28 May
Ian Plant By
Posted in: Yellowstone    16 Comments

The Beast

I used to think that exceptional images happened as a result of talent, hard work, dedication, and a singular commitment to excellence. All my life I have labored under the wickedly false impression that cream rises to the top, and that merit eventually wins in the end. My chance encounter with Satan quickly disabused me of this quaint notion.

Long days in Yellowstone were yielding little, and all the while my shooting companion George Stocking was steadily kicking my butt, racking up an impressive collection of masterfully composed photos while I wallowed in mediocrity. In a moment of frustration, I angrily strode off on my own, leaving George and his mocking smile behind. After hiking for hours, I found myself in the aphotic depths of a dark ravine, alone from prying eyes and shielded from the blazing sun. It was there, in the wilderness, that He came for me, rising from the pit on a chariot of fire and smoke. The Prince of Darkness. The Morning Star. Beelzebub. Apollyon. Lucifer. He goes by many names, but to all he is the Beast, the enemy of that which is good, just, and clean. Anathema to little girls with Hello Kitty backpacks everywhere. Pure evil. The Kim Kardashian of religion.

He called my name and beckoned me near; I came as close as the flames allowed. He did not mince words or waste time with pleasantries, getting down to business immediately: would I be willing to sell my soul for the power to make great photos? I was taken aback, and he snickered, perceiving my naiveté and my foolish adherence to the bootstrap principle (to wit, pulling oneself up by one’s own). “You don’t think that great photographers get that way by sheer force of will, do you?” he bellowed, belching flame and darkness from his demonic mouth. “How do you think your friend George has gotten to where he is today? His skill and determination?” Black laughter echoed through the surrounding hills as the dark seed he planted in my mind quickly grew to its full potency: George had sold his soul to the Devil (which, now that I thought about it, explained quite a bit). The archfiend’s voice lowered: “Everyone else has done it, so should you.” Even though he was beginning to sound like a street corner hustler trying to get high school kids hooked on weed, his words had the ring of truth.

His flickering claws reached forth, dirty nails pawing at the place on my chest where my heart lay mute, frozen with fear. The next step would be simple, easy, almost effortless: I would release my eternal spirit into his grasp, and reap (in this life) the rewards of my wickedness. Greatness could be mine, and perhaps even a monthly column in a major photo magazine. All for the bargain price of my soul, a somewhat vestigial appendage I don’t use much anyways.

What the Devil did not know about me, is that, despite the fact that I am not a particularly honest, moral, godly, or righteous man, I don’t like it when people (or fallen angels) mess with my life. The choice, for me, was easy—I’d rather be mediocre than someone else’s meat puppet. I told him no thanks, and with no small sense of irony, that he should go to hell.

Impressed by my impertinence—or unconvinced by it—Lucifer flashed the same mocking smile I had seen on George’s lips all week. “In time, you will be mine” he stated, simply and without artifice. And then, as he sank back into the underworld, he raised his head in a mighty laugh, a deafening roar of contempt. Shrouded in a miasma of fetid smoke, his horns pointed to the sky like hideous spears defying the light, he returned to the abyss.

The moment before his descent was complete, I was struck with a tingle of inspiration. Out came my camera. Click. Best shot of the whole trip.

"The Beast" by Ian Plant

About the image: Demonic intervention? Naw, just a bison rolling around in some dirt. I positioned myself to ensure that the dust was backlit by the setting sun. When the bison lifted its head high, I knew I had the moment I was waiting for. Canon 5DII camera, 500mm lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1250 second.

Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (414 Posts)

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.


  • The Ian and George show continues, you guys are killing it! Glad you didn’t cave, the last thing the world needs is another HDR, super saturated G+profit with an ego to match the number of bracketed shots they take to feed through photomatix!

    Btw, “aphotic depths of a dark ravine” might be a bit redundant 😉 Just kidding, I actually had to look up aphotic. Aside from the stunning image(s) and commentary your posts are also a great source for new vocabulary.

    Epic shot!

    • Ian Plant

      It’s amazing what I can do with 45 minutes of free time and a thesaurus!

      • 45 min? Damn that would have taken me all freakin’ day! I knew I hated you for a reason 😉

        • Ian Plant

          Don’t forget my freakishly good looks . . .

  • George Stocking

    hey, just to let you know, when I told you to feel free to demonize me, I was actually speaking metaphorically..

    • Ian Plant

      A just punishment for kicking my arse photographically while we were in Yellowstone!

  • So that’s what it takes to stand out from the rest… Hmmm where can I find your firebreathing friend? 😉

    As always an entertaining read and a powerful image to accompany it. I bet I would at least triple the subscribers to my blog if I had half the imagination!

    • Ian Plant

      Tequila helps get the imagination flowing!

  • I have always loved your more subtle images. Even a monkey (me) when put in front of a grand landscape with awesome light can make a half decent image. But it takes an eye for subtlety to make something out of nothing, and this is a great example.

    • Ian Plant

      Awfully kind of you to say Boyon. To me, that’s what photography is all about – waiting around for something interesting to happen and then firing like hell.

  • So exactly how would you define a photographer who has sold his soul to the devil ?

  • I can’t stop laughing at all of you- too funny.
    Ian, I can’t even begin to imagine where you got the idea of a devilish beast from a bison rolling in the dirt, but WAY TO GO! It really works. You are such a great writer- I was totally sucked in!

  • A riot!!! I hear Letterman is looking for new talent, you ought to give it a shot! Great article, but still scratching my head over some of the vocabulary – where did I put that dictionary?