I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You need to make more portraits. Portraits don’t have to be formal affairs with special lights and special clothes and special occasions. They can be those things, but they should also be spur of the moment, occasion-marking, memory-making experiences.
Make a portrait to precipitate a story
Did you know that snowflakes and raindrops are formed around a chunk of something else? It could be a piece of dust or another piece of ice or water. The core, the thing that the rain or snow forms around is called a precipitate; that’s why rain and snow are called precipitation.
The portraits you make are the perfect tool to precipitate a story, a recollection about an event. You should make portraits every time something happens. It’s a lot easier than keeping a journal and a lot more fun to talk about. Here are two recent examples, followed by two more I wish I had portraits to precipitate.
Stuck in the wilderness
The other day I went into the mountains of Idaho to make some pictures, hunt, and find a pocketknife is lost in the snow. There was still a little snow in the parking area, but I was sure my car could bust through and save me 50 yards of waking. Foolish, I know, and I got stuck — totally high centered with all four wheels spinning freely in the air. Ever optimistic, I figured the snow might melt a bit while I was hiking and maybe I could get out later. If worse came to worst, I’d use my snowshoes as shovels and dig out.
Fortunately for me, Bill happened to arrive just as I was about to walk away. He drove his Jeep all the way from Georgia. Fortunately for me, he came West to attend an overland touring convention in Arizona so his Jeep was decked out with the right tools to get a foolish guy unstuck from a snow drift. We hooked up his winch and I was out in a jiffy.
Bill joined my hike to the alpine lake and I enjoyed his company. We made a quick portrait without fanfare and it reminds me that miracles are always happening in my life. I didn’t find my knife, but I did find a terrific memory and great portrait to precipitate the telling. I wonder what story this picture will precipitate for Bill.
Living in Idaho the last year and a half has offered me so many opportunities I’d never imagined. The other week I was invited to go hunting with a friend and his dad. The unique thing is that we’d be traveling by horseback and following hound dogs around. Wow. I’ve seen it in movies, and now I was going to live it. I’ve ridden horses now and then for a few miles at a time, but nothing prepared for me this.
I felt like I was in “The Man From Snowy River.” We went up and down hills so steep I wouldn’t have approached them on foot, but my horse was a particularly talented mountain horse and I was never afraid. After 25 miles in one day, I was saddlesore but I had the time of my life seeing country that would otherwise require multiple days hiking and camping to see.
Ostensibly we were hunting, but I could tell (and Don admitted) that he just loved riding those magnificent horses in magnificent country. Hunting was just an excuse to go. This picture with his grin and the steaming mount really sums it all up.
Assisting new friends
Here are two I don’t have pictures for, and the stories are much harder to share and less likely to be shared without pictures. I was traveling home from Photoshop World in Orlando, sitting at Minneapolis airport, when a lady walked by dragging a duffle bag by its strap behind her; it looked heavy. I walked over, introduced myself and asked her to let me carry it to her gate. Holy cow, it weighed more than both my children. Along the way she said she was going home to Kenya, and it turns out we have a mutual friend. What a small world! I wish I’d asked her to let me make a quick portrait. There was this other time not the way to Alaska … but I don’t have a portrait for that either — one of my big regrets.
For this one, at least I have a photo of our group that went to dinner the other night (you’ll recognize Vanelli and Richard Harrington are the far end of the table). After dinner, though, I met a guy who needed a little help with directions which lead to an adventure with me driving him to his hotel and my friends picking me up. It was a wild experience, but I really wish I’d made a portrait of my new friend Eugene.
Make more stories and more portraits
Don’t let your memories fade with time and don’t let experiences pass by without memorial. Make a portrait of the people — better still, send them a printed copy so it can precipitate a story for them too.
Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.