Posted by: kerryl29 | September 26, 2009

At Home or Abroad? (Or Both)

I’ve been asked many times in recent years whether I think it’s better to return and photograph the same location–or small set of locations, plural–repeatedly or to head off and explore new spots.  This is strictly a matter of opinion, of course, but I’ve always viewed making this a discrete dichotomy a false choice; in other words, the options aren’t mutually exclusive.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Returning to a certain location, to the point where it becomes fundamentally familiar to the photographer, has the advantage of frequently producing superior images.  It’s a photographic truism that a photographer’s best work usually comes from those spots that are visited again and again.  The reasons for this are manifold and intuitive.  For one thing, returning to the same location repeatedly has the simple advantage of quantity.  The more times you visit somewhere, the more likely you are to eventually experience ideal photographic conditions.  It may not happen the first time or the second or the third, but at some point the law of averages will kick in.  The above image of Red Jack Lake is a case in point.  I’d been to this spot roughly a dozen times during the fall color season over a period of seven years before I finally saw a sky like this one.

Beyond this, familiarity provides the photographer the advantage of experience.  Thorough familiarity with a location allows the photographer to maximize his/her time there.  The precise spot with the most workable foreground or the best view is known.  So, in most cases, are the best times of the day and the best times of year to visit.  Angle and quality of light become known quantities; weather patterns are comparatively predictable.  All of this invariably leads to better image making.

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Bluebells, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

These factors coalesce in particular when the location in question is one very close to home–so close, in fact, that the photographer has the opportunity to visit the spot essentially whenever he/she desires.  In a situation like this, it’s possible to time a visit, almost on the spur of the moment, when the light and other atmospheric/environmental conditions are most conducive to good photography.  The above photograph of Virginia Bluebells, at peak bloom, was taken just 20 minutes from my base in the Chicago area.  It’s a location I’ve visited dozens of times.  That, coupled with its proximity, made it easy for me to make for this very spot when the conditions were just right.

So location familiarity is loaded with advantages.  And yet…familiarity can breed contempt.

Olympic Mountains Sunrise, Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic Mountains Sunrise, Olympic National Park, Washington

There’s something exciting and refreshing–and occasionally downright exotic–about visiting a new location.  In addition to the inherent thrill of something new, different places and subject matter force the photographer out of his/her comfort zone and require looking at things differently.

I realize that this newness factor may be particularly significant for someone like myself.  My home base is split between northeast Illinois and central Indiana.  Suffice to say that neither of these regions will make anyone’s short list of the planet’s landscape photography garden spots.  (Before anyone blows a gasket, I hasten to add that I fully recognize that it is possible to produce compelling and attractive landscape imagery from these areas.  I like to think that I’ve pulled one or two winners out of the hat myself over the years.  But there’s a substantive reason why few full-time professional landscape photographers plop themselves down near Chicago or Indianapolis.)  Images with sub-alpine meadows and distant, snow-capped mountains–like those in the above photograph taken at Olympic National Park–are few and far between in my part of the world.

Visiting somewhere new can clear out the cobwebs and shake out the doldrums that come from excessive trips to familiar places.  And, not infrequently, a cleansing trip to somewhere new can help make the “same old” location come alive again, a function of seeing a location with which one is well-acquainted with a fresh perspective and an unworn point of view.  If you think you’ve run out of things to do with a location, visit again shortly after a trip to somewhere completely different.  There’s a good chance that you’ll see possibilities there that you’d never noticed before.

My advice, then, to those asking whether they should stick to familiar locations or blaze a trail to new spots?  Have your cake and eat it too:  do both, as exigencies permit.  Rather than perceive a choice, view these options as complements–and let your photography reap the benefits.

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Responses

  1. […] there are special images to be found in less than iconic locations.  I’ve hinted at this before and I’ll expand on the subject at length in a future entry (or series of entries), but suffice […]

  2. […] of spots in each state–all of them new to me.  In line with the sentiments expressed in an earlier blog installment, I’m champing at the bit at the very thought of experiencing some new locations. Middle Prong […]

  3. Clouds in the lake. Divine!

  4. I definitely vote for both… 🙂


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