With the new year approaching it's hard not to reflect on the year just passed. By my count, in 2010 I photographed in four states and nine National Parks, not to mention some beautiful oughta-be National Parks like Big Sur, Mono Lake, Antelope Canyon, and Sedona. Maybe not a particularly long list of locations by the standards of many professional nature photographers, but one that I'm nevertheless quite pleased with.
Volume has never been a big part of my approach to photography; I'm so much happier spending time becoming intimate with a great spot than I am simply checking off one marquee destination before moving to the next. But I'm afraid I can take this familiarity thing to extremes and sometimes need something to shake me out of my familiar world. My good friend and fellow landscape photographer Don Smith is the person who usually gets me out of my zone of familiarity, and for that I'm quite grateful. This year Don was the catalyst for most of the new places I visited, including Hawaii and Utah's Bryce and Zion National Parks.
My tendency to focus on the known isn't limited to location choices--in the field with my camera I'm nothing if not patient, sometimes to a fault (stubborn?), locking in on a scene and working it to within an inch of its life when it feels right. On the other hand, Don tends to move around a lot, always in search of something better. Hmmm....
Don and I log many hours together, both in the field and on the road. This year our travels included two long road trips, one to Arizona and one to Utah, plus a couple of weeks photographing in Hawaii, bookending Don's Kauai workshop. On these trips we spend lots of time talking about photography (among other things) and I think we agree that our contrasting approaches have rubbed off to each other's benefit. Don has always been a passionate landscape photographer, but the bulk of his 30+ year career as a pro photographer has been in sports, where everything moves and the photographer must move or be left behind. My background is far more narrow--as a landscape photographer exclusively, I frequently joke that I don't photograph anything that moves. Don's active style and my static style each have advantages and disadvantages, but since Don and I have started shooting together, I know I've become a little more active in the field, and I think he has become a little more deliberate.
That said, Don and I will never approach our craft the same way, nor should we, because there's no one best way to photograph--the "best" way to shoot is the way that most suits your personality. But I think every photographer needs to shake things up a bit as a reminder that there are other ways to do it. You can shake things up by observing other photographers in the field, browsing their images, reading what they have to say about photography, and (most importantly) going out with your camera and consciously trying something different--if it feels right, make it yours; if it doesn't, return to what feels most natural. And I suspect that even if you discard an experimental approach, your photography will improve slightly for the experience.
Which is a roundabout way of getting to today's image from my recent visit to Zion, my first time there as a photographer. Don and I had tacked on an extra day at the end of his November Southern Utah workshop and were extremely fortunate to catch the park at its fall color peak. As we usually do, we went our separate ways with an agreed upon time to meet back at the car. I wandered up the trail toward the Narrows and spent most of my time photographing these little scenes that felt like ephemeral, fortuitous gifts--a day earlier or later and I'd have missed them entirely. As always, I spent a lot of time with each scene, but I also forced myself to move along sooner than I otherwise would have. Leaving was usually difficult, but each time I moved on I was rewarded with something new, just as good, that I'd have otherwise missed.
And isn't that a great metaphor for the carrot that keeps photographers advancing? It's these unexpected, memorable opportunities just around the next bend that get me most excited about the new things in store for 2011. Stay tuned....
* Website: Eloquent Images
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