Be The Change You Want To See In The World...
For a long time, I wanted to make a positive difference in the world, but I did not have a clear idea of how to do it. I've never been particularly interested in being the center of attention, and grand gestures or stunts did not feel natural to me. That being said, I've always felt a strong sense of responsibility for our planet and my human family and no amount of ignoring it would make it go away. This left me at an impasse. How could I best contribute something meaningful to society in a way that was comfortable for me?
I visited Olympic National Park in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States during the government shutdown of January 2019. Due to a lack of funds, the national park service closed sections of their parks. Toilets, trash removal, snow plowing and downed tree removal services were all suspended and in many places that were still open, there were reports of mountains of trash and litter on trails. We made sure to bring trash bags and gloves with us, and when I posted this photo, I used it as a teachable moment, talking about that experience in my caption. 14 mm, 2 sec, f/11, ISO 100.
This question plagued me for a long time, as I tried out several scenarios to make a difference in the lives of the people around me. While I succeeded in helping others, it took a lightbulb moment to finally find a niche that felt comfortable. It took the realization that art is a means of communication. So often, people are uneasy speaking up directly against the wrongs of the world. For some, they simply cannot articulate their feelings. For others, they may be afraid of confrontation, or the limelight that comes with preaching on a soapbox. Landscape photography is a way to educate and communicate without words.
Sunrise and I are reluctant friends. I’m not what anyone would call “a morning person”, so imagine how difficult it was to drag myself out of bed for a dreary, overcast early AM alarm. As soon as I got in the car and looked at the cloudy sky, I assumed that sunrise would be a dud. But I had three photographer friends to hold me accountable – wonderful people I’d met over the course of my landscape photography career – and so away we went. Thankfully, my efforts were rewarded what turned out to be both a fun morning and a beautiful light show.
24 mm, 1/25 sec, f/22, ISO 100.
In my own journey, I've used my photography as a way to start conversations about difficult topics, and a way to present facts. I’ve touched on topics ranging from gender bias to environmental conservation and art therapy. In all cases, my photos were used as a catalyst to start a conversation or to support facts surrounding the topic at hand. I didn't need to do much in the way of talking - at least not on a grand scale to large groups - because my images told the story for me. For me, my landscape photos were a way for me to be the change I wanted to see in the world, in a way that I could sustain indefinitely.
When we arrived at the top of the trail, this lake was completely socked in with fog. We could not see more than a few yards out. We figured we’d hiked up the mountain though, and we weren’t going to waste the effort. I took the trail to the right, circling around the lake in hopes that the fog would clear; our perseverance was rewarded with this brief gap in the weather, where we got a view of both Lonesome Lake and some of the mountains in the range behind it. 50mm, 1/80 sec, f/11, ISO 100.
It’s Who You Know...
No man (or woman) is an island unto themselves. Rather, we are social creatures who thrive in groups. Although the act of shooting is frequently a solitary venture, the resulting images are a bridge connecting us with photographers, nature lovers, art lovers, etc.
Landscape photography requires travel and exposure to new people and cultures. Social media, which is a standard marketing tool these days, requires at least some interaction with other photographers and photo enthusiasts. Given the setting for our images, social media also encourages relationships with other outdoor enthusiasts and travelers. Therefore, it's no surprise that over the course of my landscape photography career, I've made countless friends in all of those camps.
I went to this particular forest in search of a waterfall that I’d seen a friend post about. The hike ended up being lovely, and the waterfall was spectacular, but my favorite photo of the day ended up being of the light falling through the trees. Being open to whatever presented itself helped me be open to photos I may not have seen otherwise. 50mm, 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 100.
Overwhelmingly, my experiences with others in the landscape photography world have been good ones. I've been blessed with deep, lasting friendships, mentors I admire, students I enjoy talking to, and opportunities that I would have never had otherwise. My photography has taught me that people are just as important to my experience as the landscape images themselves. In the end, who you share your journey with is a large part of what makes life meaningful. It's a lesson in gratitude that most people eventually learn, I just happened to learn it with a camera in my hands.
Maroon Bells is a very famous location in Colorado, and finding a new composition can be challenging. I spent a lot of time poking around during the day, looking for something that hadn’t been done yet. Thankfully, my time spent practicing creative exercises and unique compositions came in handy. I was able to wade through freezing cold runoff, balance on a rock, taking turns with which foot rested in the numbing water in order to capture this image. Well worth the effort, as far as I’m concerned. 14mm, 312-sec foreground/13-sec sky blended, f/2.8, ISO 1600.
Landscape photography has shaped my life in ways I never expected and has taught me lessons that have carried over to the rest of my life. It has changed my outlook on the world and the people around me and allowed me to contribute something meaningful to society. I use my images to speak from my heart and have been blessed with lasting friendships along the way. To me, it's so much more than a career. It’s a way of life.
Shannon Kalahan is based out of the New England region of the United States. Her photographic journey began in 2002 while volunteering for an animal rescue. She has since built a successful business as a landscape, wedding and newspaper photographer, author and educator.