The last remaining light from the sunset filtered from behind the horizon, up and over the lake at Caesar Creek State Park. In my opinion, it was the best time of the day. Virtually every nature photographer in the world favored the daily sunrise and sunset as it was the most productive time being in the field.
Magic hour. Golden hour. The anyone can be a great photographer hour. It’s been given so many different names over the years. When the sun is near or right below the horizon, the diffused lighting creates soft and balanced scenes while producing dynamic colors more striking than any other time of the day. Most of the popular and visually impressive landscape photographs are taken then. This display performance happens as most people are in the comfortable confines of their homes.
As usual, today’s golden hour had not disappointed. The picturesque fall colors of the trees surrounding the lake were painted by the setting sun as the sky above transitioned from a cobalt blue, through fluorescent orange, to deep violet which comes right before the stars start to blanket the heavens.
My plan for today was to come out to add more images to my portfolio and hope for one of those perfect photographs which were slowly starting to provide some stable income. Landscape photography is the passion but not always the most lucrative. Still, a number of my photographs have been used in postcards, magazines, calendars, and stock photographs as well as a few college textbooks. I have even managed to get one of my images displayed in the local Cincinnati airport walkway between terminals. You never know what is going to sell and the more images you have, the better the odds.
This time of day is usually spent scrambling to capture as many images as possible when the lighting is perfect. The day is spent planning where and what images to be taken, so the fleeting moments around sunset can be as effective as possible. Usually, the only time the golden hour isn’t hectic is when the weather prevents one from happening in the first place.
This nightfall was different for me because I never even opened my camera bag, let alone took any photographs. Instead, I spent the time simply watching how the scenery changed around me. Sitting comfortably against a tree, I had to admit it felt wonderful just to rest, relax, and reflect on the past year. I really couldn’t remember when I had simply sat and enjoyed a sunset.
The last time I had felt this content and happy was a long time ago. A little over seven years. Seven years since both my fiancée, Hannah, and my police officer father were murdered by a revengeful drug dealer. Seven years since I have slept peacefully through the night. Seven years since I have not felt the familiar dark clouds surround me.
At first, after the tragedy, it was almost impossible to get out of bed. Everyone I cared about was gone and I was on my own. My dad was gone, which left me alone as far as any close family members. My mom had walked away one day not wanting to be a part of our world anymore and never came home. My fiancée’s parents didn’t blame me directly for their daughter’s death but never forgave me either, almost pretending I died that day as well. Slowly over time and with the help of a number of supportive and respectful fellow officers of my dad, I became a productive member of society and tried to be happy.
The worst aspect of grief and depression, however, is believing it is over. For the next few years, any fleeting moments of relative happiness were quickly taken back with a vengeance by my ever darkening personal storm.
Recently, I have started to see the bright sun finally breaking through. My photography business has, at last, started to make some money. It’s not anywhere near enough to make a completely independent living, but it is a start. Almost two decades of taking photographs have built up my library for stock images. My fine art images have been selling on a somewhat regular basis. Most successfully, believe it or not, was my blog.
When selling prints at numerous art fairs and gallery shows, I was constantly asked various questions about the photographs. Customers always wanted to know details about where it was taken and inevitably we would get into a discussion on the image subject and the history. As a result, I often included a summary of the image with the purchase. After a while, these started becoming as popular as the prints themselves. To drum up more interest in the fine art prints, I started a website and blog which included a description of the photo along with an interesting backstory on the history of the subject. The writing was also very therapeutic and helped me concentrate.
The name for all of these was elusive but, as luck would have it, when editing the first one the total word count caught my attention. A few quick edits and the information was exactly a thousand words. From this, The Thousand Words blog was born. It has been gaining in popularity ever since. This has helped sell more fine art prints as well as generate a little income from ads on the site. Early this year, I was contracted to create a monthly column for the local paper with a regional photo and related thousand words.
Even with all of this, it was still a struggle to pull in enough money to live. As a result, the gap is made up with freelancing as a photographer for the Cincinnati Police Department taking pictures of crime scenes, working with insurance agencies to provide evidence of insurance fraud on disability claims, and taking various cases as a fully licensed private investigator. My ability for taking great photographs, having all of the expensive equipment as well as growing up in a household where my main influence was a seasoned robbery and homicide detective, made this kind of work something which I was very good at.
Moderate success at work is one thing, but my first glimpse of happiness was the day I met Kelsey. She worked as a volunteer for the Flying Pig Marathon event where she checked me in, gave me my running bib and participant information. I was finally getting in shape enough to run my first 13.1-mile race. Her genuine smile was mesmerizing and we began to chat. It was my first real unforced, non-work related conversation with a woman since the fateful day.
Taking a chance for some unknown reason, I asked if we could talk again after the race. She asked me for my phone number and said she would text me if I was able to finish the race in under two hours. Thinking about her for most of the race, I thought I had a real chance but the wicked climb up through Eden Park put me behind the needed pace.
I dejectedly approached the finish line even though it was my best time of two hours and five minutes. Much to my surprise, I happened to find her face in the crowd cheering. She found me in the recovery area after the race and congratulated me for finishing. We ended up going out for coffee and talked for hours, sitting in the cafe for so long I had problems walking after my legs seized up from the run. Soon after, we started dating and have been seeing each other ever since.
The buzz of my cell phone quickly brought me back to reality. Hoping it was Kelsey, I grabbed my phone but was not surprised at all it was my assistant Jane calling me for the fifth time. Knowing I was going to be on the receiving end of quite a bit of grief, I answered anyway.
“LaRosa’s Pizza. How may I help you?”
“Where are you?” Jane yelled into the phone. “I have been trying to call you for hours. Do you have the latest The Thousand Words ready for submission?”
“Uh. I had a few errands I had to run while I was working out a few rough spots in the text. I am almost done. Promise.” It had sounded so much better in my head than it did out loud.
“Do you actually think I was going to buy that feeble attempt? Running errands and still working on it was the best you could come up with?”
I had known Jane for almost four years now. With all the different kind of work I was doing, I needed some support. I hired Jane on a temporary basis to help me organize and catalog my growing portfolio. I had placed some ads online and at the local community colleges. Jane showed up at my so-called office in the converted garage next to my house and spent the next ninety minutes explaining to me why she was right for the work and how I didn’t need to interview anyone else. She has been with me ever since and does anything and everything imaginable.
Jane was one of the reasons why I was starting to have some success. What she did was always flawless and often completed before even being asked. This allowed me to concentrate on taking photographs and private investigation cases. She did the work as if it were her business and not mine. Mostly this was a good thing, but at certain times I felt a complete and total loss of control. It was way too late to change anything now.
Jane really didn’t need to work financially, but did so out of enjoyment of keeping busy and interacting with the various people she encountered along the way. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if at some point in the future she found something more exciting work to keep her entertained. For the time being, I was taking full advantage of her quality work.
“Do you really want me to answer?” I asked somewhat sheepishly.
“What do you think? Where are you? The truth this time.”
“I am up at Caesar Creek taking some pictures. It looked like it was going to be a good night and I wanted to get some more stock images. You never know.”
“Please tell me you are kidding me,” Jane lectured me. “You are a good hour away. I know you haven’t finished the submission for the paper and it is due by six AM tomorrow morning.”
“I am almost finished,” I responded as confidently as I could. “It’s basically written and only needs a bit of editing to get it to exactly one thousand words.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. I had a rough outline in my head and a few notes written down. I had nothing resembling a finished column.
“You had better get moving. I am sure it needs a bit more work than you are letting on. Drop off the memory cards on the way home. I will load them up and tag them with the metadata in the morning before I have to go off to my real job. How many images did you get?” Jane asked.
Uh oh. I really didn’t think this through. “Around the normal amount,” I added much less confidently. “Some, but not too many. I will deal with them, no problem. It will be late by the time I get back and need to work on the submission.”
The silence on the other end of the line made it clear I was in more trouble than expected. Her eye-roll could be felt through the phone. Jane finally broke the silence. “You are the worst liar I have ever met,” she said laughing. “Get back home, heat up one of the gumbo servings I made for you and get to work on the submission for the paper. I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“I thought you worked for me?” I regretted my response while it was still coming out of my mouth.
“Don’t get me started on that again. Get going. Now.”
The silence on the other end of the phone let me know Jane had hung up. It wasn’t the first time and sure wouldn’t be the last. Knowing she was right as usual, I grabbed my unopened camera bag and headed back on the trail to my SUV. It was going to be a long night writing but it was worth it. Life hasn’t been this wonderful in years.