Plans are good. Most of us live by plans, and we like things to go as planned. But sometimes just showing up and going with the flow can yield immense rewards for photographers. There is nothing wrong with wanting to know what to expect so you can plan appropriately, but sometimes we just need to let go. Here are a couple of examples of some amazing moments I would have missed if I had stuck to plans and took shelter in my comfort zone.
It was early June in New York, and the weather was just starting to get good. On the opposite side of the continent a hurricane was barreling towards the Revillagigedo Archipelago. I nearly canceled my flights, but the possibilities of a new exploratory-style trip got the better of me.
So, I headed to Cabo san Lucas, BCS, Mexico with somewhat of a pit in my stomach. Rather than heading out into the Pacific Ocean towards the hurricane, the Liveaboard decided to move north along the eastern coast of the Baja peninsula into the Gulf of California. Despite all of the uncertainties ahead, the slight notion that the altered itinerary would put us in front of a pod of orcas was all that I needed to hear to push on.
Cruising along, I got myself comfortable, and assumed it would be a long day in the sun looking for the pod. To be honest, at that point I wasn't even certain I would find the courage to leave the safety of the boat behind and slip into their world. An hour into the journey a frantic voice permeated from the radio. While the man was speaking Spanish, it wasn't necessary to speak the language to understand what was happening.
Within twenty minutes, I’d be face to face with a pod of killer whales—underwater. I'd go on to repeat this for the next few hours, watching them pass below, alongside, and lingering vertically in the water column to examine me. I found myself head to head with them, beside them as they hunted stingrays, and completely out of my comfort zone. But it was a mind-altering experience, and yielded images I never would have created had I listened to my gut and stayed in New York... or on the boat.
False Orca Encounter
Shortly after the orca encounter, we got word that another hurricane was forming—but this time it was coming straight for us. Once again I was faced with a dilemma. Get on the next flight back to New York or ride it out. Given how well going against my gut had gone previously, I persevered. The Category 3 hurricane turned into a tropical storm and ended up being pretty insignificant. The sun was shining the next day, and seeing as both hurricanes had passed, I jumped on the last boat of the season, to my original destination—Revillagigedo.
For those that don't know, Revillagigedo is North America's largest marine protected area. It's situated to the southwest of Mexico's Baja peninsula in the Pacific Ocean and is a true Mecca for marine life. It takes about a day to reach the archipelago by boat. And once you leave Cabo san Lucas, you won't touch dry land until you return.
I had been told by a good friend prior to leaving, "don't skip the first dive!" Now, I'm not much of a morning person, but I will get up for photography. Nevertheless, a week of diving had begun to wear me down, and I relished a morning here and there of sleeping in. One particularly chilly morning, I rose to make an assessment. The sea did not look inviting. I crawled back into bed, but my friend's voice wouldn't leave me alone. It was tough to pull myself out of the warmth of my bunk, but something else was nudging me to dive.
I felt as though something great was about to happen. Yet, to my dismay, once submerged the sea was even less inviting than it appeared from the surface. The sea was a milky milieu, but it fit rather well with my early morning fuzziness. The dive was uneventful—which is rare for the region. So, I ascended with plenty of air in my tank—shivering. The hot shower was calling me.
As I began to peel off my equipment, someone screamed "false orcas, false orcas!!" I scrambled for my fins, grabbed my camera, and one by one we flung our sleepy bodies onto the zodiac. We sped off, unsure of whether we would be able to find them. Eventually, we caught up to the pod. And one by one, we tumbled into the blue. I could hear their voices before I could see them. My head jolted back and forth until finally my eyes caught a glimpse of undefined shapes shifting towards me.
That first pass was magical. There were probably thirty of them—graceful, powerful, and wild! The excitement I felt in those first few shots was similar to the killer whale encounter the previous week. We followed them for a bit before turning back for breakfast. Upon our return to the Liveaboard, I reflected on how close I was to missing that experience. I reviewed my images in excitement, and realized how sometimes it's necessary to be a bit uncomfortable to get great shots.
While I have other experiences like these, they are two pretty epic instances back to back that really got me thinking about the way I normally operate. Have you had similar experiences? Would love to hear about them...