Am I Willing: An Essay on Life

Routinely, I listen/watch to a number of YouTube channels related to photography.  My goal in doing so, is to hear/see what other photographers are doing, but also to maybe pick up a new technique or rethink the way I had been approaching a particular composition.

About a week ago, I was listening to the latest video from First Man Photography (Adam Karnacz) titled “The Biggest Problems Faced by Landscape Photographers.”  One ‘problem’ he brought up was the ever-challenging question of whether or not to hit that snooze button when the alarm goes off at 4am, for a sunrise photo shoot.  Adam uses the phrase “am I willing” repeatedly to himself, to ask the question whether he is willing to get up at hours ahead of the crack of dawn, to hike to a shoot location…or to give up time spent with his kids on a Saturday afternoon to go on a photo shoot, and the list goes on and on.

Over the last few days, this question has been running around in my head, as the question “am I willing” really is relatable to me, not just as a photographer, but as a person.

The more I thought about this, the more I reflected back to various times, as a photographer.  For example, in 2013, while on a photography road-trip with a fellow photographer, we were in Zion National Park.  This particular day, the weather was a mix of sun and clouds, but we both thought that there might be a great opportunity for some waterfall activity up at the Emerald Pools area.  Despite the rain that was falling on and off, a little persistence definitely pays.  We both heard the unmistakable sounds of water as we approached the lower Emerald Pools area.  The mist was hanging throughout the Pools area and the water was certainly flowing at a high-rate!

Misty Afternoon at Emerald Pools

Misty Afternoon at Emerald Pools

The Summer of 2013 was filled with adventures; another opportunity to capture the magnificent beauty of nature came in July when I answered the question “am I willing” when I chose to get out on-trail at 3am, to be on-location by 4:30am for some night sky photography ahead of morning twilight.  Predicting the weather is a science, for which I am not great at…but have had a few instances of luck! 

The Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed locations in Colorado, is a favorite location of mine.  Not just the usual scene from the shore of Maroon Lake, but hiking two miles up the Crater Lake Trail to shoot from the shore of Crater Lake which sits at the base of the Maroon Bells.  Starting on-trail in territory known to have moose, bear and other wildlife makes one hyper-aware and forces you to stop every couple hundred yards to do a safety sweep with your headlamp (360 horizontal plus 180 vertical).  Each stop, while I hadn’t realized this at the time, I was asking myself, “am I willing” (in a sense) to keep trekking on, despite the potential for danger that may lurk somewhere in the dark.  There were a few critters along the trek, visible by the light of my headlamp shining in their eyes.  All of which where deer.  Not a scary predator, but still makes you stop and observe to ensure you do truly know what the critter truly is…

Making my way to the researched shoot location was interesting that morning; I heard a few owls on the trek up, but none had come anywhere close.  The night sky photography was fun, though the images I shot were not quite what I was hoping to create.  The awakening of the day, while out in the great outdoors, is something I treasure.  The quiet moments broken up by the music of nature as the light begins to paint the mountains is just breathtaking!!  The calmness of the morning along with the subtle, yet perfect clouds made for one of those images that you always hope to be in the right place at the right time (and this time, I was!).

Pink Bells

Pink Bells

The next moment of “am I willing” was in February 2014, when, after watching the weather for a week, I thought there would be an opportunity to photograph something well-known, yet in a completely different perspective.  The sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, located in the San Luis Valley of south central Colorado, is a place that offers a very unique experience.  Some find the sand dunes rather lackluster; others marvel at the amazing dunes and what can be observed while trekking about on the dunes.  The day of arrival was very cold and blustery; the dunes were a barren sea of dark beige.  The clouds on the western horizon prevented any real sunset photography.  The next morning, driving out to the park (stayed at a hotel in Alamosa), there was a very clear indication of change coming.  I don’t know why I had brought my snowshoes, but was glad I had them in my vehicle as the need was relatively apparent, once I had parked.

After trekking for probably 90 minutes, shooting a few images here and there, the snow was coming down so hard that, in the interest of safety, I felt it was wise to return to the vehicle and go back to the hotel room for a while.  Mid-afternoon, the clouds were breaking and the snow letting up, so I headed back to the park.  I was definitely willing, on this occasion, to strap on the snowshoes and take advantage of the fallen snow to capture some magical images of snow-covered sand dunes!!

Sheer Beauty

Sheer Beauty

In each of these instances, the question “Am I Willing” had come up.  While maybe not in those exact words, the implied phrasing was still prevalent.  This question, as Adam posed it, made me really ponder the implications the question has in our every-day lives.  The daily stresses we incur have us asking ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice working in a job that we truly hate or for a manager, a boss that we know has zero respect for us.  The question “am I willing” comes into play with those whom we associate, whom we call friends, whom we trust to have our backs when the worst or best of life is thrown our direction.  Am I willing to allow this person, who has proven time and again, to not be forthright and honorable, to be a part of our lives?  Am I wiling to allow the person whom I work with, who has exhibited untrustworthy behavior to know anything but the most subtle of details of my personal life?

Am I willing to allow external influences, be that Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or the news media, shape my decisions on life without doing the proper due-diligence to be sure the information is correct?

Am I willing to be a person who looks down on people, whether I know them or not, because of what I have been told about “those people?”  

For me, personally, this question is an awakening.  I believe this question is meant to be used by all of us, to become better humans; to have a [civil] dialog with those whom we disagree.  To be better husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, friends, confidants and the list goes on.

The world is an ugly place if we allow all of the external influences in our lives shape our every move, our every thought.  But, if we stop allowing ourselves to be divided and learn to ask ourselves “Am I Willing” in terms of am I willing to sit down and have a discussion about this. Our work together to make life better for more than just “me,” perhaps this life, this world, the people we surround ourselves with, we can live together and not be in a constant battle.

Life, in my opinion, is far too short, to not allow yourself to ask the question: “Am I Willing?”