Many times when I’m about to leave the house to shoot I let my wife know where I’m going. It’s usually at some ridiculous hour in the morning but she does manage to mutter slowly “haven’t you been there before?”. My answer usually is ” yeah but I want to take a better picture there”. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking that we have to travel to exotic locations to get dramatic light with the perfect landscape. Don’t get me wrong if someone leaves a plane ticket on my kitchen table for Glacier National Park , I’m there. Unfortunately, chances of that happening are slim to none. You can’t be a great photographer waiting for that plane ticket. Your skills will get better and decision making faster by shooting more images locally. The location doesn’t define the photographer. How you creatively interpret that landscape is the key.
Being familiar with your locales close to home will be advantageous to improving your photography. Most importantly with repetition you’ll start to see light differently and how it interacts with your landscape and others there after. You’ll begin to use that new skill set as you increase your amount of visits to your favorite local places. For example let’s suppose your traveling to shoot a sunrise at Jenny Jump State Park. Standing on the edge of the mountain and ready to shoot you need to look at not only the sunrise itself but where will that light fall on your subject. Is it giving you wonderful textures anywhere that you can incorporate? Maybe that morning it’s a soft Rembrandt type of light and it wasn’t something you were expecting. How will that affect your composition? Perhaps the best shot is in another direction. Do you use a polarizing filter, neutral density filters or shoot it completely straight? The positioning of the camera itself plays an important role in this interpretation also. Make that same trip multiple times and your creative knowledge of that location begins to open up new aesthetic avenues.Your images will begin to make marked improvements as your confidence grows. What a skill to have when that plane ticket does show up and your standing in Arches National Park in Utah with the sun fast approaching the horizon. There you are with limited time to create that once in a lifetime image before you board your plane home that afternoon. As you marvel at your subject either by yourself or more likely with 15 other photographers, quick decisions need to be made. The most important of which is where’s the light and how do I used it to my advantage. How are you going to create a composition that is exciting and appealing? Ultimately how are you going to separate your image from all the others. Let me let you in on a secret about professional landscape photographers. They see light and compositions very fast. They’ve honed their skills and craft through repetition.
Many times before I shoot at a new local location I’ll scout it. I want to be familiar with my creative options when it’s time to shoot. I’ll go and walk around on the paths and see how the light interacts with the surroundings. I’ll spend time at a specific spot and watch the light, look for compositions and begin to plan my shot. I’ll make some mental notes or record that information on my ipad (more on that in a later post). I want to increase my chances of getting a beautiful image when the conditions are perfect. I visit some of my favorite locations every couple of weeks because I not only enjoy them but every time I challenge myself creatively. I’m always looking for the right light and the perfect composition to convey a message. That is the elusive goal for photographers.
Whether your shooting at Storm King State Park, Ramapo Mountain State Forest or a small wonderful patch of rocks along there Hudson river your familiarity with that spot will ultimately reward you. You may end up getting that epic shot you’ve been looking for and it may not be far from home. Here’s one last thought, imagine the beautiful images you’ll create when the next plane ticket does arrive and is waiting for you on your kitchen table.