Anatomy of a River Shoot: A Short Story

At my in-law’s cabin in Baring, WA, I stood at the edge of the Skykomish river one evening earlier this summer, listening to the breeze flutter through the bushes and trees, and quietly watching the river stream by.

Green and luminescent, the river whispered gently on this stretch, providing me with a meditative feeling of calm; of restoration and a sense of awe that seeped into my very soul. Despite its gentle beauty, the power of this water- to stubbornly carve out its own path heedless of our human desires, to barrel over rocks and roots – was to be solemnly respected and even feared in some places. The river could be friendly and gentle then change its mind and become a turbulent and angry force to be reckoned with.

Either way, the river was here before us with an ancient spirit running persistently through these Pacific Northwestern forested lands and through the surrounding towns and cities. I felt drawn to its beauty.

The nature of the Pacific Northwest has a presence that peaks the imagination and does not suffer thoughts of the mundane. This summer I discovered that I wanted to create a story, recorded through the lens of my camera.

Some time later, while on a recent beach vacation, I contemplated this idea of a river shoot. I wanted the concept of the shoot to show a young woman taking a summer’s day to journey and enjoy the green sensual waters by herself. She climbs the rocks, explores along the river’s band and bathes in the river floating like the Goddess that she is.

As I pondered my story one day while on vacation, my Instagram notification went off. It was a message from Gregory Elgee, a guy who had previously rented out my studio and who, like me, was an alumni of the UW photography program albeit in a different year. Commenting on my last Instagram post, Gregory mentioned that he’d love to collaborate with me sometime. I responded “actually, I’m thinking of a river shoot soon…”.

A day or two later, another Instagram notification came through- a young makeup artist named Brandi Anne Troth had messaged me. She wrote that she knew my daughter from a college class they shared and that she followed my work on Instagram with interest. If I ever had need of a makeup artist, she said, she’d love to collaborate with me on a shoot. The timing was too serendipitous and I admired Brandi for boldly reaching out to me, so I asked her to join us on the shoot.

Next, I contacted Adrianne Keogh, our potential model. A beautiful and talented young woman, I’d done previous shoots of her plus have known her and her mother since Adrienne was an infant. She had the perfect look for this project. She replied “yes” with enthusiasm.

Finally, my daughter, Sarah joined us. She’s my rock, my adviser and the person with whom I often brainstorm and try out shoot ideas. She would act as my assistant on the river.

As if by magic, the river shoot team had materialized.

So, early on a hazy Wednesday morning, we meet up at my studio for shoot prep., hair, makeup and wardrobe decisions. We head on up Highway 2, which follows the Skykomish river closely. We hit the road with two cars, all excitement and chatter. Our first stop was in Sultan, at a park under a bridge. Here is the sign we found:Our model Adrienne pipes up from the back seat “um…no way”, we all laugh and move along to discover another, safer, river location.

Back on highway 2, I spot a sign- “River Access”. There! We do a u-turn and drive into the parking lot to check it out. Walking through the trees, we see that the river here was slow moving and nearly empty of people– perfect for our shoot! Adrienne starts to get comfortable with her natural surroundings.

There was even a view of an active train trestle from our location on the river, adding a bit of interest to the images. Trains rumble on by as we play in the water below.At first, I have Adrienne move gently into the river, touching the water and turning here and there. She slowly introduces herself to the river’s waters.Then we help Adrienne submerge and float in the cool water. The water feels good on this hot day as I wade in to get closer to my subject.Behind the scenes, Brandi helps adjust Adrienne in the water, applies more makeup during a break from shooting, and Sarah holds my reflector up to help bounce the soft light while I took pictures.

Meanwhile, Gregory had scurried ahead, over the rocks, scouting out the area for more locations to shoot. He comes back with good news of an old train trestle that had an “epic” look. We all climb over the river rocks and boulders precariously to see what he meant. It was indeed a majestic scene.

Once there, I take more pictures as Adrienne gracefully makes her way over the rocks and thru the shallow river to be near the structure.

The location now exhausted, we return to Highway 2 and follow it up to my in-law’s sweet little cabin set directly upon the river in Baring. We reach the cabin at the time when the light sings- the Golden hour preceding sunset. Working quickly, we use the natural surroundings to emphasize Adrienne’s  beauty, then head down to the river to capture the light there.

Adrienne lingers near near the cabin, then walks down to the river’s edge in her journey, exploring her surrounding for a bit as the light falls perfectly upon her.

We change her outfit again at the cabin and she once again descends the stairs to the river as a Goddess, glowing in a long white dress.

The river has many years ago formed a calm little round pool, with rock cairns on either side. We place Adrienne in this perfect pool, where she reclines gracefully.

Satisfied with our time shooting on the river, the beauty of the smokey wildfire stricken day comes to a close with a feeling of the tired excitement of accomplishment. It was a good day and we all traveled back to my studio, talking and reliving the shoot during the ride home.