Anyone can visit an iconic photographic site and make a good image. Most of us have done it. I’d be rich if I had $1 for every time I saw this copy-cat image I made on a visit to the Grand Teton NP.
As a judge my standard comment on a image like this was along the lines of – “Out; it’s unoriginal, a cliche“. Yes, these images can be beautiful and fun to make – just for the sheer joy of finally seeing a photographic icon through your own viewfinder. However, it’s been done uncountable times already and isn’t a unique image. Enjoy it, but don’t enter it in competition and expect to win.
Just as images like the Grand Teton Mormon Row barn above have been made uncountable times, there are other uncountable sites, scenes and subjects that are virgin territory if we just use our eyes to see. Freeman Patterson, one of my favorite photographers, has an exercise where he picks a spot where you must stand while you take about 36 shots. No restrictions regarding lens, perspective, angle of view – just don’t move from that spot. Granted some spots may be more interesting & fruitful than others – but still…..
Try it – more than once – and begin to learn to see.
1. The first key to making a unique image is –
Go somewhere that not everyone else goes
2. That’s easier said than done, Ed. What’s next?
Go at a time “normal” photographers would stay home
3. Well, that’s narrowing things down a bit. What else?
Use Freeman’s exercise. Stop at some otherwise unlikely spots – AND work the subject. Don’t take one or two of the obvious shots and quit. See what else is there.
Don’t use the “typical” lens, angle, perspective – get creative
4. Last, maybe most important, don’t travel far from home (1-2 hour drive at most)
You should be able to get to your location on short notice – in order respond to conditions that promise good light (and that’s not bright sun ;-))
You should be intimately familiar with your site – seasons, weather, time of day, etc. – and know what to expect to see and under what conditions you’ll see it. Like I know at milepost 2 on Skyline Drive during the 3rd week in April redbuds and dogwoods (which only grow at this lower elevation along the drive) are in bloom – and that a rainy day saturates the colors to show them off at their best. And – I am equally familiar with other “mileposts”, seasons, and weather. Where are my chances for a keeper better? – Shenandoah which I reach in an hour (of my choosing) or an iconic western U.S. national park that I visit almost never?
You will get a unique keeper on a trip far from home only through pure dumb luck – the odds are against you.
If you follow these simple steps, you’re bound to come home with some unique seldom seen images. Ask yourself – Have I seen this image before? Who knows, there might even be a keeper or two. Ansel Adams once remarked that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop” so a keeper or two per outing is a good day’s work by his standards.
Along the lines of the above four guidelines –
1. The other day I made my near-weekly visit to Shenandoah NP – so much for going somewhere no one else goes.
2. I went on a nice spring day (down in the valley, maybe) where atop the mountains the snow/sleet/rain mix was being blown horizontally by fierce winds (strong enough to blow over a tripod & camera weighing over 10 pounds – I caught it). This is the type of day that tourists come up to me and “sympathize” about the lousy weather for photography – thus ensuring that I’m on the right track.
3. Each time I visit the park I try to stop and do something new (for me) in keeping with Freeman’s exercise. Heck, Freeman himself writes of shooting 4-5 rolls of film on something as mundane as his denim jacket hanging on his porch – how familiar is that but still he “sees” things new in it.
4. Like I said above, my personal knowledge of the park in every type of condition allows me to put myself in position to see new things – or the same thing in a different light (pun intended).
I don’t know about keepers – probably none – but I came home with some images that were fun (and challenging) to make. Here’s a sampling (in comparison to the “icon” at the beginning of the post). If you look closely you’ll see that they fall into about 3-4 groupings (“Freeman spots”).
Even on a bad day (photographically speaking) a trip to the park is rarely a waste of time for me – I call these trips “Salve for the soul“, keepers or not.
Here’s a follow on to this “location, location, location” post. The emphasis shifts to “light, light, light” to make a multiplicity of different images at the same location. It’s called – It’s all about the light, stupid! 😉