Posted by: kerryl29 | March 1, 2012

Solitude

sol·i·tude
noun \ˈsä-lə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\
Definition
1: the quality or state of being alone or remote from society : seclusion
2: a lonely place (as a desert)

It’s my instinctive inclination to think of solitude as one of the fringe benefits of the kind of photography that I like to pursue.  Finding oneself alone in a place of great beauty is something of a natural side effect of photographing the landscape in the most flattering light.  The “beauty” part is fairly obvious; it’s presumably what draws someone to a spot in the first place.  Of course others are drawn there as well, but for the most part, people don’t want to be inconvenienced by getting up very early simply to see a specific place in the first light of morning, or to stay out so late as to be on location when the last light of the evening is cast.  As a landscape photographer, I am willing to be so “put upon” and so I reap the rewards of “nuisance.”  (I should be so lucky to always suffer such a “bother.”)

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Of course, other photographers are every bit as attuned to the matter of light quality as I am and when it comes to popular–dare I say iconic–locations, it’s not only possible to find oneself among others when the good light comes, it’s to be expected.  These are the kinds of things you simply have to expect if you want to shoot sunrise at, say, Oxbow Bend at Grand Teton National Park or Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park.  It will be a surprise, in such instances, if you don’t encounter a forest of tripod legs.

Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Channel Islands from the Hurricane Ridge Road, Olympic National Park, Washington

The key to finding solitude amidst the landscape is finding your own spots.  It’s not necessary that one hike tens of miles into the back country to find solitude (though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, if you know what you’re doing and are up to it physically).  It’s possible to find oneself alone without being too far off the beaten path, if one’s cards are played properly, which usually means optimizing timing.  Many of the most heavily populated locations, after all, are deserted at certain, rather predictable, times.

*                    *                    *

While I’ve enjoyed photographing with others, I believe that the vast majority of my best shooting has been done alone.  Some of the reasons for this are tangible and fairly obvious.  For instance, when shooting solo, one can decide where to go and how long to stay, without having to consult with or take account of anyone else, all of which certainly makes it easier to “work the site.”

Bisti Arch Moonrise, Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

But some of the reasons are more subtle and intangible in nature.  When shooting alone, I find it easier to really get the feel of a place.  It’s difficult to describe, but I find myself more able to absorb the essence of a location when no one else is around.  Maybe this is because there are fewer distractions.  Maybe my senses are heightened.  Maybe I don’t have to worry about having my vision confounded by that of someone else.  Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things.  Whatever the explanation, I think I “see” more clearly when I’m by myself.  And seeing is the essence of photography.

Blackbird Knob Trail, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Photography aside, I find myself much more a part of the landscape when I’m alone.  The feelings accompanying solitude require work to summon when I’m caught up in the humdrum drudgery of day-to-day life in civilization.  My forays into the landscape encompass a kind of mental health refresher course that allow me to experience solitude with comparatively little effort; my camera gear is really my companion, providing a way to help me remember and relive these feelings during the bulk of my time that is not spent amidst nature’s beauty.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

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Responses

  1. Amazing photos! I am a WordPress photographer as well, so I love seeing posts like this. Great job.

    • Thanks very much, Aaron.

  2. Loving your photos:)

  3. A beautiful post, Kerry. I agree that undertaking an excursion without other human companionship can often be the most rewarding. It’s much easier to attune one’s receptors to resonance with the beauty around us. Very well said.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. I really like your blog, and this post even more than normal. I am almost tempted to reblog it, because you have put into words what I have tried to say several times, and have never come close to saying it as well as you have. I love the solitude of nature, even when I’m not carrying a camera, which is rare these days, but it does happen.

    • Thanks; I really appreciate it.

  5. It is strange, I rarely go out on my own. I will pop out to places near me to take photos, but I rarely go on my own. I don’t like doing it for safety reasons. If I go into the city or around the city to take photos I like someone with me so I feel safe. I don’t worry about me, but I do worry about my gear. It would be worth nicking. The person with me isn’t always another photographer, I often take one or both of my daughters.

    Then again I can also understand what you are saying. Perhaps there are places I should just go to on my own and try it.

    Great images, as always.

    • Thanks, Leanne.

      I think you have to feel safe to really appreciate or benefit from being alone in the field. If you don’t feel safe…well, I can’t imagine being able to lock into your surroundings in what amounts to a subconscious way, if you’re worried about your safety. Based on your statement, you’re probably maximizing your opportunities by having someone with you, and that’s really the name of the game.

      • Safety is an issue for me too so it does limit how far out I will go but I do prefer the freedom of being on my own. I’m more able to immerse myself and take as much time as I want without having to worry about other people. The only exception is going out with another photographer. It can be torture for anyone else.

        • Agreed–photography is definitely not a spectator sport. My wife, however, has been extremely patient with me on those occasions when she’s been with me on photo excursions. Still…though she’s never complained, I remain conscious of her being there and tend to hurry more than I would if I was by myself.

  6. I like the last 2 the best. The foggy woods have a remarkable eerie spirit; and the patchwork cloud reflection is great.

  7. Wow!! It is obvious that when you are out alone with your camera, you become totally one with nature. These photos are proof of that – they are incredible! I am so in awe of your work!

    • Thanks, Cindy; that’s very kind of you to say.

  8. Stunning images and I can certainly relate to the subject matter of your article. I like nothing more than my own company when I go for a walk with my camera.
    I get totally lost in the moment and looking around, observing and filing away in my memory images or locations I’d like to re-visit.
    A companion distacts me (I’ve found) and I lose that closeness with my surroundings. A companion seems to be forever in my peripheral vision and I feel obliged to hurry up so they won’t be bored.
    I like to stand and listen to the birds calling to each other too – I don’t like the interruption of human conversation.

    • Thanks, Vicki. Yeah, it sounds as though your experience is very much like mine. I’ve found a small number of people who I can shoot with who don’t make me constantly conscious of whether I’m moving too slowly (or whatever). But that’s very much the exception to the rule. Most of the time I feel as though I need to “move it along”–even though, as I suspect, it’s mostly in my mind and not a function of anything someone else is doing. The very fact that I’m conscious of the thought is an indication that I’m less attuned to my surroundings as I am when I’m by myself.

  9. I so love your photos, Kerry…such a treasure. Thank you. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Scott.

      • Most welcome, Kerry. 🙂

  10. AMAZING photos!

  11. This was a pleasure to read…we share the same philosophy. Excellent photos accompany this post!!!

  12. Like you, I’ve gone out alone and with others. Sometimes it just depends on the place as to the resulting dynamic. Some locations I really enjoy the give-and-take of others, seeing the location through different eyes and challenging myself to view it differently. And some locations I just want all to myself, as you say to “work the spot.” I do agree alone is when I really get in tune with the location and feel results in some of my best work.

    I have learned that setting up a large format view camera just about anywhere is guaranteed to draw a crowd!

    Your sunset picture from Washington is such a nice composition and exposure. Using layers to convey distance was done very effectively.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mel.

      Re LF cameras…I used to occasionally shoot with large format photographers. On one occasion, I shot with five LF photographers, one of whom was using an 8×10 (first time I’d ever seen anyone use on on location). Now that draws a crowd!

  13. like each and every one of these unique captures with their own personality, light, mood-I have one photo buddy that I go out on shoots with and we lose each other as we meander through the woods but we inevitably find each other again.Great to have that freedom! I love the solitude too-no problem being alone-what I see consumes me .Fantastic break from the dizzying multi-tasking I do at work…. must get out tomorrow. Happy shooting, Jane

    • It sounds as though you’ve got a plan that works for you; that’s great. I’m a big believer in the notion that there isn’t a single “best way” to go about things like this.

  14. That first image calls to me Kerry. I love it — the others ain’t too shabby either. I like solitude myself and I don’t have to go far from home to get it either. I should get my lazy self up earlier to catch the first light but I don’t. I generally go to Ceres, a 54 acre preserve a mile from my home. Mid morning during the week and I’m usually there by myself. I like the contrast on a sunny day before the sun gets high for my B&W photography.

    John

    • Thanks, John. Yeah, ideal b/w lighting conditions and those of color photography…there’s certainly some overlap, but there are some major differences as well.

  15. Many have beautiful pictures on your blog. I enjoyed watching them.

    http://kuhinjarecepti.com/

  16. I really enjoyed this post Kerry! The pictures are wonderful. Love the clouds in that last shot. I know what you mean about shooting alone. Sometimes it’s good to shoot with a group but usually when you’re alone you enjoy a sense of freedom to wait for the perfect light with no distractions. I enjoy hiking in the Smokey Mountains on the more non-touristy trails to get great shots. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Michael. It’s not a done deal yet, but it appears that I’m going to be heading to southern Utah (Zion and Bryce Canyon) in early May. It’s been ages (nearly 15 years) since I’ve been out there and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be going out there by myself and will undoubtedly rediscover why I find it so important to absorb the landscape in solitude.

      • Both of those places are on my to see list. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to see that in person. I hope you get to go and enjoy the trip!

        • Thanks. I’m still trying to tie down one or two loose ends. I should know by tomorrow if I can pull this off.

          If I do go, I’m also planning to hit Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada–never been there but have long wanted to go. I also wanted to hit Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands NPs and Dead Horse Point SP in SE Utah, but there’s no way to cram all of this into one trip. I’ll have to go back out there again at some point.

  17. I often used to go hiking with my dog and was essentially alone, but after taking a bad trail I have a bit of trepidation. To add to that, we now live in a very different local than I grew up in… I always want to go, but rarely get there unless my husband is with me. Sad. I think I miss a lot because of my fear. ~ Lynda

    • That’s unfortunate, but if you’re not comfortable in a given situation for just about any reason is it’s going to be difficult verging on impossible to take creative advantage anyway. I’m not sure what there is to be done to “fix” the problem, if anything, unfortunately…and it’s a very common affliction. I go to all kinds of places by myself that my wife, for instance, would never contemplate doing.

  18. My God, Kerry, these are extraordinary photos! The Bisti moonrise had me entranced for multiple minutes, and I’ve come back a few times to see it again (I do love a naturally framed image!) But then there are the others, some of which were shot in my general neighborhood. You have the gift of seeing – perhaps the outer vision meets the inner vision?

    Solitude is essential for many of us; fortunately, most creative folk need it to support and nourish their work, so it is a win-win situation. I’ve been reading a few books lately on recent studies of the introverted personality and it turns out that those of us who are introverted are energized by solitude. A blessing in disguise, perhaps the “new” normal 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. Very interesting insight into the introverted personality…

  19. I thought I saw heaven through your photos. Those are such peaceful images.

    • Thanks very much, Sony!

      • The pleasure is mine, Kerry. I am glad I stumbled upon your blog.

  20. I cannot express myself… the pictures are just EPIC!!! =)

    • Thanks very much, Paprika!

  21. […] of spending time in natural areas–at least for me–is the opportunity to experience solitude.  It goes without saying that a feeling of solitude is a difficult thing to achieve in a crowded […]


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