Posted by: kerryl29 | January 28, 2019

Embrace the Familiar Difference

A few months back–eight, actually–I engaged in a brief exchange with Gunta, of the Movin’ On blog, in the comments section of a post detailing a trip I made to Cataract Falls State Recreation Area in west-central Indiana last spring.  The discussion centered on the ever-changing nature of the seashore.  But, as I noted, just about every location involves some degree of change–perhaps not as much as the shore, but…

When I went out to the south Oregon coast a few years back, Gunta provided me with some very helpful background information to a number of locations that I visited.  Spending time along the coast day after day for a week made it clear just how changeable a location an ocean beach is; the tides, the light, the wind, the surf, the sky…all of these things change more or less constantly.

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

China Creek Beach Sunset, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

One of the first pieces I posted on this blog–more than nine years ago–was a musing on the advantages of returning to a familiar location versus those of visiting a new locale.  The argument in favor of revisiting places revolved, naturally, around familiarity, that it was possible to leverage the things you know about a spot in the process of image-making.  And that’s true enough.  But it’s equally true that the landscape opportunities at any location won’t ever be exactly the same.  That was part of the story when I photographed most recently at Cataract Falls.

The water level of Mill Creek was significantly lower than I had experienced on previous visits…

Upper Falls Area, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

…which gave the place an entirely different look and feel.  Rocks that had been in the middle of the creek were completely exposed.

Upper Falls Area, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

The low wind and mixed light conditions, coupled with the lower water level, allowed me to find a pleasing view of the nearby covered bridge that I had never found fit to photograph on previous visits…

Cataract Covered Bridge, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

A new, partially submerged log produced an entirely different view than had existed before…

Upper Falls Area Black & White, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

This notion of a different set of photographic opportunities can apply even at ostensibly iconic locations, like the uber-familiar Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park in California.  During my time at Yosemite, I stopped at Tunnel View on four different occasions.  The vista appeared entirely different each time, but on only one such occasion was I inspired to photograph, when a combination of dawn light and valley fog inspired me in a way that more conventional conditions did not.

Yosemite Valley at Sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

At the locations I’ve visited the most over the years–Starved Rock State Park and the Morton Arboretum in Illinois–I always seem to see something different, even when I’m standing in the exact same spot.

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon Black & White, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

LaSalle Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The canyons at Starved Rock appear markedly different in different seasons, but even in the same seasons they display a variety of appearances.  That’s true of the Morton Arboretum as well.

East Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Oaks and Maples, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

“Shadowland” black & white; Morton Arboretum, Illinois

There’s a certain irony to the fact that, while it’s theoretically my familiarity with these places–the ability to know exactly where to go and when–that would seem to dictate my visits, in reality I invariably return each time with what amounts to a fresh set of eyes.  I never really see exactly the same thing twice and I almost always see something entirely different, no matter how many times I return.  It’s the expectation of seeing something new that inspires me…

Council Lake in Morning Fog, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

…and I hope it will always be so.

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan



  1. Returning to the same locations on multiple occasions provides a sense of comfort because I know what to expect on a certain level. That comfort is what enables whatever new experience is encountered to be all that much more interesting if not thrilling. Nature never disappoints me…there is always something different, and I look forward to return visits to see what awaits. And, regarding your images in this post, Shadowland is extremely powerful.

    • Thanks, Ellen!

      Good point re how special it is when you see something unexpected in an otherwise familiar location.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Kerry. There certainly are advantages to knowing a location when it comes to catching some extraordinary lighting. On the other hand I find that travel can sometimes refresh eyes that can get a bit jaded… even when looking at a phenomenal coast.

    BTW… we’re just back from our 2nd trip to the Redwoods in a year. We had a bit of fog drifting through the trees one evening… of course I missed the really early morning fog which is generally more impressive. Hoping to return to try to catch the Rhodies in bloom, and the Trilliums. Nice to have another great location so close. 😀

    • Thanks, Gunta.

      The redwoods are close enough for a day trip from where you’re based. And, you’re right; the best fog is definitely in the morning, the earlier you can get out there the better. The rhododendrons were in great shape around May 25-27 at Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP two years ago; it was running a bit later at Jedidiah Smith and Prairie Creek (probably burst to peak in the first week of June that year) and a bit later (probably around June 1) at the Lady Bird Grove in Redwood NP. But the best bet for fog is definitely at Del Norte; I highly recommend the Damnation Creek and intersecting Coast Trail from the trailhead on the Coast Highway, and there’s a phenomenal cluster of rhodies only about a half-mile north of the trailhead, on the west side of the highway, along a wide section of paved shoulder. If they’re in bloom, you can’t miss the spot:

  3. A truly gorgeous shot of the rhodies in the redwoods and fog! It really conveys that feeling of the damp fog clinging to the vegetation.

    Almost a day trip, but with the camper we’ve been able to stay right at Elk Prairie in the midst of it all. I might even get a chance to catch some of that early morning fog. If you ever return to the redwoods, let me recommend the Trillium Falls hike. It’s my favorite and if your timing is right (perhaps mid-April) there are Trilliums blooming nearly at each step along the way. Getting them framed with the redwoods is another matter altogether. 😉

  4. Beautiful.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. This is such a thoughtful piece with some absolutely stunning photographs. But I love the basic premise, that even the most familiar places will always have something new to offer. It’s what I’m trying to do, albeit from a far more mundane perspective. It’s so easy these days to get ‘bored’, to crave the next novelty. But inspiration and excitement comes from within. I just love your blog, so thank you.

    • Thanks very much.

      I stopped by your site and took special note of the brief statement on your welcome page, with its serendipitous verification of the theme outlined in my most recent post. I encourage everyone took take a look for themselves:

      The Garden of Everyday Delight

  6. I love this post–there is a lot of food for thought and the images are amazing. I tend to photograph wildlife more than landscapes, but most of your thoughts apply incredibly well. I tend be someone who likes to experience a location “deeply” rather than someone who walks to see lots of locations more “widely.” There are enough seasonal variations in the wildlife in Northern Virginia where I live that I am content to do more of my photography within a twenty-five mile radius of my house. I think all photographers, particularly those of us who shoot outdoors, are motivated by the possibility that that we will see something new and different, no matter how familiar the location. That helps to motivate us to get up at early hours and in seemingly inclement weather.

    • Thanks, Mike!

      You’re undoubtedly correct in everything you said and I find it interesting–and inspiring–that you apply the same basic approach regarding the notion of seeing something new in a well-worn locale to wildlife photography as I do to landscapes.

      Thanks very much for taking the time to post your thoughts.

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