Posted by: kerryl29 | April 18, 2022

The Luxury (?) of Time

I recently read a synopsis of a particular photo tour that trumpeted all of the different places that would be visited on the brisk itinerary. (If it’s Monday, this must be Yellowstone.) Count me out.

Tangle Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I understand the superficial appeal of visiting and photographing numerous locations in a limited amount of time, but the truth is that, more often than not this turns into one of those mile wide/inch deep scenarios. You cover a lot of ground, yes, but in the process you immerse yourself exactly nowhere. This reminds me of the Icefields Parkway bus tour that I’ve mentioned in one or two past posts: the tour covers the entire Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper (or Jasper and Lake Louise), Alberta, in a day. Guaranteed 15 minute stops at Athabasca Falls, Peyto Lake and Mistaya Canyon. Five-minute leg stretchers at a few highway pull-outs. Endless nice views at 90 KPH (I’m assuming the speed limit will be obeyed). Want to stop somewhere else or stay a bit longer at any of the designated break points? Tough. Can’t mess with the schedule. And what if it rains the day of the ride? Also tough. You can get out and get wet, or you can stay in the bus and remain dry. Or, you can forego the exercise entirely by skipping the bus tour. I heartily recommend this final course of action.

Secret Beach Morning, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Lots of places sounds great, but a short span of time–even a full day–for an area is very unlikely to be satisfying most of the time, unless it’s a place you can return to with regularity. But when you can’t, it amounts to–at best–a teaser of an experience. At worst–if conditions are utterly uncooperative, for instance–you can come up completely empty–not merely photographically, but from an experiential point of view as well.

Stormy Lake Superior Morning Black & White, Hurricane River Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I remember my first trip to the Smokies, on a photo tour, which included one opportunity to photograph from an overlook on the Foothills Parkway. Upon arrival, the overlook was completely fogged in. Nothing was visible. We left without ever seeing anything. (I had better luck subsequently.) A worst case example, sure, but it’s emblematic of what can happen when it’s one and done.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

One of the key elements of last year’s Alaska trip planning was the decision that Ellen and I collectively made to instill additional time into each phase of the itinerary. If we thought we could photograph a location in, say, two days, we gave ourselves the option of a third. The entire trip included 17 days in the field. We only planned on visiting four broad locations (the Brooks Range; the Denali Highway; Denali National Park; and Hatcher Pass). While all of these locations are pretty (or very) large and there’s really no way to completely explore any of them in a lifetime let alone a few days, the difference between a day in one of these spots and, say, four days, is immense. Beyond the tangible distinction (4 > 1), it’s the intangible discrepancy that’s so significant. It’s virtually impossible to describe how creatively freeing it is not to feel rushed.

Kealia Beach at Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

Time may well be a luxury. But when it comes to creative image making, it’s a luxury that borders on necessity.

A Room with a View, Savage Alpine Trail, Denali National Park, Alaska

Responses

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. When you think about that bus tour on the Icefields Parkway, the amount of time on the bus must be so much greater than the sum of the time spent at any of the locations that it gets ridiculous. The walk from the parking area at Mistaya Canyon to where you can actually see something would take most bus passengers a minimum of 20 minutes. Because it’s uphill on the way back, probably 30 minutes in that direction. If the allowable time is an hour at that location…well, you can do the math and it doesn’t make sense at all. I will never be a satisfied photographer when I am rushed. I am, in general, a plowhorse, not a racehorse.

    • I think the walk to/from the Peyto Lake overlook might be even worse.

      As for the bus experience more broadly, I can’t help but think of my encounter with a busload of Australian tourists at Spouting Horn in Kauai:

      Hawaii Day 6: Productivity? Not So Much

  2. Beautiful photos. I absolutely agree with your comments on organized photo tours.

    • Thanks….but, I should clarify (and this is my fault for not being more clear)…I wasn’t making general statements about organized photo tours. (The “Icefields Parkway bus tour was referring to a general tourist offering.) The only statement about a photo tour that I did make was about my experience on the Foothills Parkway.

      I haven’t been on many photo tours over the years and the last time I wasn’t involved in a custom (i.e. to spec) offering was eight years ago. But the tours I have been on have all been positive experiences for me and, with the right tour leader, an approach that fits your shooting style and a good group of attendees, it can be an extremely enjoyable and productive endeavor.

      • Yes, thanks for clarifying. I think I understood it well and didn’t take it as a blanket statement against photo tours :).

  3. Nice Captures, And I don’t do the organized tours thing, I am much happier going in my own vehicle, on my own schedule and I can pick and choose where to stop.

    • Thanks.

      As I mentioned in the comment to Thorin, while I haven’t attended all that many organized photo tours over the years, the few I have been on have been–without exception–good experiences They may not be for everyone, but I definitely wouldn’t draw a blanket conclusion about photo tours.

      I may put together a blog entry on this subject…

  4. Kerry,
    I’m very late in commenting on this post due to a long spring trip, but I agree whole-heartedly about building wiggle room into a shooting schedule. Learning from experience, I now deliberately build extra time into each segment of a trip. I don’t leave the shooting schedule empty, but I include some lower-priority shooting locations which I can discard as needed to reshoot higher-priority locations which I missed due to weather, etc. And if I end up not needing the extra shooting time, I can enjoy a “down day” to relax tired muscles after strenuous days of hiking through deep sand or up steep, rocky slopes!
    Steve

    • Hi Steve. Admittedly, extra time is something of a luxury, as I alluded to in the post, but, in theory, there’s almost never as much time as I’d like, so I think the key is not planning to do much for the time allotted–which I sense is what you’re saying in your comment. I think you’ve got it exactly right; if there’s “extra time,” there are essentially always more places to explore or, if the physical aspect of things is becoming overwhelming, pulling back for a day to recoup is never a bad idea.

      Hope the spring trip went well. I know you planned on multiple days in Coyote Gulch (among other places), so I’m anxious to hear how it went.


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