Years before I got married I talked to my love and we agreed we would someday go to Alaska. We thought it would be magical – walking on a glacier, feeling the intense cold and seeing the beauty all around us. It would be something different, not too far away, and it seemed doable in our 17-year-old minds. When we were planning our wedding we hoped we could go on a honeymoon there, but being young and in college, funds were tight and we couldn’t make it happen.
Fast forward to the end of last year, almost 9 years since we first talked about going to Alaska, and I was reading an email from an amazing man who wanted me to come out and do a workshop for his photo group. I squealed and thought, “This is it. I’m going to Alaska!” That man was Mitch Kitter of Propaganda AK and I absolutely adored spending time with him and the people he cares about. (Especially check out their Love is Love project if you haven’t seen it – incredible.)
We had to wait another half a year before we could go, and even then, I nearly messed up our whole trip. I accidentally booked our dream vacation completely WRONG by putting the incorrect dates in for our flights, which left us with only one day to explore Alaska. So we decided to make the most of our (almost) dream vacation and have the best day of our lives while we were there.
I flew into Anchorage at 2AM and left my hotel at 7AM to teach my workshop. It was an amazing day. I felt like such a nut, going up to everyone at random points in the day and exclaiming how happy I was. The attendees giggled back at me and asked why I wasn’t tired and how I could possibly have so much energy. It was the energy of Alaska, pulling me for the last 10 years, and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.
The next day I went exploring. And the funny thing is, we didn’t really do anything. At least, not tourist-wise. We didn’t really spend money or know where we were going. We just drove, and hoped we would find adventure. We sure did.
We walked to a glacier, through a mossy fairytale forest and put our hands in a freezing cold, bright blue river. We used a fallen tree as a natural trampoline until we couldn’t laugh anymore. We skipped stones in the water. We visited an animal sanctuary. We collected fish teeth from all of the skeletons we saw. And we were as happy as anyone could ever be.
We had unusually good weather. It was 75 degrees when we were exploring, so we found ourselves wading through melting snow and stripping off our layers. And when it came time for the photographer in me to emerge, I wasn’t sure what to do. Bright blue skies filled the world and the sun directed itself harshly on every mountain, rock and river. I wasn’t going to shoot, until I realized that even though the light was harsh and the sky was blue, I could still shoot the scene and make it look different later.
Because everything was so flat (the mountains had light hitting evenly, the water, the rocks, etc…) it didn’t look like the light was directional and harsh. So, when I got the images into Photoshop, I dulled down the highlights while pulling up the blacks to create a more overcast sky effect. Pair that with some storm clouds and shadows, and it looked to me like I was getting somewhere. I photographed myself separately in the shade so that the light would be even on me, and shot my hair against a white sky for easy blending. And then, I photographed the fabric to go along with my theme.
I wanted to rule the land that I was standing on. And so I made my hair gray and stormy like the sky, my skin white like the snowy mountains, and my dress blue like the water. All blended together and I felt as though I was looking at Mother Nature herself, albeit far more dark than I usually envision her.
In many ways, this picture was 10 years in the making. Even though I wanted to travel to Alaska before I was a photographer, the image represents exactly what I had hoped to see. And even though I got the most beautiful sunny day, I can look at this picture and imagine the Alaska I had in my dreams. And maybe, over time, I’ll look at this picture and think that was how it really was. After all, imagination is just as powerful as reality.
Alex McCombie - Wonderful. The Alaska story & dream is nearly identical to that of my wife & I. Only we havent been there yet.
There is something magical about AK and the draw it has for some of us. We will be there someday. I keep telling myself we have put it off so that when we do go we can honestly contemplate not coming back 🙂
Great story. Great shot Brooke.
brookeshaden - Thank you Alex! It really was an amazing, magical place. I had one of the best days of my life. Let me know when you do make it, we’ll swap stories 🙂
Mary Angelini - Wow, isn’t it magical when you finally realize a dream you have held onto for so long?! Alaska is a dream of ours too and it just seems so ginormous and vast that it is daunting to try and plan an adequate trip there. Yet you only had 2 days to explore and look at the amazing image you brought back with you! Your creativity and optimism never ceases to impress me! This totally falls into the “just do it” category – time for me to start planning!!
brookeshaden - It is absolutely so magical! Had the best time 🙂 Even though we only had a day, I had an image planned for years 🙂
Mary Angelini - I so love it when that happens. Some of those one day adventures can prove to be the most fruitful! 🙂
Margherita Introna - Brooke… wow! This must look amazing as a print <3 Thank you so much for posting the close up details here. Something truly different. Something special. I love the symbolism you have used and echoed that by the colours you used. <3 Your blending is just magical.
I also have a dream shoot that I hope will bring me to the states later this year…
brookeshaden - I am so thankful for your kind comment!! Thank you! Ooh I can’t wait to hear about your trip! And I hope it works out 🙂
Carin - What an amazing achievement to fulfill a dream after so many years. Sounds like you both made the most out of your brief trip, esp like the collecting fish teeth and jumping up and down giggling scenario lol
I’d love to travel a bit more but all the critters we have at home makes it a bit difficult 🙂 One day I will, and hopefully make some beautiful images & memories from the trip as you have.
brookeshaden - Ahh yes the fish teeth/bones are still stuffed in my purse! haha!
Rocio Martinez - Wow! This is wonderful. So glad you finally got to do this and made this wonderful image. Im in love with it. You really do look like Mother Nature.
brookeshaden - Thank you so much Rocio!!
Amani - Oh my god, this piece is absolutely STUNNING!!
And that story made me happy. I love that you always make me believe that anything possible. I’m so glad you got to go!
I feel the same way about Ireland, it’s my Alaska. I’m not even sure why. But I believe that someday I’ll have my dream trip 🙂
Have a lovely day <3
Tom Newforge - I loved reading this. I love the image. I can picture you geeking out over finally being there. I feel the same way about Iceland. I’ve never been there but the imagery I’ve seen looks amazing. Hmmm. Actually, maybe you should plan a retreat there….and can I come along? lol.
Side note, I was spending time this morning with a young guy who is just starting on his journey into photography. He remembered me talking about PSW and was pulling up some stuff from that on his laptop and talking about how he’s going to try to pull the money together to attend this year in Vegas.
Somehow he stumbled upon a video of the keynote. I was sort of listening and sort of working until I heard Scott introduce Adobe. I told him to prepare to be blown away. He looked confused.
We watched your speech together. When it was done, all he could say was, “wow”. I was still impressed upon seeing it again too. He left with his gears turning and I could tell you had the same effect on him as you did on me.
Your insiration is infectious. Thank you for that:)
Linn - This image touched something deep inside me. It touched my soul. It has this raw beauty that just grabs hold of you.
And what a wonderful story behind it. You keep inspiring me day after day!
Kelsey - Absolutely gorgeous- your vision and knowledge is beyond inspiring to those of us just starting out. Thank you for sharing your love of life with me- it is most definitely contagious.
Kristin V. - I love this image and the story behind it. You my friend are a “dream chaser/catcher”. That is one of things I love most about you. You inspire me to leave my safe bubble and leap towards my dreams.
Elisabeth on Earth - Oooooh. Alaska. Totally on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing your story. Blind adventuring is just so much fun; we did that in Ireland for a bit during our honeymoon. Love the colors in this ~ just gorgeous ~ and especially that you grayed out your hair! As someone who started going gray early (in my mid-20s), I’m a total advocate. 🙂 But only now has it really filled in enough and turned silvery enough that I’ve been able to grow it out ~ which is even more fun when you don’t look old enough to have grey hair.
Melissa Salazar-Blake - You couldn’t have had a better group of people to host you. 🙂
joshua veldstra - Thanks so much for doing the workshop in Alaska! I learned so much! I’m so glad you had a great time!
thomas miles - so beautiful, what I love most about your photos are how there always really de-saturated, and yet have that pop of colour to contrast! by the way, thank you so much for replying to my moms e-mail she sent you! It made me so overwhelmed and is now my reason to let go of the darkness in my life and instead create! thank you 😀 you’ve changed my life for the better (not even over the top XD)
Paulo Carvalho - Everything in life are moments we live. And the moment that I lived today left me a deep sadness. So, I thought, how good it was that Brooke had one of those good post that raise me up and makes me believe. Thank you! I also have dream trips… Some have already realized, other not. And I believe that I will do and in the meantime I’ll dream with this trips, because as you know, “”The Dream commands life.” 🙂
John (aka Wish I Were Riding) - I can’t believe you broke my heart by saying you are married! Just kidding. Amazing that you are still together after meeting at 171!?!?! Anyway, congrats on your successful trip! Hope you’ll get to go again some day and plan it with more time to roam.
Vanessa - Sweet Brooke,
Your dreams brought you to us. Perfectly fitting. I know and adore you so much my dear, and to have been able to share a WEE bit of our beautiful state with you was a thrill. Your energy, insight, enthusiasm and know-how are contagious and we were lucky to have you…no matter how long.
I love the piece you created as much as I do the back story behind it. The blues are divine and I love the contrast of the mountains being purely white at their tops. You did a wonderful job creating the connection you felt on that day to Alaska, to the memory, and to your time with your husband. Truly…worth the wait.