I just spent a week in Yellowstone with my tour partner Dan. We were scouting for a tour we will be leading this time next year. What an amazing and unique landscape! We look forward to showing the group what we found.

I re-learned a couple of lessons on this trip. 

The first two days were pretty much blue sky days. As this was our first time in Yellowstone, I found myself feeling those familiar and uncomfortable feelings of F.U.D. (fears uncertainties and doubts). It looked like a sea of evergreen trees and nothing else. Because it was unfamiliar, I was searching for things and feeling anxious. Heck, our mission was to scout for paying customers. We needed to find things, and find lots of them right now! Dan being the faithful co-leader he is, looked at me and said, “relax John, remember, be open…”  I sighed and said, “You mean you want me to actually practice what I teach?” We laughed, but, Dan was right. I needed to slow down and let the images come to me. Once I did that, once I trusted myself and beat away the F.U.D., I was overwhelmed with the possibilities. 

The second lesson is confirmation that once I relax, I am better at being open to what I now refer to as “the moment of perception.” It is the story behind the blog image, read on.

We had scouted the Grand Prismatic Spring the day before without cameras. It is truly magnificent and we wanted to go back to photograph in better light. As I walked over the foot bridge, I looked to my left and “in a moment of perception,” saw this scene. In that moment, I knew there was an image to be made. Rikki Cooke says to our students at the Molokai Workshop, “whenever something turns your head” you must stop and make an image.  A moment of perception is something that happens very quickly and without thought. And I believe, it comes from being open rather than having expectations. The key is to act upon it. So, rather than march on toward the other-worldly, colorful spring, I stopped, set up my tripod, and tuned into what the perception was. I silently asked, what turned my head? Now, how best to capture that. Long lens? Wide? Great DOF? Shallow DOF? Color? B&W? 2×3 or panoramic format? All of these decisions, come after the moment of perception. 

I know I sound like a broken record about expectations, but, there is a reason. They are so hard to get past! I hope these stories help. Please consider the idea of “a moment of perception.” Try to slow down as Dan remained me to do. Try to push aside your F.U.D. and expectations and be open to whatever turns your head. I promise you’ll find wonderful gifts!

This entry was posted in Moment of Perception, Yellowstone and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Denise October 12, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    Totally resonated. Doubly challenging when leading a group because you not only have your own expectations but the group’s as well. Great way to put it in to words.

    • JB October 13, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      Oh my Udit more difficult while leading. That is why I go 3 days prior. To shot for me! 🙂

  2. Cindy Williams October 12, 2015 at 8:43 am #


  3. Kren October 12, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    You’re finally there! Yellowstone Lake will never disappoint; just go away from the crowds.

    Did you take the Beartooth??? YOU MUST DO THIS. DO NOT MISS IT.

    Also suggest some star photography. Skies are the best (next to Mauna Kea, of course)

    If you leave the park, head north via Mammoth to Chico Hot Springs. Great hotel/restaurant/hot springs. Not far away, along the Yellowstone River.

    • JB October 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      I’m home now… we need to talk.

  4. Amanda Villier October 12, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    It was so nice to run into you there. I hope you found as many cool things to photograph as I did. 🙂

    • JB October 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      Great to meet you Amanda. We had a great time.

  5. Scott Oberle October 12, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Welcome to the challenges and rewards of Yellowstone/Grand Tetons. Very few landscapes in North America have the variety of subjects that this area does. It will test you as a photographer, but as you discovered, if you are open the rewards are huge. This will be one of your best trips ever…

  6. Jazz Jaeschke October 12, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Great post and example – cannot remind (or be reminded) too often to open to perception (often intuition leading to perception). Thanks for a memorable reminder.

    • JB October 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      You’re welcome Jazz.

  7. Peggy W October 12, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    John, 1st you presented a lovely captivating image. You seem to have used a black and white on top of sepia or muted tones. To me it looks other worldly; a trip to fantasy. It works better than either straight b&w or color. Can I ask, did you have a filter or is this post processing?

    • JB October 12, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      Actually Peggy, this is pretty much out of camera, very little processing. I considered making is B&W.

  8. Brian October 12, 2015 at 10:37 pm #

    Hi John – I just read your blog post and couldn’t believe the similarities between it and my post tonight. I think it’s a lesson we all need to learn. It’s ok to go to a place with some expectations – but only if you are also open to other possibilities. Photography should be exploration and reaction to what is there in front of you. Hope you are doing well!

    • JB October 13, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      We think alike!

  9. Bruce Sorrell October 13, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    That is a truly magnificent image, John ! It’s simply stunning ! The inclusion of that fellow fishing anchors the scale perfectly and adds a touch of reality to what is otherwise an enjoyably fantasmic scene. Many thanks for your “take it to the bank” advice on remaining open to the possibilities around us. How can one ever hope to be in the moment if you’re up to your neck in preconceived notions of how “things should be” ? Thanks much for helping all of us enjoy our photography to the utmost. And please keep the good advice coming !

    • JB October 13, 2015 at 8:57 am #

      Exactly! Thanks Bruce.

  10. Debbie winchester October 13, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    Glad to see you are venturing into one of my favorite places on this earth. Yellowstone is definitely a place that can bring out the FUDs! I have spent a couple of weeks there in the winter for 10-12 years and you really do have to let the images come to you. Love this shot and the fisherman is what takes it a step above …

    • JB October 14, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

      Thanks Debbie.

  11. Steve L October 15, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    Good to read your thought process!
    I gotta remember that…FUDs! haha

    • Bruce Sorrell October 15, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

      Mea culpa, John! I thought posting the link to the photo I was discussing in the “Website” field would work. Seems not. My apologies. In any event, here’s the URL in question:

      • JB October 15, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

        A lovely moment Bruce. Well done! Thanks for sharing the story too!

  12. Bruce Sorrell October 15, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

    A quick thank you, John, for reminding us of the importance of staying open. This shot, caught yesterday, is bound to become one of my all time favorites and I owe you for that. Went out to our nearby lake to shoot some fall color and migratory fowl, neither of which materialized. The broken overcast cloud cover didn’t work with either subject. So I just took a deep breath, relaxed, and opened up to what might be there. As I strolled back from the lake to my car, along comes this little beauty, lead by her grandparents to her first encounter with some feisty Canadian geese. She clearly was not too keen on that idea. In short, I wouldn’t trade this catch for all the golden autumn leaves that will eventually follow. So again, many thanks for reminding us to always stay open to the possibilities around us. Or to borrow from the movie, “Dune.” “I will bend like a reed in the wind.”

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