Series and Sequences

Proverbs should be sold in pairs, a single one being but a half truth
     William Mathews

Many years ago I made my first image “pair” entirely by accident. The subject caught my eye on a rainy summer day, I made the photo, and then sent the film off for processing (note the “Many years ago” lead in). When the slides came from the lab I reviewed them as usual and decided I had a keeper or two. Months later, after a night of heavy, wet snow, I made some photos in the same area. Looking at those slides I realized I'd made the photo before, but in very different conditions. After a little digging through the archives (er, shoeboxes) I found the summer version of the photo. It's a bit surreal, and amusing, to discover two photos are accidentally almost identical.

Looking at the two pictures now I think neither's too interesting on its own, but become so as a pair. Over the years I've had some success creating a few more such image pairs. A small number have been like the very first, more by luck than by design. Others resulted from planned efforts to capture the same subject or scene in different conditions, which may have been weather, or seasons, or time of day. A few of these pairs are of small subjects, but most are larger scenics.

Our site's gallery of series photos.

Most of these series consist of two photos, but some have more than a simple pair. The granddaddy of these is my series made in Glacier National Park, of Lake McDonald. I didn't have a series in mind when I started photographing in the park, back in the '90s. We lived in Ohio then, and came west only two or three times a year. It's such a lovely scene, and can change so dramatically from season to season, day to day, or even hour to hour, that making a series of very different photos from the same spot only requires being there, and knowing how to make a good exposure in sometimes challenging conditions. Once I realized I had a few pictures of the same scene in very different weather or light, I made a point of photographing that scene whenever we visited the park. After we moved to Montana in 2003, to a town only 80 miles (130 km) from Glacier's west entrance, it became easier to get photos there at any time of year in any sort of weather. The series has now expanded to over twenty images. They include pictures made in every season, morning and evening, nice weather or terrible. There's one photo including the night sky (at 3:00 AM), and another of sunrise on the park's 100th anniversary. It's a favorite subject, one I look at every time we're in the park, and photograph again when I think I can get something unique.

Our Lake McDonald series of photos.

I also have some sequential photos, pictures of the same subject or scene, made while standing in (roughly, sometimes) the same place, over a period of time. I tend to move around as I photograph, and I may vary the focal length of a zoom lens between photos, so the compositions in the sequences often vary a bit. They aren't quite like a standing time-lapse video sequence. The exposures may be minutes apart, or tens of minutes apart. They show the progression of a sunrise, for example. I wrote about one of those sequences in my July, 2014 article; the same pictures appear in our site's “Series and Sequences” gallery.

An Old Cabin in Warm Autumn Light

While all of the series and sequences mentioned above are of natural subjects and scenes, my most recent series addition is of an old cabin located here in the Misison Valley. I learned of this cabin and its interesting history in October, 2014. After scouting the scene I decided to make two photos. One would be a morning picture; the sun rising over the Mission Mountains would backlight the brilliant yellow of the trees surrounding the cabin. I'd make the second as the setting sun lit the cabin. The compositions would be as close to identical as I could make them.

October sunrise at the Sandage cabin, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

October sunrise at the Sandage cabin, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

Because of the cabin's proximity to the mountains, the sun's appearance would be quite late, nearly 10:00. As usual I arrived early, found my composition and set up, and then waited for the light to “get right”. The high, thin clouds made for an interesting sky and softened what would otherwise have been harsh late-morning sun. Looking at the resulting photos later in the day, I decided I'd got what I wanted from that first session. The cabin's in shadow, and thanks to the sun's southerly position in October, the trees aren't backlit quite as I'd expected. But the sky is nice, as is the light on the mountains, and I really like the frost in the tree-shaded area of the cabin's roof. As things turned out, the sunset picture wouldn't be quite so easy.

October sunset at the Sandage cabin, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

October sunset at the Sandage cabin, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

Clouds dominated the next few evenings; several days would pass before I'd have any chance for nice evening light on the cabin. When I returned I found the trees had changed enough to notice. I had taken with me a small print of the sunrise picture, which I used as a reference to duplicate the earlier compositon. I set up and waited, but as the sun approached the western horizon it dropped behind a band of low clouds, which killed the light at exactly the right moment. It happens a lot.

I returned to the cabin three more times before finally getting the sunset photo. The trees around the cabin had begun to look a little scorched, but still had decent color. Yellows could be seen in the changing tamaracks in the moutains. The cabin's old logs glowed with the warm evening light. I'd completed the image pair.

In Cold Winter Light

Here it is, January. We've had almost normal snow so far this season, which is a nice change from the last couple of dry winters. On a whim I stopped by the cabin to see how things looked with snow cover. It's a simple scene and access is limited by a fence (I did my shooting from the road's shoulder so as not to trespass), but I still spent the better part of an hour walking the area and thinking about a winter photo. On this atypically clear day, with the snow bright and nearly blinding, I had no need of my photo gear. Our winters here in the valley often bring us foggy days, which sometimes are fine for photography, but become oppressive without a sunny break now and then. I decided I wanted some low clouds on the mountains, but didn't want them obscured completely. A photograph with a cloudy backdrop would tell the story, illustrating the gloom of our typical winter days. I wanted the viewer to feel cold when looking at the picture!

I returned the next day to find the mountains completely obscured by clouds. The same conditions greeted me a few days later. It would require a couple more trips to get the winter photo, but in the end I got just what I wanted.

The Sandage cabin in winter, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

The Sandage cabin on a typical winter day, Lake County, Montana, U.S.

Of course, getting that third photo ruined, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, my increasingly inappropriately named image pair. Now that I've got three, I might as well complete the seasons. Assuming both the cabin and I are still upright I'll return in spring as the trees bud and begin to leaf out, and again in summer, when the leaves are green and the lilacs bloom.

January, 2016