Shooting Journal: Missoula , Montana

It would be hard not to like a town with a theater named "Wilma". The laid-back town of Missoula, Montana is such a place. There seems to be a very tolerant attitude that is reflected in the intriguing variety of people who, along with our son, call it home.

While the outskirts of town contains all the "generica" common to many larger population centers, the downtown area itself is a step back in time to about the 1950's. There is an old-fashioned diner and a serious photographer's camera store or two. Shops vary from the funky to the elegant in their merchandise and restaurants are as good as any we've experienced in many larger cities. Locally brewed artisan beers abound.

The skies in western Montana are an ever-changing drama and I like to feature them in my photographs. Often, I walk around town with my tiny Leica C-Lux 2, a pocket-sized point-and-shoot that captures these skies almost better at times than my Nikon D-80. A number of my downtown Missoula shots were taken with the Leica since it's sometimes easier to carry than a larger camera with a fairly heavy lens. I forget about using the the tripod with the Nikon, unless I'm able to get out early in the day, before the world is awake. The Leica also does well with the architecture images I like to capture and Missoula's buildings provide a lot of attractive details.

Hiking opportunities abound both around the town and within a short distance by car. On our recent trip, we headed to the Lee Creek Interpretive Trail in the Lolo National Forest. This 2 1/2 mile hike at times seemed to be all uphill. Although I do a lot of walking, it's easy to forget that the altitude also makes a difference in how difficult flatlanders may find it. There is a printed guide available at the trail head that describes the various features along the path and provides a guide to identify some of the trees found along the way. I used no tripod here but a sniper strap made the camera much easier to carry and kept it out of harm's way. The forest varied from thin to dense. High contrast scenery was typical, with sunlight filtering through dense greenery.

One of the first things we noticed about Missoula is how serious the residents are about food. There is a large and not inexpensive grocery store that features mostly organic food with the produce often locally grown. On summer weekends, there are three great outdoor markets running at once. The one near the railroad features produce displays so artistic, it seems a shame to disarrange them by buying anything. Again, locally grown and mostly organic is the theme.

Missoula's thriving arts community is featured in both the First Friday art walks, when galleries have well-attended open houses, and in the second Saturday market a few blocks from the first. This market demonstrates that Missoula has attracted or home-grown a large number of talented artists and craftspeople. The third market, on the edge of the Clark Fork River, combines flowers, produce and meats like elk and bison, as well as booths selling freshly prepared meals. All of these markets are extensive and appear busy and thriving. Vendors are generally willing to allow their displays to be photographed and I try to ask permission first if I can do so without interfering with a sale.

This is a photographer-friendly town with some of the local professionals I spoke with appearing approachable and helpful.

Art Deco Building, Missoula

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Clark Fork Native Prairie

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Downtown Missoula

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Downtown Missoula 2

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Downtown Missoula's Big Sky

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Farmer's Market in Big Sky Country

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Missoula Farmer's Market Flowers

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The "M" in Missoula

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We Buy Anything

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Wilma

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