Joel Reichenberger: Photography in the thrill of the chase |

Joel Reichenberger: Photography in the thrill of the chase

A windmill stands against the sunset in a western Kansas pasture on Saturday evening.
Joel Reichenberger

I was interviewing a local photographer a few years ago and I asked a question that seemed stupid before it even left my lips.

“Do you ever take photos for fun, or are they all business?” I asked.

That’s not the most ridiculous question. Photography is a healthy habit for many, especially here in Steamboat Springs, where nothing short of blindness can keep a camera-laden searcher from finding truly awesome landscape photograph opportunities.

It’s not a great question for someone who has made a profession out of photography, however. If that’s your business, anything not featuring family or friends hamming it up could someday find itself on a gallery wall with a price tag dangling.

“It’s business,” the photographer said, chuckling.

I fall somewhere in between on the “professional photographer” scale. I take hundreds of photos each year for the newspaper, and several years ago, I began dipping my toes into the art photography game on the side, selling a few prints and other photo-related gifts at local craft shows and art shops in town. In fact, that endeavor has gobbled up vast amounts of my free time in recent weeks as another Art in the Park weekend draws near.

I realized last week, though, that I definitely still take photos for fun.

I just returned from a trip from Kansas, including stops at the campuses of Kansas State University and University of Kansas to further my entrepreneurial photo project efforts. I also visited the family farm during wheat harvest for the first time in at past six years and made a genuine effort to get some good photographs of the area I grew up during the time of year when it’s at its most beautiful.

For the most part, I struck out. I would stack a Kansas sunset next to or above any alpenglow thrill I’ve seen in Colorado, but a dull haze clouded the sky through much of the week, ruining my best opportunities. By the time the air had cleared, I had moved on to the campuses.

I had taken plenty of pictures I was proud of by Saturday when I pointed my car west on Interstate 70 and toward Colorado, yet I still didn’t have one photo I really wanted, a photo I felt represented the overlooked beauty of the land I come from.

But with a nearly cloudless dome of sky stretching from one edge of the western Kansas globe to the other, I realized I may have yet another opportunity.

I saw nothing I liked from the highway. The sun was getting lower, so I pulled off the interstate at Goodland and began racing down a smaller local paved road, speeding to try to find something, anything, that would work.

Something jumped out to me: a windmill, a few miles down a dirt road, but with fading light. I had to hurry. I pursued with abandon, even when the dirt road turned into more of a dirt trail.

I was crushed as I pulled up, however. Sure, it had been a windmill, but these days it was just a unphotogenic wreck.

I left disappointment in a cloud of dust, beginning again my race against the setting sun. I screeched to a halt on what passes for a hill in that part of the world and broke out a pair of binoculars that for some reason I’ve been hauling in my car. A quick survey of the horizon revealed another distant but reachable windmill, seemingly near a farmhouse.

I got back in gear and approached my target with just enough of the sun remaining to make my mission possible.

Then there was another problem.

The windmill, while fully intact, wasn’t next to a farmhouse. It was in the middle of a field, about 600 yards from the road.

With no time to worry about that, I left the car on the side of the road, jumped out with my camera and sprinted through the field. I was gasping for breath when I stopped at first, settling on an acceptable-though-not-perfect vantage point. I snapped a few shaky photos, then continued on, another 100 yards where things were lined up better, the windmill standing tall above the horizon on a small rise that had just consumed the sun.

And, I took a photo I love, the sun’s last rays pushing through the windmill and into a darkening blue sky.

Happy and exhausted, I trudged back to my car, then to the highway. I saw two more windmills in the next 4 miles of interstate, photos that would have been radically easier to capture if I’d stuck with the highway a little longer. I had no regrets. The thrill was in the chase, and no matter what I decide to do with my images, they were a lot of fun to track down.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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