The best shots come unplanned

My mom and I winded our way up the mountain, curving around empty gravel bends until light snow fluttered down from the neighboring summit. Miles without end led us finally to traffic—a line of vehicles collectively taking in the arid words on a lone sign up the road:


Steering our small car around to head back to the valley, we remained resolved. We were two amateur photographers on a mission: to shoot in the unusually heavy snow that had landed on SoCal’s highest peaks.

Our little wheels pushed up highway after highway as we placed new faith in every avenue. A thick white blanket lay gorgeously atop the ridges just overhead, taunting us. But all the channels seemed closed.

As the afternoon rolled in and still no luck, we accepted the reality of our prospects.

“Let’s just go to the arboretum instead.”

Nestled in one of my hometowns, Arcadia, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is perhaps best recognized as home of the peacocks. In fact, these colorful creatures are so common in the area that a law in the city mandates peacocks have the right of way.

I remember years ago having offered the big, feathery friends potato chips out of my palm on a lawn beside the fountain. Another time, one bold bird stole my sandwich—snatched it clean off the table and flapped away.

Nostalgia washed over me as my feet skipped along old paths.

We snapped some photos of each other, taking advantage of the scenery. I don’t know which camera setting got toggled when we switched lenses, but these were the result:

Completely by accident, we’d set the camera to combine two successive photos to produce one artistic-looking image each round. No slow shutter speed nor Photoshop was involved in the effect, though I did later play around with different white balances during editing.

Eventually I reset the settings so we could take some normal photos. I found a chilly bird:

And two plump li’l buddies binging on rain-soaked grass:

When the sun began to meet the horizon, we decided to head to dinner ourselves. It was on the way to Zen Buffet, a childhood favorite of mine with its always-flowing chocolate fountain, that the most exciting sight of the day cut through the clouded skies.

The hint of rainbow looked initially like a mirage ready to fade in the next ephemeral moment, so I snapped my first shot from the passenger seat window. (It came out pure white—I’d forgotten to adjust the settings.)

But as we kept driving the hues only grew stronger. We pulled over, and I leapt out of the car to capture the now-striking streaks of light, fitting my lens through the fence of my old elementary school.

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