Posted by: kerryl29 | November 23, 2020

Thematic Interruption: The Search for Photographic Opportunities

On several previous occasions on this blog I’ve discussed the subject of “The Shot” mentality and how it can lead to a kind of tunnel vision when out in the field.  That, with a serving of “previsualization” is what led to an entry I posted just last month.  In this most recent post, entitled “Looking for Images vs. Finding Them,” I discussed my attempt to avoid falling into a trap, during a trip to the North Woods during fall color season, of being creatively blinded by…well, fall color.  The larger point is the notion–or at least the hope–that the awareness of inherent biases can lead to their mitigation.

This was all wrapped up with a neat bow on one day of the trip, a day I will relate in detail later, in a chronological entry.  For now, I’ll limit the narrative to the relevant points.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

There is a location in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore known as Grand Portal Point.  It’s a rocky spit of land that extends from the connected coastline some hundreds of yards into Lake Superior.  Rocky cliffs, 30-40 feet in height, with the lake’s waters lapping against and sculpting them, are topped with an assortment of deciduous and coniferous trees.  When the leaves change in the fall, the colors are quite attractive–as is the case just about everywhere at peak color in the North Woods.

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

Grand Portal Point is located between Mosquito Beach (to its southwest) and Chapel Beach (to its northeast) on Pictured Rocks’ slanted Superior coastline.  It can be reached by a hike from the Chapel Basin trailhead by walking in a clockwise direction (via Mosquito Beach) or a counterclockwise direction (via Chapel Beach), but is best viewed from the latter (i.e. the Chapel Beach area).  The hike from either direction is roughly equivalent in length–about 3 1/2 miles one way–and of approximately equal strenuousness.  It’s a fairly long hike (seven miles round trip), but not particularly difficult; the trails are in generally good shape and gradually descend a few hundred feet from their origin to beach level.

Ten Peaks at Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

Prior to the trip, when we were discussing possible locations to visit, Jason brought up Grand Portal Point on multiple locations.  Having been down to Chapel Beach, which as I said is the place to view the Point, before, I had an opinion.  It’s pretty nice.  Chapel Beach is a nice enough location itself.  But is it worth a special trip down there?  No; in my opinion, it’s not.   And I concluded as much when I wrote about this location in Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the ebook that Andy Richards and I published a few years ago.  Like most locations of this sort, the Point is best photographed in early or late light.  And getting down there (or back from there) in time for late or early light means a long, rather unpleasant hike in the pitch dark.  And, honestly, the Point and Chapel Beach aren’t really inherently more photogenic than any other beach in the area.

So, I wasn’t super-encouraging about going down to Chapel Beach, for the above reasons, which had little if any meaningful impact on Jason’s enthusiasm for doing so.  (And, of course, we did end up going there ultimately.)  This fixation puzzled me.  But then I remembered an image of Grand Portal Point that Jason had sent me the link to back in September and I realized that we were dealing with a version of a “pursuing the shot” phenomenon.

Bow River Meadow, Banff National Park, Alberta

The version of “The Shot” that I’m referring to is a subconscious variety.  It’s something I’ve fallen into the trap of doing myself.  Case in point:  before I made my first trip to the Canadian Rockies in 2014 I purchased copies of Darwin Wiggett’s ebook photo guides to the Canadian Rockies (which, parenthetically, appear to be no longer available).  There was an image (not pictured here, since it’s not an image I hold title to) in one of the guides, of the Bow River Outlet, that I found absolutely captivating.  I was apparently so taken by it that I shoehorned a visit to the location into what was a very tight itinerary when I was on the ground there.  And in the end, going to this location wasn’t a mistake.  (In fact, I went back to the spot when I returned to the Canadian Rockies the following year.)  But after I first visited this location, I came to realize that I’d done so because I was, subconsciously, chasing the shot from the ebook.

Bow River Outlet Stream, Banff National Park, Alberta

So it’s a bit of a trap, and I think that’s kind of the story of Grand Portal Point.  As was the case with the Bow River Outlet, it wasn’t a mistake to make the trek down to Chapel Beach, as I hope you’ll see when I get around to chronicling that particular adventure.  But both instances demonstrate what’s fraught about the process of “chasing the shot.”

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I think it’s a good idea to ask yourself, on a regular basis, why it is that you’re so keen to photograph at a particular location, and be brutally honest about answering that question.  For my money, the answer you’re looking for is something akin to:  “I think this area has the potential for a lot of interesting photographic opportunities.”  A place to explore.  A place to work.  A place filled with hidden gems, just waiting to be discovered.

I believe the answer you shouldn’t hope to find is “I saw a great photo from that spot.”  If that’s all you’ve got, you might want to rethink whether it’s worth the time and effort.  It might be worth it…but if you can’t get from “great photo” to “great opportunities,” it may not be a location you want to place near the top of your priority list.

Mule Ears at Sunrise, Mule Ears Viewpoint, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As described in a recent entry, we visited the Bond Falls area in the UP early on the first day in the Upper Peninsula.  When I visited this location for the first time, I photographed “The Z,” an area of rapids in the Ontonagon River above the falls that resembles the shape of the letter the feature is named for.  On that day–early on a sunny morning–the reflections in the water above the cascade were captivating.  On this cloudy day, there were no colorful reflections, but I deliberately photographed The Z nonetheless, fully intending to convert the image to black and white.

The Z Black & White, Ontonagon River, Bond Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

The shape of The Z–what makes The Z the Z–is more evident without the distraction of color.  Whether that makes it better or not is in the eye of the beholder, but the point is I didn’t go to this location predetermined to look for a particular shot; I went (wait for it) in search of photographic opportunities.  And wonder of wonders, I found some.



  1. If pursuing “the shot” gets me somewhere to explore opportunities, then I’m all in. There is some satisfaction in just gazing at a location that others (and sometimes that means many, many others) have found stimulating. It opens up questions about why it has become so iconic…what is it about that particular view that drew them to it? Then we can begin to explore and discover what else we can find that goes beyond the popular image. And, btw, Darwin and Samantha have closed their photography related pursuits in favor of some community engagement work. You can still purchase the original title here:, but the individual ebooks are no longer available.

    • Nothing wrong with going to a location with a “shot” seemingly embedded if you start with the right attitude. It was no accident that, in this entry, I included images made fro such iconic spots as Tunnel View in Yosemite and the Moraine Lake rock pile. These are among the famous views in North America, but the images I posted aren’t “the shot” from these locations. But I think it’s important to have that attitude of exploration a priori; treat the iconic location the same way you would any other and you’ll be in good shape.

      Yeah, I was aware, based on a search I did for this blog entry, that there were a few copies Darwin’s now 14-year-old physical book still available; but not the ebooks.

  2. Very nice photos in this post. Great work!

  3. I like the environment to present gems to me and for me to be open to see them.

  4. Beautiful images. I especially like the design and compositions of the first and second. I agree it is best to be open to all possibilities when out on a shoot and not just what you might think you are after.

    • Thanks very much, Denise.

      The thing about keeping an open mind re possibilities and not simply setting for preconceived expectations…its so much easier said than done, which is why I’m kind of beating it to death on this blog. The hope is that some kind of awareness of the bias will make people better able to recognize and overcome it.

  5. Oh man, I needed this one. I did this in early October for a trip up north for fall color. I definitely had tunnel vision! Beautiful, beautiful photos!

    • Thanks!

      It’s really, really hard to look past color on a fall color photo trip. There’s a tendency to drive around literally looking for the best color, so it takes a lot of discipline to see past that inclination. I think it was my third or fourth trip to the UP in the fall before I purposefully produced a black & white image.

  6. […] made mention of the Chapel area in an earlier post, when I described the thought process behind photographing Grand Portal Point.  This was the day […]

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