors, and put all of the emphasis on light and shadow. The way they danced together, and fought against each other, to create a moment. Seeing light expose the composition, brought me back to that moment in the car, looking in awe at the rays of sunlight shining through gaps in the clouds.


Chasing Light

Fast forward 30 years, and I still find my breath taken away when light contours the world around me. But a lot has changed since then, including moving across the country to Washington State. Trading the familiar forests and trees I used to build forts, for views of mountains, and a fire-torn shrub steppe that I now call home. When most people think of the PNW; they think of rain, mountains, the ocean, forests, and more rain. But not where I live. Here, the Cascade Mountain Range causes a rain shadow, which prevents the area from getting much rain and creates a shrub-steppe, although most people call it a desert (with the occasional cactus to prove it).


Moving here drastically changed the landscape I was familiar with. The shrub-steppe climate is dry and doesn’t have the towering trees and green fields I once photographed. But it makes up for that with beautiful golden grasses and cliffs. In fact, one of my favorite things, are the vistas of golden mountains defined by a line of sunlight against the shadow of a canyon wall and enhancing the simple, yet intricate, colors around me.


Now, I find myself exploring valleys and canyons, with sunlight constantly shifting behind basalt cliffs. As the sun moves, it creates new shapes, patterns, and textures in the minimalist landscape. Usually, these changes in light happen fast. So if I miss a moment where the light catches the scene; that’s it, there’s no second chance (which often leads to me catching my breath as I run back and forth along rocky trails, as new compositions are revealed).


One moment I will never forget (and I have the photograph to make sure), was when I was driving along a canyon road. The sky was filled with dense clouds, diffusing all of the sunlight through the canyon. That is, until it wasn’t! I was getting disappointed by the dull light, and the photographs it produced, when in the distance I saw it… The clouds were beginning to separate. The problem was, it was far in the distance, woven around the winding road and canyon walls, and the clouds were moving fast. I didn’t know if I would make it before the clouds covered the sun again. Every time I hoped to have the scene reveal itself, I was met with another canyon wall blocking the light, with just enough showing in the distance to tease me. I felt like I was chasing light, and thinking about that day in the car as a child, in awe by sunlight, shining through the clouds.

Finding Light

When I think back on my quest through the canyon, for sunlight in the distance, I remember the thrill of not knowing. I didn’t know if I would catch the light I was chasing, but I kept chasing it. Driving through repeating blind bends in the road, I started to give up until coming around the last turn. There it was, the moment I was chasing! 30 years later, and there I was sitting in the car, filled with awe as the sunlight fought its way through the clouds. The walls of the canyon began to glow as light and shadow defined the golden grass while reflecting on the curved, flowing river below. Finally, I caught the moment I was chasing.


I have found that finding light, it’s always just a moment. It doesn’t last forever. In fact, the only thing constant is, it feels like I’m constantly chasing it.


For me, a “good” landscape photograph isn’t the end of an adventure, it’s the beginning of the next adventure. Chasing light, again, and again.

bottom of page