Sometimes I wonder if people get as lost as I do in the moment while they are working. Like, when the dentist has his hands on your gums, shining his headlamp into your face, is he thinking about the sheer beauty of the roof of your mouth? Is he in awe of the opportunity to stand there looking at the popcorn between your teeth while wondering if you’ve flossed today? Does he wish in this moment, with this mouth, that this day would never end?

The waves today are big. Huge, actually. At four hours before high tide, I should be about fifty feet closer to the horizon than this. But the offshore storm is bringing in a tide unlike what we often see on these northern Maine beaches. I have to stand on guard more than usual, holding my camera up closer to my shoulder rather than letting it dangle to my side.

Living in Maine is like living in a bad relationship. It’s beautiful and warm. Sunny and sweet. Then slowly it starts to turn, until it is angry and cold, brutal and hard. Just as you think you can’t take the anger any more, it turns again, pulling you back into its gentle care and illustrious beauty. I guess Mainers are like that too, hot then cold, nice then grumpy. It’s one big roller coaster ride up here in this neck of the woods. My grandpa said it is what makes us strong, able to survive the winters and then revel in and live for the short summers.

Today is one of the good days. Late August, warm and calm. The light this evening is beyond belief, with far-away puffy clouds reflecting the sun offshore, making for a sky glistening with hues of pink, blue, and a sliver of orange; a cotton candy sky, as we like to call it in these parts. The family I photographed this evening was from the midwest, with two cute kids who loved the water more than they loved the camera. It was my favorite kind of session. 

I think my clients always think I’m a little full of it. I mean, how could anyone be so taken by the beauty of a place they work at every single day? But night after night, I stand along the shore with my clients and take in the allure of this part of Maine. They enjoy it, I embrace it. Time after time, cotton candy skies or rainy skies, I am always blown away.

It’s kind of a crazy thing to live as a photographer. I don’t mean as a photographer who takes pictures and puts the camera away until the next photo session. I mean as a photographer who lives every moment of the day with a camera for eyes. I don’t see the world as others do. When my friends see a cup of coffee on a windowsill, I see the way the light hits the rim just right, creating a little starburst, a little glitter for their morning caffeine fix. I see gradients of color in the sky and the clouds, beauty in the texture of raindrops on the windows. I see little moments that often go unnoticed; touch, smiles, subtle looks. I’ve almost driven off the road because of sunsets, and fallen off of sidewalks from looking too hard at something other than what is in front of me. It is overwhelming, it is distracting, and it is beautiful to have the constant eyes of a photographer.

I take a step back, the waves getting closer to shore. After my family sessions, especially on nights like this, I’ll say my goodbyes and head back to the beach, sometimes to capture a bit more of the light, and sometimes to just take it in alone. In these moments, I fill my heart with gratitude for this place and this life, this career and this gift. Usually I’ll take a short walk, and oftentimes I’ll walk right into the water, up to my knees or thighs, even when I’m in my jeans. Feeling the waves hit my legs somehow makes me feel like one with my environment, and with the sun setting over the land, not the sea, it gives me a chance to turn around and see the glow of the last light over the dunes.

Tonight I know that getting in the water is not a great idea. The tide is now coming in strong, stronger than during my session, with powerful waves, sometimes hitting the ground so hard that sand flies up into the sky. But as it often does, the sea is calling to me, begging me to join in its fun, to feel the waves on my legs and see the beach from a new perspective.

I cautiously make my way to the edge of the water, debating if it’s worth the risk. The water has turned from blue to teal as the sun continues to set, and the gradients of color are almost too much for my heart to handle. I slowly make my way into the water, snapping shots in between hits from the breaking waves, holding my camera into the air to avoid contact. The colors are so vibrant, so extraordinary. I take a few steps forward.

The key to taking photos while in the ocean is secure feet. Lose your feet and you lose it all. 

As the waves recede after each hit, I re-secure my grip on the ground. The light is absolutely magical to the southeast, so I turn my body so my line of sight is perpendicular to the incoming waves. Any photographer can see what is in front of them, but a skilled photographer also knows what is going on around them. As I’m watching the waves break in front of me, approaching shore with perfect shades of blue, pink, and gold, I’m also watching for the waves about to hit me from the side, bracing myself for impact after snapping the shutter and holding my stance as the undertow pulls the ground from beneath me.

Grip, click, arm up!, brace, balance. Grip, click, arm up!, brace, balance. 

Freak out because it is so unbelievably gorgeous. 

I’m about to call it a night, when I notice a swell in the waves. The rolling sea is growing, the tide approaching faster now, and the swells are looking more like rolling west-coast surfing waves than the plow style we usually see here in the east. My head tells me it is time to retreat, but my heart cannot get past what is in front of my eyes. The deep blue underside of the wave is so vibrant I can feel it in my body. I need to get closer. I need my camera to capture this feeling.

I creep closer, my heart beginning to race. I know this is risky. I also know this photo could define me as a landscape photographer. This could be a moment. I am not letting it go.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a large sailboat approaching shore. Its masts are a soft purple, contrasting with the golden tops of the waves. I realize if I time it just right, it will travel under a roll, possibly a once-in-a-lifetime photograph.

I wait. Grip, brace, balance. I set my camera settings. I will have one chance to get this shot. 

There have been plenty of times in my career where I worried I was pushing the envelope. That this would be the day that I lose my camera, or maybe even worse. Of all times, this was the one where it never crossed my mind. In this moment I was in control, and the elements were only there to create magic just for me.

Photographers are a little cocky sometimes. 

Finally, the moment arrives. I watch the wave build offshore, knowing it will make the perfect frame for my sailboat. I grip, I squat, I brace, the sailboat goes perfectly into the middle of the roll, I click. 

And then I get rolled.

Over and over and over I feel my body tumble. My camera flies out of my hand, and my camera strap rolls itself around my neck. I try to pull it off, but the force of the wave sends my arms flying, my body barreling through rock, dirt, and seaweed. When I think I’ve made it to shore it pulls me back again. I can’t breathe, I can’t see. My camera is slapping against my body like a pile of bricks. The strength of the sea bears down on me for what feels like an hour, but for what they will later tell me was all of 15 seconds. I can’t hold on, I can’t take a breath. I close my eyes and decide to let go.

When I awaken I am in the parking lot. There are people above me. A mask on my face. Everything hurts. I groan, and a man with kind eyes appears above my face and takes off the mask. 

“Do you know where you are? We almost lost you there.”

I cough. I take a deep grateful breath. 

And I ask, “Did I get the shot?”

March 29, 2024 21:51

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Darvico Ulmeli
14:22 Apr 12, 2024

I remember that rolling feeling. The first time I jumped in the Atlantic Ocean ( and I didn't know how to swim) was a fabulous feeling until the wave rolled me over and I didn't know where "up" and "down" were. Just like you described. Things we did without thinking about the danger we put our lives in. Liked.


Mazie Maris
11:59 Apr 17, 2024

Yes! I've been rolled too and it is quite scary! Thank you for reading my story!


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Ty Warmbrodt
19:09 Apr 11, 2024

I love the descriptiveness in the way you write. the attention to detail probably comes from being a photographer. You managed to combine humor and excitement with those details to create a wonderful story. I look forward to reading more of your stories.


Mazie Maris
12:12 Apr 12, 2024

Thank you Ty - I really appreciate your kind and thoughtful feedback, and thank you for taking the time to read my story!


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Trudy Jas
13:19 Apr 06, 2024

Ever the professional


Mazie Maris
19:40 Apr 06, 2024

Thank you for reading, Trudy! :)


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Mary Bendickson
05:46 Mar 30, 2024

Oh, snap! This contest this week was made for you as a photographer. Perfect timing, perfect lighting, perfect shot, perfect writing. Think you got a shot at a win.🤩


Mazie Maris
17:27 Mar 30, 2024

Thank you so much Mary - this made my morning! I definitely squealed when I saw the prompt come through yesterday - my two favorite things all in one! Thank you for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!


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