Lessons Learned

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
   Bill Vaughn

Every year near the end of December the press is full of “Year in Review” stories and articles. Some are based on news stories and events from the year, others on whatever seems amusing to their authors. I've never written such an article; breaking with that tradition, what follows is my own version, a review of my 2014. It's been an unusual year, one which feels unproductive photographically. My total frame count, that is, the total number of image captures made with cameras, is thousands lower than is typical. However, from a business perspective, it's been a very good year. There's probably something to be learned from that.


The year started with a snap, the sound of a breaking bone. As described in my January article, on the second of the month I broke a bone in my left leg. During the healing process my mobility was limited; getting outside in snow or in icy conditions would have been unwise. I stayed pretty close to home. While I didn't do much new photography, I instead did some consulting (IT work) and several printing jobs for clients. I also had some sales success with one of the few keeper photos I made in January.

Lesson learned: don't break bones.

February brought more of the same

Since I wasn't getting out much I took the opportunity to do some indoor jobs, chief among them: rebuilding my file server, replacing its RAID 1 hard drives with larger capacity drives. I continued to do well with client printing jobs. I also picked up a very interesting job: to repair the failed power supply in an Apple Time Capsule (first edition), and replace its original 500 gigabyte hard drive with a 2 terabyte drive. The project, mostly done as an experiment, worked out well.

In late February the doctor declared my leg healed. I began walking the hills around our western Montana home, pushing hard to get back into shape after nearly two months of down time. We made a day trip to Glacier National Park and found a nice location for shooting Lake McDonald's ice, but I didn't feel comfortable climbing down the steep, snowy slope to reach that spot. We'd come back for that.

Lesson learned: My curiosity trumps all (something I've known forever). A client had the failed Time Capsule, I wanted to know how it worked, so I took it apart and was able to both repair and upgrade it. A fun project. Prior to that I hadn't used a soldering iron in a very long time! Even when I can't get outside as much as I'd like I can find plenty to do.

In March…

…I upgraded my main monitor to a NEC PA272W. I'd been waiting for NEC to release the new line of LED-backlit MultiSync monitors to replace their PAxx1W models. When the new models finally became available I placed my order.

I also had a large scanning/printing job and a nice little commission of my own work.

Lesson learned: some things are worth waiting for. The NEC is a terrific monitor. I've never had such good monitor-to-print fidelity.

April was busy

Lake McDonald frozen, April, 2014

Lake McDonald, April, 2014, our Christmas card photo.

We started with a day trip to Glacier. April is still winter in Glacier; this one brought a rare treat: Lake McDonald frozen across. We'd seen this in February, but I wasn't able to scramble down the boulders to get to a good shooting location on the lake shore. On 3 April, I climbed down to that previously-scouted spot and got the photo I'd been waiting to make. The picture looks nice on the wall, and also became our Christmas card this year.

I visited family in Ohio for several days. It made for a nice break, but also made the month feel more rushed and hectic.

Near the end of the month we purchased a Little Guy camper from a huge RV and marine dealer in Missoula, MT. An odd experience. dealing with those folk, but it worked out well enough.

The lessons: Never expect a second chance to get a photo, but sometimes it does happen. Also, don't look at campers unless you're prepared to bring one home.

In early May…

…we had our first outing in the camper, just a short “shake-down” cruise up to Glacier. We started a second trip at the end of May, spending time in Montana's Missouri Breaks State Park before continuing on to Yellowstone. From May through October we had many great trips with the camper. We expect to have many more.

May was, and would remain, my best month of the year for client printing jobs.

Lesson learned: After years of tent camping, it's very nice to be off the ground when sleeping, and to have a sturdy, weather-proof shelter during the spring (snow and ice) and early summer (rain) storms we often encounter in the places we like to visit.


We learned more about our camper, as we had an extended stay in Yellowstone National Park, spent a few days at the Two Medicine area in Glacier, and wrapped up the month with a couple of nights at Montana's Thompson Falls State Park.

Also in June I submitted a number of photos to the Montana Arts Council (MAC), for their “Percent for Art” program. This provides one percent of the budget for new or renovated state facilities to be used for the purchase of art for the facility. I responded to a call for art posted in the MAC's newsletter. They seemed to be in a rush, stating their intention to make the selections, print the work, and hang the exhibit by the end of August. This is, however, a state government agency. I expected nothing to happen quickly. I made my submissions and then did my best to put it out of my mind.

The lesson: Learn to back up with a trailer. It takes practice, but by the end of June I was getting pretty good at it. We worked the little camper hard, handled some seriously inclement weather with relative ease compared to tent camping, and generally had a fine time.


We returned to Yellowstone, with a one-night stop at Montana's Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park on the way. After a few days in Yellowstone we moved on to Grand Teton National Park (GRTE). This coincided with the July full “super moon”. I'd hoped to get something special, a sunrise photo of that moon over the Teton Range, but conditions conspired against me. The picture I got is OK, but not great.

A hike in GRTE provided my first opportunity to try out my new RPT P3 backpack. The pack was less comfortable than I'd hoped, but after a little research I learned how to properly adjust the fit, and the result has been wonderful.

My brother-in-law visited from Michigan. We spent a day climbing around Holland Falls, in Montana's Swan Valley. The easy walk takes one to a nice waterfall and rock formations, but it's very difficult to get a decent photo of the falls without risking life and limb.

I got a job to make forty prints of stills from a movie shot locally. It took some time to complete, but the client was happy.

Lessons learned: another fun month of camping, hiking, and picture-taking, but the resulting photography is only so-so. One can work hard at this craft and still bring home darned few keeper photos. Also, I should have replaced my old Tamrac photo backpack a long time ago. The new P3 makes long hikes with my gear much more pleasant.


…brought the outdoor “Art Festival” to the courthouse lawn here in Lake County, MT. This marked the seventh year I exhibited in the show. I began the preparation, that is, making prints, buying frames and mats, getting the pictures assembled and ready to hang, earlier in the summer. The week in August leading up to the show is very busy.

We did no camping, and I took no photos in August.

Late in the month we replaced my eleven+ year old Toyota RAV4 with a new Subaru XV Crosstrek. This car, like its predecessor, could never pull the camper, but it will be the shooting vehicle for most of my non-camping trips.

The lessons: The Art Festival is only a one-day show. Preparation is a lot of work and expensive. Tearing down my exhibit and loading the car at the end of a long, hot day, isn't getting easier. My wife suggested we not do the show again. TBD.

The Subaru is very different from my old RAV4. Although the new car is longer, it's not as tall and has fewer adjustment options for the interior. Working from the car seems cramped and awkward. It's going to take some time to get used to working from the car. But it's fun to drive and gets amazing fuel mileage.


I made up for August's lack of shooting. We made a couple of waterfall hikes in Glacier, and photographed the full super moon from the shore of Two Medicine Lake, where we also saw more moose. We also visited some new places, including Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, and the Long Beach peninsula on that state's Pacific coast.

Lesson learned: one we all know but tend to forget. Nothing kick-starts one's ebbing creativity like a trip to a new place. Even in challenging conditions that limit photographic opportunities, there's scouting and plain-old sight-seeing to do, and plans to make for future trips.


…saw the continuation of Western Montana's long and spectacular autumn. Warm days and clear nights seemed to stretch forever, and the fall color was wonderful. I photographed the full lunar eclipse, in truly horrible weather, at Glacier's Two Medicine Lake, in what would be our last camping trip of the year. We returned home, cleaned up the camper, packed away the gear, and put the rig in storage for the winter. Naturally, the perfect fall weather continued for another month! But we behaved like adults, staying home to work on a number of projects that needed doing before winter. I did manage to get out locally to photograph an ancient and crumbling log cabin for my Gravity series. Doing so required several trips to the site to take advantage of both sunrise and sunset light in the foliage around the old building.

Thousands of snow geese on Freezeout Lake, Choteau, MT, U.S.

The image selected by the MAC for their “Percent For Art” program. The final print was over 60 inches (152 cm) wide.

On 16 October I received word from the Montana Arts Council that one of my photos (above) was selected for their installation. Quite late per their original time table, but again, this is the government, Ma'am, where scheduling optimism and reality meet only in some non-parallel universe.

Several lessons here: Never make plans based on the weather forecast. The season (for camping, in this case) ain't over until it's over. Photographing in the middle of the night, under mostly cloudy skies, in howling wind, as I did for the eclipse, isn't even a little bit fun. Still, I couldn't resist the opportunity to get an interesting picture.

Never make plans (I didn't!) based on schedules set forth by government entities. Truth is, I was delighted to have my work accepted from among some outstanding competition; I didn't really care about the increasingly protracted schedule.


My least favorite month. The days become quite short, the valleys here fall victim to temperature inversions that bring cold and fog that lasts for days, and everything becomes generally gray. Novembery. But this year the beautiful fall weather lasted through November's first week. I made several attempts to photograph fall color but got few images I'll keep.

The lesson: November was cold and snowy the first several years we lived in Montana. It's becoming warmer, bringing rain and freezing rain more often than snow. Photographically, perhaps November is a month I should spend somewhere else.

In December…

…I replaced the server computer I wrote about back in February with a NAS (Network Attached Storage) box. I moved the pair of two-terabyte hard drives from the old server to the NAS, and added a second RAID array using a pair of new four-terabyte drives. The NAS, a product from QNAP, has many uses beyond simple file storage. I'm still learning what it can do.

A final bit of good news: I received a nice paycheck from the MAC. It didn't come in August as they suggested it would, but it DID come. Better late than never.

I didn't touch my photo gear in December. We had a huge two-day snow storm starting 27 December, dumping a foot of snow on top of the half-foot that fell on Christmas Eve. Snow conditions are excellent right now. I expect to spend some time in Glacier and elsewhere in western Montana in January.

The year's final lesson: I should have dumped the increasingly problematic Windows computer long ago. The NAS is small, quiet, fast, and very frugal with electricity, none of which described the old server. The NAS software is feature-rich and simple to use. I had to spend a little money, but the simplicity and convenience are well worth it.

I hope you had a good year, whatever “good” means for you, and I hope the new year finds you well, inspired, and creative in whatever form(s) your art takes. I hope my own new year starts better than 2014 did. I've got some changes in mind for the new year; I'll be looking for inspiration, new sources of creativity, and a renewed sense of fun that will, I hope, result in more and better pictures. There's no crystal ball, of course. Perhaps that's a good thing!

December, 2014

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