Posted by: kerryl29 | November 22, 2016

Thematic Interruption: Just Point and Click…or Don’t

A number of years ago, I was given a scouting report on the progress of fall color development in the Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  “It’s so beautiful here right now,” I was told, “that you can point your camera just about anywhere and take a great picture.”  The statement was intentionally hyperbolic, meant to convey that the forest was at peak, but the words chosen to express that point have stuck with me.

I’ve often had the sense that many photographers, when presented with truly exceptional beauty or awe-inspiring scenery of any kind have a tendency to–for lack of a better way of putting it–kind of flip out and effectively take the above-quoted line literally.  Be it peak fall color in the North Woods or the jaw-dropping immensity of the Grand Canyon or the incomparable beauty of the Canadian Rockies or the Oregon coast–or any scene that produces an “oh, wow” reaction for that matter–there’s a natural inclination, I think, to be mesmerized and lose track of the process of effective image-making.

Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Cape Royal, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

I’ve been a victim of this syndrome myself.  I remember my reaction when I first visited White Sands National Monument in New Mexico about ten years ago.  I was virtually awestruck and had to “snap out of it” to regain my senses and return to image making.

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Avoiding–or at least swiftly recovering from–the “Oh Wow” Syndrome is easier said than done, of course, and is probably best accomplished by some sort of wary cognizance of the very fact that the syndrome exists.  Awareness and recognition can mitigate the effects.  And mitigation is necessary because, I’m here to tell you–in the unlikely event that you don’t already know–that it’s quite possible to point your camera at something indescribably beautiful and come away with an image that’s suited for nothing but the round file.  It may indeed be a lesson that we all need to learn through direct experience.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The key, of course, is to avoid repeating the mistake.  And that’s where awareness of the syndrome comes in to play.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

One of the reasons that I always try to give myself ample amount of time at a given location is so that I can “adapt” to my surroundings.  I may never quite overcome a sense of awe that stems from viewing a beautiful scene; indeed, I wouldn’t want to do so.  But once I acclimate myself somewhere–as I ultimately did at White Sands, for instance, after spending several days in southern New Mexico–I’m better able to home in on the image making process.

Fall Splendor, Little Indian Road, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Fall Splendor, Little Indian Road, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

This happened again during peak fall color in New England this autumn.  The reds, in particular, were deeper and more numerous than anything I’ve ever seen before and I’m pretty sure that a brief bout of “Oh Wow” Syndrome set in before I regained my bearings.

Easton Road Color, Grafton County, New Hampshire

Easton Road Color, Grafton County, New Hampshire

Recognition of the syndrome, and its symptoms, surely helped me recover more quickly than otherwise would have been the case.  Awareness is the best antidote; it can work for you, too.

Forest Kaleidoscope, May Pond Road, Orleans County, Vermont

Forest Kaleidoscope, May Pond Road, Orleans County, Vermont



  1. Being a lifelong Midwesterner, I’d probably keel over at the sight of any place that didn’t have corn or bean fields. I look forward to getting out of that rut and being overwhelmed one of these days.

    • I was trying to think if I’ve ever had the “oh, wow” experience when photographing anywhere in Illinois or Indiana…the answer is no. Not that I haven’t found terrific places to photograph in both states, because I certainly have, but they’ve always been of the (at least relatively) subtle beauty/impact variety.

  2. Kerry: Beautiful images with great fall color.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. These are outstanding images!!

  4. A beautiful fall color report from across N. America. Thx.

  5. I know exactly what you are talking about, and have even commented on the “oh wow” syndrome myself. It is easy to get so excited by what I am seeing, especially if it is a location I have wanted to visit for a long time, that I forget to slow down and enjoy it rather than frantically trying to make images. It usually results in frustration as I am not really taking the time to compose and expose to maximize the results.I try now to not even take the camera out of the bag right away, but to be more deliberate about what I want to shoot. I may go home with fewer images, but I will probably be happier in the long run.

    • Agreed, Ellen. Keeping the camera in the bag, at least initially, can really help provide an emotional buffer, allowing you to overcome the initial shock of a place. Then you can recover a bit and reengage with the photographic process.

  6. I had that “Oh, wow!” experience during my recent trip — and I had it in the heart of south central Kansas. I never again will moan that there’s nothing to see in the midwest. I don’t usually link to my photos in someone else’s blog, but here’s one example from my current post. It’s milo: mountains of grain impressive as the painted desert, or some sort of exotic dune.

    I spent two days roaming the countryside, going from elevator to elevator, talking to people and looking for good grain piles. Everything you say about slowing down, taking a breath, and taking time applied, and for once, I was really happy with the results. Besides — I finally found my fall color!

    • Technically, I think Kansas qualifies as “Great Plains” rather than “Midwest.” 🙂 But I get your point.

      That’s a really interesting image of a highly intriguing subject. I can see at least a half-dozen abstracts within that frame.

      • That’s interesting. I was raised in Iowa, with family spread across Kansas, and we always thought of ourselves as midwesterners. But what did we know? 🙂

        • Iowa is typically included as being part of the “Midwest.” Minnesota is too, sometimes. The Great Plains seems to, usually, encompass Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas (and the topography definitely includes eastern Colorado and much of Wyoming and Montana). There’s probably no formally agreed upon consensus, so if you want to count Kansas as part of the Midwest, I promise to pose no further objection. 🙂

      • Now that I’ve thought about it, you’re right. My Kansas kin all lived in eastern Kansas, almost to Missouri. That’s quite a different scene than western Kansas. The parts I visited in western Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle clearly qualify as high plains. Sometimes, language lags behind experience!

  7. So true, I have gone to the majestic mountain parks only to want to immediately return to remedy the poor shots because of being overwhelmed and awestruck. To take the time to get an awesome shot rather than “oh, just another mountain shot” takes some planning.Good article and of course really like your images which come from the scouting that you do and so freely share with us.Thank you..

    • Thanks, Jane.

  8. Wonderful – lovely place to photograph

  9. magic

  10. Superb pictures.You really made my day with those lovely views.

    • Thanks very much!

  11. Late to respond! Oh! So beautiful!

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