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Autumn Cascade, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 17 November 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

I think I’m suffering from icon overload. I just did five workshops in five weeks, photographing Mt. Whitney and the Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, the ancient bristlecones of the White Mountains, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and virtually every conceivable view of Yosemite Valley. Yikes.

As I go through my images I’m alternately thrilled with the beauty I captured, and disturbed that I may not be contributing anything new. I became a landscape photographer because of my love for nature, and my goal has always been to use my own vision to create fresh perspectives of the subjects I love so much. But an unfortunate byproduct of turning a passion into a profession is the sudden shift from photography as pure pleasure to photography as prime source of income. I vowed when I embarked on this path to only photograph those things I want to photograph, consciously shunning more certain money-making pursuits (weddings, portraits, stock, and so on) that would force me out of my creative space.

I chose photo workshops because they enable me to continue visiting, sharing, and photographing the locations I know and love best, while tapping (from a previous life) many years of communication and training experience. And I couldn’t be happier with that choice. My fall workshop marathon only confirmed that I made the right decision, as I was blessed (once again) with great groups and beautiful scenery.

But if I'm not careful, relying on photo workshops for income risks costing me my identity as a photographer. Running a business in general, and marketing, planning, and conducting workshops in particular, drains me both physically and mentally, severely curtailing “quality time” with my camera. The cost of this fatigue is satisfaction with beautiful but cliché images from the iconic locations to which I guide my workshop groups. Iconic is a compelling force, and clichés are that way for a reason (pardon the cliché), making it easy to be satisfied with merely beautiful. But just how many more pictures of Delicate Arch, Mesa Arch, Monument Valley’s Mittens, or Half Dome does the world need? I have to remind myself that sustained success as a nature photographer requires both beautiful and unique.

My concern for generating unique images dovetails with the mentoring I do in my workshops and other teaching. Most of my workshop students have travelled great distances, sacrificing significant time and expense, to capture the “classic” photos they’ve admired for years in books, magazines, and online. I am of course thrilled to give them those opportunities, but I challenge them to make the iconic shot their starting point rather than their goal. I encourage them to seek unique perspectives (though “unique” is sometimes elusive at locations that generate millions of clicks each year) and to strive for something that’s uniquely their own.

Of course I try to follow my own advice, but when leading a group my priority is never my own photography, so I rarely find myself in “the zone” as a photographer. For me Bridalveil Creek is a photographic breath of fresh air in Yosemite’s suffocating, overwhelming beauty (not that there’s anything wrong with that) that puts me back in the zone. At Bridalveil Creek photographers can wander for hours capturing images that are theirs alone. (We often don’t even make it up to the Bridalveil Fall vista just a couple hundred feet up the trail.) Once I set my students loose here I usually have to drag them out, and only then after promising that we’ll return. Image reviews invariably provide an exquisite variety of Bridalveil Creek scenes that elicit simultaneous gasps of admiration and chagrin (“Why didn’t I see that?!”).

Honestly, I don’t think I’m ever happier as a photographer than when photographing Bridalveil Creek in autumn. Colorful leaves dance above rocky cascades, carpet the ground, and drift in calm pools. There’s a composition wherever my lens points, and never am I more confident of discovering that unique scene I long for. This week looking at my Bridalveil Creek images at home was a reassuring reminder that these opportunities exist for anyone with the desire to find them, and a powerful incentive to grab my camera and head out the door to look.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Beautiful colors , Beautiful low speed for this water

17 Nov 2009 6:01am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

This image is perfect, I like everithing on it. I´m starting to be curious to know the USA mainly those places you talk about in the text above.

17 Nov 2009 9:14am

@Vitor Martins: Thank you, Vitor. I can certainly help you with the California locations. And I'm getting better with the Southwest too. The next frontier for me will be the Pacific Northwest. Stay tuned....

Elora from Genoa, Italy

Gary I personally don't think you are using up your creativity. Yes you do photograph the iconic spots of the US, but I notice your attention to the little things and the little details AROUND those areas, as well as the main subject. So keep the workshops going an keep sharing, cuz I think we all enjoy your images immensely!

17 Nov 2009 12:50pm

@Elora: Thank you, Elora. I think what happens with the workshops is that my focus changes (as it should); I'm simply much more productive as a photographer (creating images that please me) when I'm by myself. I absolutely love leading the workshops, but I can't really practice what I preach until I'm alone. This isn't so much a complaint as it is an observation, and a personal reminder to make more shooting time for myself.

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

I love this image ... with the isolated yellow leaf in the middle being so sharp in contrast to the silky water. Your foreground is equally in sharp focus. Like Elora said, your focus on the little things is so keen. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

17 Nov 2009 1:21pm

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

What an amazing photo ! It's wonderful, these gold tones... and the water... just great !!!

17 Nov 2009 6:14pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Great shot..Bravo!

17 Nov 2009 9:52pm

Self-Indulgence from Chicago, United States

Very nice image.

17 Nov 2009 11:35pm

Barbara from Oakland, United States

I love the warm tones in this image.

18 Nov 2009 12:27am

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Being someone who once (for a short while) turned a hobby into a business, I can really relate to what you have had to say, and it's really interesting to see how you have put your thoughts down on paper, so to speak. But when I look at images like the one posted above, I can see that the business side of things has not dominated your passion to take a magical photo. This is a stunning image.

18 Nov 2009 6:49pm

@dobbino: Thanks, Rob. After I posted that I wondered if it sounded too negative, like I'm complaining about my job. I love what I do and simply need to keep challenging myself to not be satisfied with (take for granted) the beauty I'm so regularly exposed to.

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

WOW!! Your signature is written all over this image. It is absolutely beautiful! You are an inspiration. Thanks for that! I don't think I could ever get tired of your photos - everyone is unique in their own way.

19 Nov 2009 3:43am

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Beautiful! Wonderful tones and mood. And your thoughts are important. If you begin to take the beauty around you for granted I think you lose the ability to actually see the beauty, to find these little details that makes the different. Keep your inspiration up! Your pictures are such a great source of inspiration!

19 Nov 2009 8:20pm

@pernilla: Thank you, Pernilla--I agree completely (about what happens when we take beauty for granted).

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Thanks so much, Gary, for sharing your feelings about photography as a personal journey, and also as a business. It must be a fine line to walk, sometimes. I am at the start of (hopefully) a long and enjoyable journey, and I always like to get some perspective. I admire your clear focus--no pun intended there, really!-- and your commitment to be true to yourself and your vision as a photographer. As I progress in school I will need to make a decision as to what area of photography I want to continue to study, and it will be a tough choice...I know that I must choose what I love, over the possibility of going into just another job that "pays the bills". It is wonderful that you are able to do both!
This image of Bridalveil Creek is wonderful! I love the depth you've created by your placement of the rocks- I feel like I can just hop right into it! I love the golden light, too. Beautiful, Gary!

20 Nov 2009 2:30am

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. Yeah, it's real easy to get sucked into the photography for income vortex and lose sight of why you want to be a photographer in the first place. I've seen many photographers turn a passion into a pain by simply trying to turn photography into a career. I had a good job before I started doing this, so really the only reason for me to switch was to pursue my passion. My passion was not to simply be a nature photographer, it was to be a nature photographer (or even more specifically, since I don't photograph wildlife, a landscape photographer). That's why I came up with a model that allows me to remain true to my passion. So far, so good.... :)

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Amazing clarity!

25 Nov 2009 5:00am