Sara Montour Lewis — Seattle Commercial Children's Lifestyle + Wildlife Conservation Photographer

Field Notes

These field notes are a little peak behind the scenes of personal adventures, creation of stock imagery, location scouting, etc.

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Bald Ealges over the Mississippi River at Colvill Park in Red Wing, Minnesota

I'm going to warn you that this might get a little bit long-winded, so in full acceptance that you might scroll right past all of the text to get straight to the photos I'm going to tell you right away that I'm donating 20% of the print sales of these photos to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN and you can purchase them here

Ok. On to the long-winded explanation (I'll try as hard as I can to keep it brief):

Last year, after the Presidential Inauguration, it was really hard to go back to work and do business as usual when so many bigger things were going on in the world. I know we can't all be crusaders and that the world also needs some positivity, joy + wonder, but it was also very apparent that we needed to do what we could to funnel funding to organizations that were working hard (and had been working hard, effectively, for years) to make positive change in the world. With that in mind I teamed up with Lisa at Drawn Well to create the Wall of Love Sessions, with all session fees going to the ACLU and Take Action Minnesota. 

That time was a real tipping point for me, seeing that I could apply my photography skillset towards incredibly rewarding work that I loved creating, visually, but that also worked towards something more than just eventually-forgotten files on a collection of hard drives (sorry, that was kind of grim!).

Speaking of that, though, I recently was able to recover a hard drive that I hadn't had access to in years. It had images from the very beginning of my photography life on it and it was fascinating to look back, 15 years later, to see what my eye naturally gravitated towards, at the very beginning when it wasn't about booking jobs or paying rent. I have hard drives full of images of backpacking trips, canoeing in the BWCA, roaming around ocean beaches, discovering very new-to-me creatures, exploring snowy forests and winding rivers. 

I also have hard drives even more full of kids. So. Many. Amazing. Kids. And then the hundreds of thousands of images of concerts + musicians.

This seems like the weirdest mix, I know, but when you factor in the old adage of "shoot what you know" it makes complete and total sense in my life. I have 8 brothers + sisters, most of which are younger, and have spent my entire life adventuring with them and listening to music together. Sometimes all at the same time (thanks again, Winnipeg Folk Fest!).

The last year has made me realize how lucky I was to grow up with accessible public lands to explore and how important it is to preserve that for future generations so my nieces + nephews + the hundreds (thousands?) of kids I've been lucky enough to photograph in my career get to experience the same thing and share it with their kids. 

So. I'm making it my mission to more frequently use my camera to tell the stories that need to be told in order to preserve the wild places that are so necessary for our Earth to function healthily. To sit and watch wildlife be wild as a reminder that humans are the odd man out in this worldly equation and we need to tread more lightly. I'm seeking out organizations that are working towards effective conservation efforts that I can help support.

But. I'm still going to just have fun with crazy kids because we all need that, too, and their pure joy + goodness is a beacon of hope for the future. Those images are important. 

And music. Well. Live music is my church. You get it. 

With all of this in my mind, brewing around without having the perfect words quite yet, after a photo shoot this weekend I randomly googled "winter wildlife viewing minneapolis" and an article popped up about how, after cold stretches when the Mississippi River freezes to the north, bald eagles tend to congregate near this one park in Red Wing, Minnesota, where the water is always open because of the Xcel Energy Steam Plant. The article said sometimes as many as 30-50 eagles can be in one spot. 

I grew up in Pequot Lakes and we saw eagles all the time, but I'd never seen that many together, so I decided to run home, grab some cold-weather gear (it was -8 when I left), and make the hour-long drive down to Red Wing. 

When I got there I saw a line of birders watching, laughing to myself that I thought I was going to have a quiet, reflective couple of hours watching eagles to myself. I looked past them and was shocked to see eagles filling every tree along the river. I'd never seen anything like it. 

I walked up the river a little bit, found a rock to perch on and watched for hours in total wonder, trying to capture even a little slice of it with my camera. The eagles would sit calmly in the trees for a half hour at a time, and my mind would wander, and I would start to pay closer attention to the ducks taking off + landing or the details in the water + ice and then suddenly one would swoop down to grab a fish and that would cause 10-20 of them to start flying around. It was stunning and surreal. Especially to see so many young eagles that hadn't full changed coloring yet.

It also all happened in the stone cold gaze of the Xcel Steam Plant. A not-so-subtle reminder of our ever-present impact.