Being Koi: A Defining Moment

San Juan Island is one of 172 named islands scattered through the Salish Sea, in the northwest corner of Washington State. It is an island of great beauty, with quaint towns and rich in history, accessible by the ferry that runs from Anacortes, WA to Victoria BC, Canada, with stops at just three other islands. The entire area is a boaters and outdoor enthusiasts paradise full of amazing scenery and wildlife on land and in the water.

When I was a child it was an easy thing to arrive at the ferry dock, in Anacortes, and travel to one of the islands or Canada without much planning, but that is no longer the case.  If you want to head to San Juan, or Orcas, or Shaw, or Lopez Islands, or especially to Victoria BC you need to get a reservation.  Some spots on the ferries are reserved for locals and commuters, but usually anyone else needs a reservation, unless they don't mind waiting several hours to get a space.  With the chances of spotting Orca or Gray whales, eagles, seals, sea lions, and scenery beyond stunning these destinations and rides are popular year round but especially in the spring and summer.  

After spending a couple days at my friend's VRBO and getting shots of local attractions, beaches, and historic spots, I headed into the town of Friday Harbor to take in the shops and get some lunch.  

There, I wandered into an artists' co-op and discovered an outdoor garden in the back equal in size to the entire indoor gallery. The garden was covered with outdoor art of all kinds and sizes and in the center was a huge koi pond with a large willow tree at the edge filtering the midday sun full of about 20 very large koi.  All around the edge of the pond were various pieces of glass garden art, some colored, some clear, some on tall poles, others standing on edge on the ground.   The resulting effect, at mid day on this very sunny day, was absolutely incredible colorful reflections off the surface of the koi pond. 

Then came the luck... the koi pond must have been recently cleaned, because the water was crystal clear against the dark rocks that made it. The koi must not have been fed recently because as soon as I approached with my camera they all converged toward me. The light was filtered by the willow tree creating great shadows, and the reflected glass seemed to shimmer and slip around the koi as they posed and pranced for me while I photographed them  At the time I was so excited about what I was seeing that I barely took time to check the back of my camera, but when I did...oh my ...goosebumps.  And I kept shooting.

These koi photos remain some of my favorite, not only because of the results, but because of how they came to be and what they taught me about photographing a moment. These pictures break a lot of the conventional rules of photography. I took them at midday when the light is flat and generally considered 'bad light".  I had reflections causing havoc.  I had leaves drifting in the wind causing my shadows to shift. I had moving objects, in water, as my main subject. I had a subject that was surfacing and diving messing with my depth of field. I am sure there are other rules broken but I DIDN'T CARE!  I went on instinct, listened to my inner eye, and just enjoyed the challenges of the shoot.

I honestly did not expect to get much and that is probably why I got goosebumps. They were more than a happy accident. These photos were a gift... a gift that the photo gods gave me to let me know that 'Yes you really do know what you are doing with your craft."  You see one of these photos was the first I ever sold to someone other than family or friends. It was accepted to a gallery show and sold to someone who was visiting from New York or was it Texas?!  I can't remember exactly because, when the gallery called and told me, I was hyperventilating so loud I did not really hear anything other than the first words 'your photograph sold' and then a loud buzzzzzzzzzzzz in my brain! surprise

 So in celebration of those Koi I will be having a giveaway in August, for my subscribers only, featuring a brand new Koi piece that I am very excited about. Yes, I found another pond of these beauties, this time in Oregon!  Keep a watch for the email announcement** on that giveaway and a very special offer to go with it.  It will be out next Friday, August 7th!  Until then, stay safe.


Gretchen Shepherd 

"Photography is the Story I fail to put into words"   Destin Sparks




**be sure my contact info is in your address book to avoid going to junk wink