This trip kind of came out of nowhere.
It was Easter weekend, and it'd only been a few weeks since we'd gotten the news that my dad's dad, whom we call Papaw, had been diagnosed with late-stage Leukemia. It was stunning because he'd always been reasonably healthy for his age, staying in shape playing racquetball and horseshoes.
My dad told me that the only thing on Papaw's bucket list was going to see the sequoia trees in California, and said he was thinking about organizing a trip to take Papaw out there. It sounded like a neat trip, and the sequoias were on my bucket list too, so I had even more reason to be excited about it.
I said, "Yeah, I'm in. When are you thinking?"
...So there I was three weeks later, headed to California with my dad, brother, uncle, two cousins, and Papaw Ted. The Sprinkle boys.
In addition to my Nikon cameras and glass, and I opted to bring my Freefly Movi M5 and leave my slider at home. I didn't know what to expect in terms of how we'd spend our time or how long we'd stay in one location, so I'd debated bringing both or neither, but when I got there I was so glad with my decision as the slider would have been cumbersome and the Movi went a long way in capturing the majesty of these magnificent trees.
The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 20mm f/2.8D both proved valuable as wide-angle lenses, which are necessary when trying to fit something massive into your frame. The guys were gracious about letting me take a minute to set up and balance the Movi, and whenever I could I would just hang onto it and leave it on between stops. It has a sleep mode but I hadn't installed that firmware update yet. They were also gracious about letting me keep the window down and shooting out of it even though the temperatures got a little cool at times!
Here's a short clip of my dad got of me getting a shot of Papaw up in the mountains...the Movi can look funny to operate but the resulting shots are worth it.
This photo of me using the Movi still weirds me out a bit, because the trees really look like they're painted onto a studio backdrop for Star Wars or something. The fog just made it all look so cinematic.
I try to always have a tension between living a moment and capturing a moment--I want there to be tension because that means that I'm aware of both sides. I want awareness because I want to be able to choose. With the passion and resources that I have I feel somewhat of a duty to help preserve moments and memories, and I also love to capture beauty in nature for the sake of sharing the beauty of God's creation to those who weren't able to make the trip to see it for themselves.
In this case, I decided to approach it as though I were documenting a life-capping trip of celebration and closure between a father and his two sons. I knew this trip was really important to my dad and I wanted to honor him by capturing it for him and letting him fully experience it himself.
When we were heading up to the world's largest tree (largest in total mass), called General Sherman, I asked Papaw if I could put a lav mic on him and he said sure. I was grateful for his compliance, because that ended up being the most emotional moment of the trip, and I was able to get it on video.
Papaw's health is declining fast, which has been hard for us to watch since he was always active and healthy. The travel was tough on him, and he would conserve energy when it was possible. But as we walked up the path to General Sherman, Papaw perked up and had a pep in his step as he started making verbal declarations about what was happening and how great it was.
Sensing the magnitude of the moment I looked up from the monitor of the Movi and made brief eye contact with my dad, kind of one of those moments where I wanted to know that I was interpreting things right. As if I were saying, non-verbally, "This moment feels really emotionally heavy, yeah?" and Dad, sensing it as well, gave a subtle nod to my visual inquiry. I could see what the moment meant to him, and as Papaw passed him I decided to do a subject hand-off and track with Dad instead.
This moment and shot was significant for two reasons:
For one, it was the apex of the trip. That's what we were sensing when we looked up at each other--this dying man had one thing left he wanted to do before he passes...and we were about to do it.
The second reason this shot was significant was that I think that my decision to switch from Papaw to Dad's reaction was a subconscious signal that to me, Dad was actually the main character in this story. I wanted this trip to be a healing one for him as much as anyone, and I tried to stay keyed in on him emotionally throughout the trip--not as a videographer but on a personal level. And in that moment it came out in my videography when I saw that his emotions were beginning to overwhelm him.
It seemed that even the weather was in tune with our emotional rollercoaster. That day had started out with blue skies and a perfect hiking temperature of around 50 - 60 degrees, an appropriate backdrop for a heart-warming adventure. Shortly after we left the General Sherman site to explore other areas of the park, however, clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. Papaw reclined back to a physical state of preservation, and the scenes got foggy, dark, and at times, slightly ominous.
But for a few brief, shining moments, the trip was everything we hoped it would be. For me those few steps leading up to General Sherman were the highlight of the trip. I had hoped that a moment like that would present itself at some point, and I was grateful that I had been prepared for it--not just by having the stuff with me but by getting all the practice of setting it up quickly and being familiar with it from shooting all the video gigs I've worked over the last few years.
I've joked that when I do work for clients, really they're paying me to practice so that I can get better at filming the moments that matter most to me. The years of shooting weddings trained me to treat every moment as potentially precious and fleeting, so I learned to stay in tune and jump on any opportunities that might be sentimental.
Capturing those rare moments walking up to General Sherman was a prime prize of that training, and they're moments that I'll be forever grateful for.
Putting the footage together was a lot of fun. I decided to start with the General Sherman walk-up moment to let the viewer immediately have some emotional connection to Papaw and to the trip. I wanted the score to be sentimental without quite being sad, to initially reflect the tender, sensitive nature of the trip and then to eventually reflect the grandness of what we got to witness.
Without further ado, here's the resulting video: