I saw the light. - Ben Sutton

Damn near 10 years ago.  August of 2009 just West of Altoona PA and the world famous Horseshoe Curve.  That's when and where I captured the above photo.  But really, those details aren't that important.  Before I took this photograph, I was a hot mess with a camera.  Honestly, I was.  Just a beginner.   I started off with a little Canon point and shoot.  And I'm chuckling to myself as I'm typing this, with that Canon point and shoot, I had it mounted on a tripod.  One of those very cheap 10 dollar tripods.  No, not for video.  For photographs.  Yes, I would mount this thing on a tripod, full sun at my back, believing that it would instantly make my photos better.  As insane as that sounds, it actually sparked some confidence.  This was about I'd say 15 years ago.  And that's key, gaining confidence.  But still, I always had this notion, this itch in the back of my brain that I was just a beginnerConfidence would grow, and then wane believing that I can't do this.   I never thought at this point in my photography that I would grow beyond taking a properly sunlit photo, trains or anything other than trains.  Again, confidence grew, and then came crashing down.  

This cycle would be relentless sometimes.  The up and downs became so overwhelming I was contemplating selling my little point and shoot and finding another hobby.  And, eventually, I did.  And the money, what little I sold it for, was put towards a DSLR.  YES!  Finally, I have a real camera, this automatically makes me better!  Right?  



WRONG!


And boy did I soon realize I was getting myself into a whole new world.  I got so damn frustrated, upset, etc and etc that I was going through that cycle again.  The up and down cycle of thinking I'll never be good.  But I was getting those really nice well lit photos.  They're correctly exposed, they're kinda composed alright, there was nothing wrong with them.  But there was that itch that I just couldn't scratch.  I found myself bored, I found myself lacking any enthusiasm.  I would go out every chance I could taking photos (before the days of a full time job and a wife) but I didn't have any interest in it.  *Snap* Nice photo!  Confidence!  Oh crap there it goes again, is this it?   That's all?  I needed something, but I tried way too hard to figure out what I needed with my photography.  That little corner of my brain telling me I'm just a beginner wasn't helping either.  But, I pressed on.  Let's spare you the never ending up and down cycle I've been through, let's proceed.

So what does all this mumbling above have to do with anything?  Where's the end game?  What actually happened between then and my current photography?  



I saw the light.

Quite literally actually.  One weekend I decided to head up to the Allegheny Mountains, as mentioned, just West of Altoona PA and Horseshoe Curve.  I had no plans on what I was going to photograph other than the railroad.  I drove up Friday night and slept in my little Chevy Aveo.  I brought some railroad magazines with me to read before going to "sleep" in a clown car.  I dozed off.  I woke up several times trying to readjust my 6'1" body to get comfy again.  Dozed off.  It was nearing 0600 in the morning when I woke up for the day.  And then, my photography style, my photography life, my photography as a whole, changed forever.  Reliving the above photo sparks so much emotion in myself I can't even relate it in words.  It literally changed everything.  I had my railroad scanner on, and I could hear a train calling signals that was coming towards me (Westbound).  I was actually a little perturbed, not angry, just agitated in the slightest saying to myself that this view is only for the afternoon and when I do come back nothing will probably run in properly exposed perfect sun at my back light.  But then, I noticed a crest.  Just over the hill to my left.  Holy crap, it's the sun!  Now I know that sounds pretty damn stupid, of course it's the sun and of course it rises.  But you see, I never planned to actually stay up on Tunnelhill (This location) once I woke up.  I was feeling lazy and didn't want to quite move to a spot where I'd get that perfect light.  Little did I know, I was about to capture my most memorable (for me, personally) photograph of all time that I captured.  The sun rose more, and more.  And I already had forgotten that there was a train coming up the hill, even though you could hear the heavy Westbound climbing up the hill miles and miles away.  I grabbed my camera thinking to myself I should probably take a photo or two.  All the while exclaiming out loud to myself "Holy crap holy crap holy crap!".  The sun peeked over the mountain more and more.  The train was getting closer.  The roar of the engines, getting louder.  I remember it was so humid, you could feel the air.  I can still smell the dew in the air, I can still hear that westbound climbing up the hill, I can still feel the sun rays hitting my face as I lined up the shot.  The sun was low, but above the mountain and the westbound made its appearance.  The synchronization of the train climbing the hill while the sun rose above the beautiful Allegheny Mountains is something I will never in my life forget.  It was really a perfect balance.  I snapped a photo, and then another, and then another and then another.  I was so awestruck and inspired that I came back the following weekend and tried it again and got some decent results.  

And then with other locations, other times, any time actually I would go out and take photos I would go against my own grain.  I broke free, finally, of that boring same shot after shot after shot.  Boring to me, actually.  It just wasn't my style anymore.  Over the years, my style molded to what it is today.  Every shot from 2009 to now is a continuance of my notion to always improve.  And I'm proud of that.  I'm proud of my work, the up and down cycle still shows it's ugly self, but that's good, actually!  The cliff notes version of my photography can be summed up to this : I don't like rules, I don't follow rules, and if there is one in my way I BREAK it.  I don't like normalcy, I don't like going with the flow.  Some say it's not healthy, but I'm at some point or another when either taking photos or editing photos thinking that I'm just not good enough.  Confidence grows, and then it wanes believing that I can't do this.  Sound familiar?But you see, that's where I strive, that's where I improve, that's how I capture the photos I take.  I'm always looking for another way to improve, another way to wow the folks that view my photos. It works, and I'm sticking to it.  

If I had to give out advice to other photographers, it would be this.  Don't ever stop shooting, never lose confidence, don't fall in line with others and break some damn rules.  If it can work for me, it can work with anyone.


Below are some photos through the years of this very special area, to me at least.  It's quite the spectacle to see and I'm always finding myself here in the mornings if I'm in the area or passing through before the sun rises.  It brings me back to almost a decade ago where my photography changed for the better, it changed my life, where finally....




I saw the light.





Tunnelhill "Magic"


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