Looking for Good Photo Opportunities
There are two basic strategies for finding the best opportunities for photos. And most photographers fall predominantly into one camp or the other, many without even considering it.
The obvious way to find good photos is to go to a place where opportunities for such images are known to exist. Most locations that are known for their scenic natural splendor tend to be marked on maps and written up in guidebooks. This strategy for selecting where to go for a photography outing seems to make a lot of sense. If you want to maximize your chances of getting memorable shots, why not go where other people have already found things worth seeing? Let them do the work for you, so you can concentrate on doing justice to those sights once you get there.
You can easily find such places designated as national and regional parks, where people have already taken steps toward preserving the beauty for future generations. Lacking such protections, many of these wonders would have succumbed over time to the pressures of undo commercialization and privatization. Thankfully, enough people with the power to make it happen had the foresight to understand that everyone should have the right to visit places like this and partake of what they had to offer, and acted on that understanding. You, too, can take killer images by following in the footsteps of those who came before you. Everyone's doing it. Having found a spectacular vista, all that's left to do is capture it with your camera. And that can be challenging enough sometimes, so it can seem wise to take all the help you can get.
The alternative strategy is to look for good photos where you happen to be, or to go to more out-of-the-way locations where people don't tend to congregate. If you find yourself identifying with the first approach above, this second way might seem a tad crazy. How can you take good pictures, you may ask, if all the good stuff is somewhere else? Indeed, at first glance, it might even seem to some in my first group as a tad counterproductive. I mean, why not try photography with one arm tied behind your back, if you want to make things difficult.
Some photographers find themselves in this second camp out of necessity. Well-known nature photographer John Shaw has written of how he became interested in close-up and more intimate landscapes because of growing up in an area that didn't have convenient, nearby national parks. Most photographers simply lack the means to travel to the four corners of the globe. Some have to settle for the corners of their own backyard, or perhaps the vacant lot down the street.
Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest now many years ago, I lived in Connecticut. Not to slam the scenic wonders of the state, but the most famous national parks aren't in Connecticut or, for the most part, in the Northeast at all. At the time, I couldn't afford a trip to Acadia on the coast of Maine. I do remember going to a regional park noted for having a tall waterfall. I figured it was just the place to shoot some killer images, only to find out that the place was packed with families enjoying the warm weekend weather. Kids were splashing and playing in that beautiful waterfall. I found out the hard way that well-known tourist destinations weren't necessarily the best places to shoot nature photos. If I wanted to work undisturbed without people getting in my way, I needed to seek out less well-known vistas.
Yet after moving to the Seattle area in 1993, I'd have been a fool not to take advantage of being on the doorstep of multiple national parks. I love living near Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic parks. Heck, I even have a neighborhood volcano at Mt. St. Helens for variety. Yes, I still go to famous locations to see things for myself. But on a beautiful day, some of these spots can become a tad bit crowded. To set up at the optimal vantage point, I've had to wait in line to shoot. And when I do get my time at the front of the line, things get even worse. It's hard to ignore the imposition that my taking so long there represents to others. The feeling of having at least one more photographer behind me waiting makes it difficult to enjoy myself the way I would want to.
So whether by choice, necessity, or through hard-won experience, there exists a second group of photographers, those who seek out the nooks and crannies as opposed to the well-known and well marked. More and more, I find myself still going to national parks (and volcanic monuments), but once I get there, I head out in a different direction than everyone else. I'll still swing by certain favorite spots during the day to see they may be worth hitting for sunrise the next morning. But the majority of the time, I instead look for an area where I won't get in anyone else's way, and they won't get in mine. That leaves me free to explore whatever creative yet thoroughly wacky notions I may come up with on the spur of the moment. Don't ask.
If you tend to gravitate towards being a photographer who wants to get the perfect rendition of a well-known shot, that's OK. There is an admitted thrill when everything comes together and you come away with a killer shot. You've bagged another trophy to hang on the wall. I'll go for it myself when the situation presents.
But I've kind of grown to like being in this second group of photographers, those who tend toward this alternative way of looking for photo opportunities. I didn't start in this group, but through trial and error and happenstance, I've found that I can relax and enjoy myself more when I'm free to explore with no fixed target to achieve. And without all the crowds around as competition and distraction.
Give it a go, if you're so inclined.
Not sure why I've been thinking about this of late. Must be something in the air.