Thursday, March 31, 2011

Everything old can be new again

Last month, I wrote about sharing a small vantage point in Yosemite National Park with hundreds of other people, all hoping to catch one of the most photographed natural events in the park. This month, I want to talk about how to do your own thing despite that.

At least when it comes to national parks, I think it's almost impossible not to be influenced by other people. The number of photographers visiting the parks has never been higher. Digital technology and the popularity of sites like flickr and Facebook have made it easier than ever before to share their images.

So when you arrive at a vantage point, even if you've never been in the park before, it's quite likely you've already seen the view. Repeatedly.

Many of the images tend to look the same. Especially if a famous photographer created an image there, it's almost as if all who follow believe there is one "correct" way to photograph it.

But photography is supposed to be an art, and that means there's no one correct way to interpret anything.

I know photographers who consciously try to avoid looking at pictures of places they're about to visit. I think that's almost impossible to do anymore.

Instead, I try to approach any popular vantage points the same way I approach places back home where few photographers go. Before making an image I ask myself what I find special about the view. Why am I drawn to it? Then I try to compose an image that expresses that. The image isn't about the vantage point. It's about my impression of it.

The image at the top of this post is of a pretty famous waterfall in Glacier National Park, Montana. By the time I stumbled across it, Galen Rowell produced a widely published image of it. His image uses just two of the waterfalls. He positioned them so they're directly opposite each other with the mountains of Logan Pass in the background. It's a stunning image, so stunning the AAA used his image on the cover of a book about the beauty of North America.

When I arrived here, his image was definitely on my mind. I could have duplicated his composition, but I strive to be an artist, not a photocopier. I could have walked away, since this place had already been done.

Instead, I looked for a way to make an image all my own. I began by asking myself, "What's so special about this place." For me, it was the irony of the location. The creek is located near the Continental Divide, a line that's all about the water dividing and working its way into different oceans. But here, many different creeks from several different mountains actually join together.

Rather than standing in Rowell's footsteps, I climbed into one of the creeks and set my tripod up so that I could show as many of the streams as possible. I'd like to think that while it's the same viewpoint that he used, my image provides a different view.

If you're struggling at a popular viewpoint to make your own image, stop for a moment and take in the landscape. What about it is special to you? Photograph what the land says to you, not what other images tell you.

(Follow Kevin's latest work by becoming a fan of his Living Wilderness Facebook page.)

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