Have you seen ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’? It’s our of my favorite movies. It’s so beautifully written and filmed. We put it on when we want something happy. The colors are vibrant and the message is really encouraging. The soundtrack is also incredible. Anyway, one of my favorite moments of the movie is when the protagonist, Walter Mitty, finally finds the Life Magazine photographer, Sean O’Connell, he’s been searching for the entire movie. He stumbles upon him in the Himalayas as he’s staked out waiting to photograph an illusive snow leopard. When the cat finally comes into frame, Sean shows Walter through the viewfinder, but pauses and never hits the shutter. Walter asks when he’s going to take the photograph and Sean answers: “If I like a moment, I mean me, personally… I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it. Right there… Right here.”
My family has this thing for this one fourteener in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The love affair began 3 generations ago when my grandfather, Will Davis Sr., bought a cabin in Estes Park and birthed a climbing gene in our family. We have these incredible vintage photographs of him on Long’s Peak, perched in his “Gdad pose.” Since his first summit of Long’s years and years ago, the 14er has become kind of like a family member (but like, one that you love but also kind of hate at the same time). I’ve summited twice, and on my last trip we camped in the Boulder Field, which is a flat landing about 1.5 miles below the summit. Being that our camp ground would be at 12,760 elevation and in the middle of nowhere, I knew that it would be the opportunity of a lifetime to take an incredible photo of the Milky Way. I packed my camera in Kenton’s pack (thank you K) specifically for the purpose of shooting the night sky when we were camping. He lugged that thing (which with the lens was about 3.5 pounds, which is a lot when you’re hiking) about 15 miles round trip and I never used it. When the time came I couldn’t. I remember waking up probably around midnight. (Actually, ‘waking up’ is too generous. At that elevation it’s more like you skim the surface of real sleep every few hours. I remember listening to my heartbeat all night long as it worked overtime to send oxygen out to my body at that high elevation.) Anyway, I crawled through my tent’s opening around midnight and I’ll never forget the awe that spilled over me as I looked up. I’d been suffering from altitude sickness since we reached the Boulder Field around 6 pm the day before, but in that moment everything, including how ill I felt, faded away as I looked up and was overcome with what I was witnessing. Right before my naked eyes, the Milky Way splashed across the sky like a diamond necklace fit for a queen. It was the most intimate, exquisite, humbling thing I’ve ever seen. Here I was, standing at 12,000 feet elevation surrounded by bowl of dark, brooding mountain peaks staring majesty in the face. I sat on a rock and let my eyes drink in the moment. I thought about my camera in the pack, imagining the images I could capture, but it just felt wrong. That moment was for me. Forever in my memory I’ll have that instance etched in my mind – the Milky Way streaming over the shadow of Long’s, with me, quiet and subdued, sitting on a rock outside my tent.
I’m glad I didn’t try to keep that moment forever. It’s more meaningful to me that I got to live it instead of capture it. That was the right choice. But some moments need to be both fully lived and also beautifully captured. This is why I love my job and why I think wedding photography is so valuable. A wedding day is one of those Milky-Way-on-the-Boulder-Field moments in life, but you can’t not document it. You need someone there to have the camera so you can let go fully live it. And while you’re fully living it, I’m able to see the things you couldn’t. I like to think that sending the final gallery to my clients is like giving them hundreds of Milky Way moments that they’re able to experience again, and sometimes maybe for the first time. I think this is such a gift, but also a responsibility. I don’t take what I do lightly. It’s really important to me that each of my couples are able to just live on their wedding day, knowing and trusting that when they get their gallery back from me, they’ll have all of their Milky Way moments captured in both their memory and in photograph form.
I love the sentiment of that scene from ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.’ It encourages me to go and live my life – to pursue and create beauty so fully that I’m joyfully winded from the process. But it also speaks so acutely to this little piece of my soul that is connected to the “why” behind what I do for a living. Go, go and live your life! Go, enjoy and live your wedding day so fully that your memories are vibrant in technicolor. Live in those moments so fully that you can hear your heart pounding in chest. And as you’re living, you can laugh even louder, cry more honestly, hug even harder, and dance even bigger because in the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of your photographer, catching all the memories, building up your treasure chest of your Milky Way moments.