The Commuting Photographer

Like most people, I am not lucky enough to be independently wealthy, so I must go to work every weekday. As I sit in traffic I get to enjoy the beautiful golden hour light on my hour long commute over the mountains near Los Angeles. I've witnessed many great sunrises and sunsets as I am driving along I-15, and although I always keep my camera in the car, I usually can’t stop to take photographs. It's just a fact of life that we have to work, and for many photographers that means missing lots of good light.

This used to really bother me; there have been desert sunrises so glorious it nearly brought me to tears as I drove right on by so I wasn't late to a morning meeting. And usually in the evenings I work so late I can’t get anywhere photogenic in time. I realized this was putting me into a bad mental state, and that feeling of frustration is not how I wanted to live. I knew it was getting out of hand because when I was able to go out shooting I kept comparing the light in front of me to the light I had missed.

While thinking about this problem, I remembered a conversation I had with my grandmother. We were talking about her and my grandfather's love for photography and how I was just starting to really get interested in it as well. We were walking on the beach one winter morning near her house in Door County, WI. It was a chilly morning, but the air was so still it didn’t feel very cold. While talking about nature and life, she told me that once she started taking pictures, she looked at everything she experienced in the world differently. She took time to notice the light and beauty of things more than she had before and that she really enjoyed that feeling.

So, I decided to embrace my grandmother's wisdom and try to just appreciate the light even when I can't photograph it. I now enjoy the beauty but also try to learn from the weather. I watch it as closely as I can, seeing the different types of clouds, how they interact with the landscape, and how the light filters through them to create those gorgeous colors I am always searching for. I then envision the different compositions I would set up for the day's lighting. This has turned each commute into a learning exercise and improved my outlook on life as well as my photography. And every once in a while there is a day I just compulsively pull over and start photographing next to the highway, despite it making me late for work. Just don’t tell my boss!

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February 2013Matthew kuhnsPhotographyPhotography tips