The Search for Serendipity
By Daryl L. Hunter (1990)

steve horn, campfireLuck favors the prepared mind, as does serendipity.   Webster's definition-Serendipity - an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally. Audacious, is the photographer who chooses to make his living stalking serendipity from one location to another then back again hoping to capture light as it has never been captured before or tougher yet as they may have captured it in the past. But that is what we do, and that is what we live for.

Armed with our acquired knowledge of the magic hour, cloud diffused lighting, outdoorsmenship, storm lighting, instinct for peak action, wildlife behavior, camera mechanics, changes in seasons, composition, astronomy, etc., we set out to bring the natural world to armchair adventures, outdoor enthusiasts, publishers, and advertisers, and to do so we have to rely on serendipity. Accomplished photographers are serendipiters, a serendipiter are those with an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

board sailor Arroyo Laguna, San Simion CaliforniaWhen I used to shoot windsurfing, nightly I would watch the news for wind and surf reports, however, my best day of shooting was by happenstance. Not much was expected this day but I showed up at the local windsurfing hotspot to meet a friend to compare notes on a manuscript we were working on. He wasn't there, and no one else was either. Perplexed, I pondered the emptiness of this hotspot, and then on a hunch I drove up the coast a bit and found them windsurfing 10-foot waves where there usually are none. I had a half hour to shoot before I had to be to work, but I got some great wind surfing, shots, quite by chance.

On the flip side of the coin, one day I looked up at the sky 2 hours before sunset, high, thin, wispy, cirrus clouds covered the sky, so off to the coast I went to a favorite spot, I set up and waited for what was sure to be a dynamic sunset. 8:30 brought the, anti-climatic, disappearance of the sun into an unseen marine layer of fog somewhere off the coast that swallowed the pinks, tangerines and oranges of my over optimistic mind.

cow elk, full moon, Yellowstone National ParkThen there was the time I was driving around Yellowstone looking for the telltale, taillights that indicate wildlife found, when there it was! Three cars pulled off to the side of the road, in anticipation I looked down into the meadow only to see a cow elk. The sun was sitting on the western horizon so this was to be the last opportunity of the day so I grabbed my tripod and gear and set up for what appeared to be some grab shots of something that would never sell when a full moon started creeping over the horizon directly behind the elk. Pay dirt!

Green River, Square top Mountain, reflectionWe also have serendipity enhancement. For instance, in route to the Green River Lakes in Wyoming I noticed the glassy surface of the Green River with the beautiful Square Top Mountain at the end of it. Knowing that there would be a dynamic reflection, I hiked down to the river only to find the reflection framed up somewhere I couldn't get to from the bank of the river. Then the ice-cold reality hit me. I had to strip to my underwear and wade to the middle of the glacier fed river. Mercifully the current of the river swept the ripples I caused swiftly past me and I quickly shot off a roll of film. The camera's perspective from 6 inches above the water surpassed anything I could have shot from shore, had I been able to find a suitable spot.

red barn, rainbowOne spring when the coastal hills of California were covered with a new carpet of emerald green grass, a clearing storm had me hoping to catch a slate gray sky trapping the light of the evening sun coming in under the clouds and illuminating the grassy hills. As an afterthought I stopped by a newspaper photographer, friends house to haul him along. He didn't want to go because it was raining. I told him there wouldn't be a photo opportunity if it weren't raining. I was rewarded with my slate gray sky, the brilliant green hills illuminated by a clearing western sky and a 180-degree rainbow framing a ranch house for a bonus, my friend was rewarded with a bud light and another Dan Rather diatribe.

A case of serendipity enhancement run amuck is when I rented a house forty miles from my real job so I could drive past the Grand Tetons Mountains at dawn every morning. The serrated skylines alpenglow covered peaks at sunrise were inspiring, the elk, moose, deer, antelope, and bison along the way were beyond belief. I only wished that I had budgeted enough time every morning to pull to the side of the road to take a picture of it all.

Dog SleddingI mustn't leave out Murphy's Law of serendipity. I was on my way to a sled dog race in Montana Creek Alaska driving my trusty pinto hatchback, my seven huskies packed snugly inside with my sled tied to the roof when there in front of me were two bull moose fighting in the middle of the road. I eased the car to the side of the road then reached into my empty glove compartment for my camera, OOPS. I sat and watched the moose lock antlers and shove each other from one side of the road, to the other, for 20 minutes with the sun rising brilliantly from the, alpenglow covered, Talkeetna Mountains, with the pink, tangerine, and orange of my over optimistic mind, this time, scattered all over the sky and the Ice covered pavement these moose were traipsing all over. I'll never forget it, picture or not. I just don't get to share it with anyone.

Daryl L. Hunter - Morro Bay, CaliforniaSerendipity isn't the sole propriety of photographers, sometimes I leave my camera at home so I can enjoy moments in nature without having to record them and Murphy isn't so busy sabotaging ideal scenes so I have nothing in the way so I can simply enjoy them. Getting some exercise on the sand spit in Morro Bay Ca. one evening I was treated to one of nature's master displays, without my camera, all I could do was take it all in. I found myself trying to articulate it into a verbal picture that could match what I could have caught on film.

The cirrus clouds above me were crimson, and the gaps between them remained azure, this pattern continued until the sky met the sea where the water was a muted grayish-pastel mixture I couldn't define, the white of the breakers were tinged with pink till they washed up to the sand, then receded back to the muted gray of the ocean, the wet sand left in the waves wake captured the reflection of the sky but with its own color rendition in peach. The dunes to the east were a soft gold until the earth's shadow moved up their face and slowly darkened everything around me.

Lights Out

One time in Barrow Alaska I was showing around newcomer, Scott Vandervort to the north. We were walking on the polar Ice cap, outside of town, during Barrows 43 perpetual days of mid winter darkness. About the time he was telling me about how horrible all that darkness would be, a curtain of dancing light appeared just above the northern horizon. It quickly expanded until it covered the whole sky. Nearly imperceptible blues, greens, and reds, interspersed, with the predominately white lights that shot across the sky were awesome. What made this display special for me, was sharing it with some one that had never experienced the aurora borealis before. The northern darkness seemed to have a new window in it for my friend. Humans aren't the only creatures that enjoy these phenomena of the north. One day I came out of my cabin to hook up my dog team for a run only to find them staring at the sky, I couldn't bring myself to interrupt their reverie so I lay down beside them and took in the show.

The searching for, and recording of serendipity may seem like a fairy tale way to make a buck because it is. If I weren't a carpenter, cook, writer, wrangler, tour-guide, real estate investor, horse trader, and jack of a few trades I would never admit, I would never see the financial light of day, but it's this quest to be a serendipiter that keeps me going and looking forward to waking up to a brand-new day.


Daryl L. Hunter leads Photo Safaris (The Hole Picture Safaris) into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and sells stock photography (The Hole Picture) and sells wildlife and scenic prints at his online photo gallery.

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