The Healing Soul Photographer in Yellowstone – By Ricky Harney

Let me tell you about myself, the healing soul photographer, Ricky Harney. I purchased a camera before I came out west to simply share my experiences with my friends and family back home.  I broke it out from time to time and got some interesting shots along the way.

 Halfway through my first season, I made the decision to spend the day photographing Yellowstone.  I woke well before dawn and headed towards Lake Village.  I took my time since there wasn’t anyone on the road.

My adventure as a healing soul photographer began as I approached Little Thumb Creek. I saw a bull elk in velvet trotting alongside the road and he was magnificent.  I jumped from pullout to pullout snapping a few shots at a time.  The tree line opened exposing a glorious view of Yellowstone Lake.  The bull stopped at the opening and bowed his head and raised one of his front legs to give the appearance of a curtsy.  I cracked off another few shots and knew I had something a bit better than any other photo I had taken.

When I returned home I began to edit my photos.  What I didn’t notice was that there was a perfect halo of clouds in the sky directly above my subject. That one photo is ultimately responsible for me becoming a nature photographer.  It wasn’t just a photo, it was much more. Looking back, I am no longer impressed with that image, but at the time it was inspiring.  From that day forward, I had a camera in my hand.

At first, I thought that wildlife would be my only interest photographically.  There is just something about being around Yellowstone’s residents (we are just visitors) that is infinitely more captivating than any other subjects.  I began to study their behavior and tendencies, their migratory patterns, anything I could learn to better photograph them.  I was never more at peace than being in nature sharing a moment with wildlife.  I was hooked.

As time went on, I began to photograph my friends.  I was quite the introvert, so I shot from a distance at first.  Having the opportunity to shoot my friends writing music on a porch, then playing their songs on the roof of our crummy employee cabins, and then playing in front of crowds of people. It was a privilege.

I didn’t realize it at first, but my confidence grew every time I photographed people.  I wanted more.  There was a group of employees that were almost legend.  They were rarely seen on location, only for five minutes in passing in our employee dining room.  They sported cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and boots.  They were the Canyon Wranglers.  I didn’t know any of them, but desperately wanted to photograph them.  One small problem, my social anxiety was severe and would never approach a group of people I didn’t know for any reason in the past.  My passion for photography thankfully had a dash more strength than the anxiety that has altered the course of my life so many times in the past.

I asked the lead wrangler for permission to photograph them during the season, and she agreed.  I had to make the announcement in front of the group inside the bunkhouse which was a small old wooden building.  I was more than a little nervous but managed to struggle my way through it.

I began shooting the following day.  My biggest concern was to just not be in the way.  I studied what was happening around me and found spots to be as close to invisible as possible.  I wound up getting my two strongest images that first day.  I continued to photograph them on and off for the remainder of the season.  I began to flow with their every move, moving in closer when I could, further gaining confidence.  In the end, I became lifelong friends with many of them.  Then the moment came when I realized that I no longer needed a camera in my hand to have that same confidence.  I began to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time.  I was even borderline outgoing at times.

From there I started to approach strangers I ran into just to get a photo of them.  I rarely had someone say no.  I was able to make them feel comfortable where they would just open up to me.  I never knew I had that ability and I rather enjoyed it.

Landscapes were my nemesis at this point.  I just couldn’t get them to look how I wanted.  That was due to the fact that I didn’t have a solid understanding of light at the time.  It took a few years to really get a grasp on how the camera sees light.  Once I better understood light, composition, and my camera; things started to work out for me.

Ironically landscapes have evolved into one of my biggest passions.  I love to study how light caresses the earth, finding new compositions, waiting for a dozen elements to come together at one time.  Sometimes you get lucky and get a great shot just passing by, but most of the time it takes days, weeks, or months to get it just right.  This taught me a level of patience I had never known.  Many mornings and evenings I never even turned my camera on, and I was just fine with that.  I have spent over 100 hours in total at a composition because I believed in it.

Why you ask?  It’s simple, when that moment finally does come, when the sky is dynamic, when the reflection is perfect, when the sun makes its way under the clouds illuminating the environment around you, it is then that the most powerful of emotions floods through my body.  Tears running down my cheeks as I witness the most beautiful version of that particular place I have ever seen.  Never giving up on the vision I had months before that.  The biggest gift is to share that moment with the world.  It doesn’t happen but a few times a year, but when it happens the rotation of the earth seems to stop just for a moment.

Now I have this amazing opportunity with  I get to photograph and blog about the great state of Wyoming.  All of the time and effort I have invested into one day doing this full time has come.  I start this journey next week.  I am free to photograph everything Wyoming at my own pace, not confined by a weekend or an afternoon.  I am truly blessed.

So, I have found that photography has been the best way to express myself, a vehicle for people to understand who I truly am.  It has brought me confidence, allowed me to overcome some of my biggest fears in life, shown me a level of patience I had never known, most importantly photography has introduced me to who I was always meant to be.

Visit my “Why are we here Blog?”  here


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