Bend teens Eli Zatz and Alex Laakmann spoke fondly of a late September night up on Broken Top in the Three Sisters Wilderness where they spent hours trying to capture the night sky on their iPhones, using rocks to circumvent the lack of a tripod to get a steady photo. That night, trying to capture the stars, is when the two friends discovered a love of photography.
For nearly six months, Zatz and Laakmann have been exploring the world of photography and capturing the scenery of Central Oregon.
“It just opened up a new world for me,” said the 15-year-old Laakmann. “I take a camera with me everywhere I go now.” Rather than learning to bake a perfect sourdough loaf, the two began taking a camera on their adventures throughout the pandemic, when some activities became limited.
“We ended up going on a lot of backcountry, wilderness adventures and it was really fun to take a camera along so that we could take some fun pictures,” said the 16-year-old Zatz.
“The photography aspect is a product of the cool stuff that we do like going climbing or going whitewater kayaking.”
The two have traveled to Joshua Tree National Park in California, backpacked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Eastern Oregon’s Strawberry Mountains and rock climbed City of Rocks in Idaho.
In Central Oregon, areas close to home have provided more than enough material to hone their new-found craft.
In the mornings before the sun came up, Laakmann would put on his fishing waders to capture ice mushrooms that formed over rocks in Tumalo Creek near Tumalo Falls.
When out at Smith Rock, climbing it is a great opportunity to capture the area’s formations and climbers scaling the rocks. “I’m not up to his (climbing) level,” Zatz said of Laakmann. “So when we go climbing, I take pictures of him.”
Whenever they are backcountry skiing at Black Crater north of the Three Sisters, they make sure to take time to snap photos to remember their experiences. “It is pretty cool to create stuff,” Zatz said. “It is cool to capture things you think are cool and then show it to other people.”
The two have leaned on Eli’s father Daniel Zatz, a professional photographer, as well reading through books and tutorials on YouTube to learn the technical side of their Rebel T6 and Canon EOS 5D cameras.
“I’ve been around cameras my whole life, so I’m used to taking photos,” said Zatz. “I would say I began taking it more seriously when the pandemic hit.”
Most of their improvements came from tinkering daily until they figured out better techniques for getting the camera to do what they want it to do.
“It took a couple months of going out every night behind our house taking night photos,” Laakmann said. “Through that, and guess and check, I’ve been able to find out how to use them.”
The two high schoolers found a new hobby, creative outlet and new ways of enhancing the outdoor activities they already enjoy.
“I just like the creativity you get from it and the technical part,” Laakmann said. Experimenting with different compositions, going to different places — just being out there is so much fun.” Zatz shares a similar sentiment that the addition of photography makes looking back at the fun they had more enjoyable.
“I love doing the (outdoor) sports,” he said. “But taking photos of other people doing the sport, and taking photos of the beautiful scenery just gives you something to remember the trip by a little bit more.”