It was staring at us right there on the wall—a blank spot on our family event calendar. Birthday parties, dinner groups, board meetings, old friends coming through town were all around, yet right there was a whole weekend with no commitments scribbled in. Better yet, there was a perfect weather forecast.
I mentally flipped through the list I keep of potential outdoor adventures for such occasions, and settled on a short, one-night backpacking trip in a nearby wilderness area we had been meaning to explore.
Being a parent of two small kids with a full-time job and many hobbies, I am always trying to find ways to combine the pursuits I love. This helps enrich the experience for me, but also seems to be an effective life-survival strategy for staying sane and squeezing in the things I enjoy.
Two days later, our car was bumping down a narrow dirt road, descending sharply to the trailhead nestled in the valley. We loaded up our packs and started slowly down the path. We took plenty of breaks to admire the wild flowers, eat snacks, and even had to pause to give a wide berth to a rattlesnake that kindly warned us of its presence as it slithered across the trail.
We came to a nice streamside campsite hidden off the main trail just as energy levels started waning and decided to call that home for the night. As we were unpacking gear and setting up the tent, I quickly got distracted when I noticed occasional rings forming on the surface of the stream. I grabbed my camera and fly-rod, and beckoned the kids to follow.
It took only one good cast to get the first bite and I handed my 3-year-old son the rod as a small feisty rainbow trout jumped and pulled. Anticipating this moment, I already had my camera at my side with the exposure locked in. After he got the fish to the bank, I helped him hold the trout up, and fired a burst of quick shots with him proudly showing me his catch. We carefully let the fish go, exchanged high fives, and then did it again.
For the last 12 years, I’ve been making a decent side income selling stock photos with this exact strategy: put in the right ingredients for interesting and saleable stock pictures and wait for the perfect moment to come. Over the course of many trips, I’ve been able to form a stock portfolio of unique and saleable outdoor recreation images that are hard to replicate.
A few simple things help me make sure the photo will work when the moment comes. First off, I always try to have my companions wear bright colors so they stand out from their surroundings. I also make sure we have clothing and gear with discreet logos that are easy to hide or remove in post-processing (a necessity for stock images).
When I anticipate the situation is ripe with potential for stock, I make sure my camera and mind are ready. On any given trip, though, the best situations for stock are a small portion of the overall time, and I’ve learned to conserve my energy and relax when the light or moment isn’t right.
The next morning, I was enjoying my morning coffee, poking at the fire, and cleaning up from breakfast. I looked up and caught the sunlight flickering through the tree-tops, providing a beautiful backlight to our campsite. My wife was pushing our kids in the hammock and the steam from her coffee was catching the light—another great situation for stock. I grabbed my camera, found the best angle, and captured a few shots making sure I got the tricky exposure right.
Before too long, it was time to pack up the gear and head back. On the way home, we stopped at an old-fashioned diner for burgers and milkshakes and reminisced about how big the trout we caught were and of the rattlesnake that surprised us—cementing the weekend as a perfect family adventure. When I downloaded my pictures back at home, I found many good memories, and a few images that I’m hoping will be consistent sellers in the years to come.