Join Ken as He Adventures to Photographic Serendipity
What actually is a “Holy Grail”?
A Holy Grail is the top of the heap, the big kahuna, the Mac daddy, the grand poohbah, the cherry on top of the sundae, the star atop the tree! In short, it’s one of the best photographs of your career.
I am always after a holy grail, yet it’s not uncommon to be unaware of what the grail will be, or when, or how it will reveal itself.
I practice something called pre-visualization. I see images in my mind before I go out to try and capture those images or similar ones. Effectively, the pre-visualized image becomes my goal; in this case a visual goal. Every time that I go out to photograph, I have a goal. That goal can be determined by a client or self-assigned. Regardless of where your motivation comes from, set a goal for yourself and always strive to reach your goal. I do each this each and every time that I pick up a camera.
With a goal in mind, sometimes I have to wait for hours before I make a picture, waiting for that one important element to arrive or appear to complete the composition. There are other times when I grab images very quickly, sometimes from the hip because the “decisive moment” is upon me! That “decisive moment” could mean that you are photographing sports, an emotional moment at a wedding, or trying to capture some fleeting light. Always being prepared is a real asset when the decisive moment occurs.
I’d like to share a recent experience while photographing in Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the country understands that the southwest desert is generally the hottest portion of the US. For 9 months of the year, the valley of the sun is the envy to most of the rest of the country; warm, blue sky days for 300 days a year. The great sunny weather brings golfers, baseball spring training, race car teams here to test, as well as hot air balloons to fill those blue skies every morning.
Now I want to talk about the other 65 days a year when Phoenix is an inferno. Each day, the heat grows and mixes with a moist monsoonal flow from Mexico, drenching the normally arid air with dew points of 55 degrees and above. This is Monsoon season: a very short 8 weeks when most Phoenicians escape the heat and head to places like San Diego to relax and be cool. Others, like me, are eager to be out in the heat, watching the clouds bubble in the sky until they become giant thunder heads, producing exciting weather and picturesque skies.
A byproduct of thunderstorms is that they often produce lightning…. visible cloud to ground lightning, photographically interesting lightning!
The monsoons this year have been scarce, with very few storms actually making it to the Phoenix area; they’ve mainly been taking place in the mountains of Arizona. So rather than having miles and miles of flat, open land dotted with Saguaro cactus as a foreground, we are having to shoot in between tall, overcrowded pine trees that offer minimal visibility and very few roads on which to follow the moving storms; picking an area to photograph a storm has been challenging.
There are many decisions that need to be made in order to find a good place to photograph a storm. Studying weather patterns is the primary element in finding an area to capture storms. This particular day I saw a pattern that suggested there was a good chance that a line of storms could develop about 100 miles from Phoenix, so that became my target area. Once I arrived in the area, I started scouting for views through the pines that would allow me to see the storms and make imagery… should they produce lightning.
The location I finally settled on was perfect. The view to the southwest had storm cells slowly dancing by for two hours, producing many lovely lightning strikes. Once the storm cells moved on, I thought to begin the drive back down to Phoenix with the hope to intercept another storm, hopefully near sunset.
Another decision had to be made about where I could find a storm cell and a very strong foreground. That is the recipe for success when it comes to good landscape photographs. Once I descended from the pine laden hills, I was literally in a valley between two sort of tall mountains. I saw a storm not too far ahead and as I did, I found my foreground. A grand Saguaro cactus stood tall and proud with the slow-moving storm gathering strength behind it. To the immediate right of the desert sentry stood a rainbow diffused by the rain falling.
I pulled over as quickly as I could and got out of the car to set up my cameras to capture what I hoped to be a monumental image. I already had 2.5 strong elements in front of me as I set up one camera horizontally to capture the saguaro, the rainbow and a very warm sunset color cast upon the cloud by the last light of the sun creeping down to the horizon in the western sky.
I then setup my 1D X Mark II to capture a vertical, tightly cropped frame. While photographing lightning storms, I like to compose a safe image and then take a bit of a compositional risk by going in very tight with fingers crossed. I am not a photographer who likes to compose a wide view and then crop the image in tighter if lightning strikes.
I got it! The Holy Grail today was a composition with an extremely rare combination of a sunset with a saguaro cactus, flanked by a glowing rainbow and accented with a cloud-to-ground lightning strike!
I’d like to stress the importance of using a memory card that you trust so that when the opportunity for a “Holy Grail” image presents itself, you know that the card is ready to perform without issue and the image will be safely captured and stored. I’m happy to know that all of my camera bodies are loaded with Delkin BLACK series media.
Be prepared, be educated, be smart, and be happy and blessed when Serendipity comes along for the ride!
Delkin Devices 128GB BLACK CF and SD Memory Cards
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon EF 28-300mm f/4.5-5.6
Lightning Trigger IV
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (Pre-Production Unit)
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon’s Explorers of Light, a designation shared by only 51 top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes.
During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.