Sunday, March 11, 2012
I watched a video on the web today in which it was suggested that if one wants to make really good landscape photos you have to go to where the really good landscapes are, the National parks, specifically the western parks, Arches, Yosemite, etc. If you aren't happy with your photos you can't expect to make interesting landscape images near where you live they said, partly because there aren't any great landscapes there and partly because you are too familiar with it. You need to go where the landscape will excite you.
The mention of Arches National Park brought to mind a remark by a photographer/potter friend who said to me "If I see another photograph of Delicate Arch, I think I'll puke." The advice above also struck me as the opposite of the classic advice to writers, "Write what you know." The only National Park I've ever been to is the one in downtown Philadelphia, PA. The one with the Liberty Bell, Carpenter's Hall and other landmarks of the founding of the country. Not that I wouldn't like to go to some of the National Parks that have grand landscapes and I hope to but I've always felt that I could make excellent landscape photos of the landscape I know, partly because it is familiar and partly because I'm there when it is photogenic.
The photo above for example is simply a group of evergreens on the border between a farm field and woodlot. It is along a road about 15 minutes from my house that I have driven many times and never photographed before. The morning I made this image there had been a wet snowfall that stuck to the trees, in particular the evergreens, and this tableau, looking much like a family posed for a group photo, caught my eye.
I'm a firm believer that the potential for good and often even great (not that I think the above is "great" but I'm quite happy with it) photos is everywhere, that everything can be a great subject under the right lighting and conditions. The trick is twofold. You have to be sensitive to it, constantly looking deeply at the world around you, and you have to be there when the scene presents itself. Excitement is an attitude you cultivate, not something external. There's an old saying 'if you eat steak every day, sometimes beans taste fine'. You can get bored with grandeur too if you allow yourself to adopt that attitude. To make better photos take more interest in your subject matter, whatever it is, approach it with passion and your photos will reflect it. I should add to that you must have the skills to create an image that communicates what you saw and some degree of how it felt to be there.
There can be creative danger in going to iconic landscapes, danger that you will fall into the trap of remaking images of the hundreds or thousands of photographers that went to those sites before. I hope when I do go to one or more of the great parks that I will be inspired to make some photos that are not mere copycat images, but I am convinced that if I can't make interesting photos where I live, the grandeur of a western park will not be sufficient to make my photos great. I believe that it is possible to make as bad or uninteresting a photo of Yosemite as it is of a local farmers woodlot.