Holy crap you guys: my son is a senior in high school...
... And yes, it’s April so this is not exactly new information. It has been a thing for a while, but life moves so fast and we’ve been so busy the whole time that it still kind of catches me off guard, usually in the middle of the night when my mind drifts to a time just a few months in the future when he’s heading off to a new adventure. Chasing opportunities, facing fears and tapping into raw potential (the kind which is limited only by barriers we set ourselves) are the presiding themes of our conversations these days.
It’s scary. And very, very exciting. And sometimes you've just gotta laugh.
So, after years of him assisting me on other people’s senior portrait sessions, this year it was time to get his gorgeous mug on the other side of the camera. We knew, just from having struggled to find time for his headshots, that actually scheduling his photos was imperative. So we decided to go big, book it in the calendar and turn it into a mini family adventure. A “destination senior session!”*
Early on he had mentioned a desire to take his senior portraits at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southeastern Colorado. We hadn’t been there since he was about ten and the idea stuck, so to the Sand Dunes we road tripped.
Where we found surreal light, wind-blown sand, mind-bending landscapes and mosquitoes. Lots and lots of mosquitoes (PSA: there's a "mosquito hatch" season over Medano Creek and we discovered it -- which is why that picture below is the only photo we have near the water!)
Since he was old enough to get lost in stories, Gabe has been keenly interested in the details of the characters whose stories have captivated him.
From baseball players to Indiana Jones, from Leo diCaprio’s character on the Titanic to the superheroes that captivated his attention for years, he has studied and resourcefully created elaborate costumes to wear for Halloween and Comic-Con. So it was fun to watch him view his senior portrait session as a chance to express his own character in the stark and cinematic sands of a rare Colorado desert.
We had a blast, discovering our own balance on the rough sandy breeze, somewhere between cinematic portrait and comedic experience.
And of course all this happened while lugging wardrobe and camera gear across the desert sands, blinking frequent wind driven clouds of rocky dust from our eyes (it was the first time Gabe's camel-length eyelashes were more than just pretty -- they were functionally practical!)
Shooting at the sand dunes is not without its challenges.
Intermittent and unpredictable winds mean flying sand is always a threat to your equipment (meaning essentially you need to pick one lens and stick with it).
In addition, the distances are much greater than you imagine so you spend a lot of time trudging across thick sand to get to “that hill right over there” (which is never actually right over there), and the light is surprisingly fast moving and oddly difficult to predict with so many bright surfaces to bounce it around.
But when things click into place, it’s incredibly exhilarating.
I mean, check out the ephemeral light bouncing off the dunes in these black and white photos... flying sand everywhere (but you can see it especially well at the edges of the light near the surfaces of the dunes)... and dramatic shadow lines stretched out before us from the quickly setting sun.
There's a lot of magic in those dunes.
All in all this was a fantastic and memorable experience. It inspired me to want to offer destination sessions to my clients.
With some advance planning and permitting, it's a great excuse to book some family time outside the everyday.
I love that the final photos are a fun mix of editorial, storytelling, fashionable and adventurous feeling.
We also caught a beautiful sunset, which, over the dunes with mountains behind and water underfoot, was completely surreal.
Quiet and majestic.
Gabe… my lil' buddy who is becoming a man... watching you grow up and step into your talent inspires me every single day. I love you with all my heart and can't wait to see what adventures await as you embark upon this next chapter of the story you are writing...
Even the camera roll on my iphone tells a fun story of its own (below).