The Photo We’ll Never Sell

The Photo We’ll Never Sell

September 21, 2015

You guys, freelancing is hard.

I am sure that I am preaching to many of the converted here, but it’s a point worth making for those considering this sort of lifestyle. Be prepared for some severe swings in work that can also do some painful things to the psyche.

As consultants, writers, and photographers, we’ve felt it from every angle, every high and every low. And one of the worst parts of all of it, given that we work in a more creative field, is that on top of the struggle to earn our keep, we are also routinely asked to work for free. Or get paid in “exposure” to an inquiring brand’s audience, which of course rarely (if ever) puts actual food on the table.

I think this affects Pete more than it ever does me. He puts a fantastic number of hours into improving his photography for very limited financial return. There is just far too much competition out there, and let’s be honest, most people want to frame their own travel photos, not someone else’s, right? Passion is the single thing that keeps him going.

But when he does get an inquiry to purchase a photo, it brings a lot of excitement. For him it serves as validation, justification, and the ability to go and buy more equipment (so HE believes, I would prefer to just eat the money). Except that the funny thing is, the single most inquired about photo we have is not for sale. For all the ways that the money could help us at times, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.

Three Sisters - 800x530
The Three Sisters Mountains, on the way to Banff

Outside of Calgary, in the Alberta Rockies
there is a mountain range called the Three Sisters
three mountains, side by side, the three sisters
are built of rock, they point towards the sky
unyielding and eternally strong.
They harbour secrets

I, myself, am part of a tribe
of three sisters
my sisters and I
there is power in 3s, I am told
there is power

one of us was dark when two of us were blonde
we’re all versions of red, now;
one of us has always been badder than the others
one of us has always been better than the others
one of us has always been stronger than the others;
just not at the same time

we’re all loud, at times
we’re all quiet, at times
we all use our voices. we all chime in chorus –
we were Raised That Way
we all do it that way
we all do that

if you saw us walking down a street, together
you’d probably not know we were related
you’d probably not know we were sisters at all
you’d probably not know of the foothills at our feet
you’d probably not know this:

We are eternally strong
We carry secrets in our bellies and balance life against our hips
We wield words like weapons
We shelter hope like babies
We swing love like rosaries
We are mountains.

This in an excerpt of a poem by my older sister, written the year before her death. We were a tribe of three. The Three Sisters mountains near Canmore will always hold special meaning for me and my younger sister.

But apparently, we are not the only ones.

A couple of years ago, an inquiry came in to purchase that photo. The interested woman was a part of a tribe of three also, and to top it off, her name was Nicole (the same name as my departed sister). What I am sure she didn’t expect at the time of her inquiry was that my response would be laced with tears and gushing at the similarities of our situation, and that it would include the attached photo at no charge. I would not be surprised if she wrote off my response as one from a crazy woman, but her reply was gracious and grateful.

A year ago, another inquiry. Another response with the photo attached at no charge.

Again, just a few weeks ago, another request, not for this particular photo but for another of the Three Sisters where the sun was just breaking over one of the peaks. The woman was so incredibly grateful, explaining how she was one of three sisters whom were orphaned at a young age and spent their childhood in an unwelcoming home. “How interconnected we seem to be,” she said, “I’m so very truly touched by your magnanimous gesture.”

I feel like in the simple act of sharing this photo, we’re growing our own tribe of sisters, bonded by difficult situations and three mountains that we all manage to find some strength and power in. And that’s worth more than the money we could ever earn from it.

P.S. Oh, and there’s also this which we stumbled upon. The photo inspired a tattoo.


  1. Such an emotional post! I completely understand how there are some photos, trinkets, etc. that have so much meaning behind them that you can’t bear to charge for them. Thank you both for putting so much beauty into the world.

  2. Oh I love this so much! Somethings just can’t be for sale. And I love the connection that you can make with others who are moved by this image. So beautiful. 🙂

  3. Great what a great story and I am so pleased to know that you do not sell the photo. I, like you Dalene,am one of 3 sisters and my sister Sue passed away in 2013. We know how precious our families are to us. I is wonderful how open and gracious you are to pass such a great gift on.

  4. I love this story! You two have such kind souls. Oh, and it’s good to know I’m not the the only one who struggles with being a freelancer in a creative field. Scott just thinks I’m crazy. 🙂

  5. I too lost my sister, your story always touches my heart Dalene. The Three Sisters Mountains are special to my family, as my dad who has Alzheimer’s recognizes those Mountains and his childhood time there as a kid of a coalminer. Thanks for your photo and story.

  6. Amazing post and story Dalene. I am not religious but this sort of thin certainly makes me think there’s more to this world than we can see. We live in Vancouver and the Three Sisters has just shot to the top of my list of places we need to hike next summer. I’ll send you a photo! Yours is absolutely stunning – I can see why you get requests for it and understand why you can’t sell it.

  7. The poem is simply beautiful and when shared with your stunning photo, it really is very evocative. I’m inspired by the strength and courage it takes to share such personal, sometimes painful, stories on your blog. As you have said elsewhere, this is why people love reading your stories and feel a real connection to what you share.

  8. Beautiful post Dalene. While I love the Three Sisters near Canmore so close to our home already, they’ll hold even more heartwarming meaning for me now.

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