One thing I encounter very regularly is photographers lamenting that if they lived near <pick a famous scenic place> their work would look much better…WRONG! (I’d user more colorful language but this is not an adults only page!) Yes, it would be wonderful if I could just walk out my door into the High Sierras, but just like having the most expensive camera available won’t make you a great photographer, living close by famous subjects won’t either.
Among the things that make iconic shots we get, subject, lighting, composition, you know them all too. But the part that many people forget is that photography while an art is also a craft. The only way to improve that craft is by practice. Wherever you live, there are great shots to be taken. The advantage that “locals” have is that they get to take those shots over and over again. Doing that accomplishes several things. It provides a body of work on a single subject, it allows the photographer to work with different angles and compositions and just as important it lets you discover the best light and other conditions.
I live in central New Jersey. Some folks feel sorry for me for that. We don’t have grand high peaks or iconic seashores here. That’s okay. We do have plenty of open spaces, farm land and lots of other scenery. One of my favorite places to shoot is at Duke Farms. That was the private estate of Doris Duke. In her will, she left as an environmental learning center that is open to the public free of charge. When I first went there camera in hand, let’s just say the results were less then spectacular. Since then I’ve been there in all seasons and varying times of day. Now, people come to me for advise on when and where to shoot at “Dukes”. Earlier this year, two of my friends put together an exhibit of pictures of and about natural New Jersey. The exhibit NJ 350 Elements was hosted at Duke Farms. More spectacular, this was a juried show where the winning images were printed on satin 60″ x 40″ and displayed outdoors! The picture at the top of this posting is my submission that was part of the exhibit. Even more exciting, Duke Farms has commissioned prints of the three images in the show that depicted different parts of their facility (including mine).
I grew up in northern Manhattan. I am in “the old neighborhood” quite often. Yes the ethnicity has evolved and what types of stores are there has changed. But beyond that, it’s remarkably like it was when I was a kid. It was prowling around that neighborhood with y camera that I started taking urban and street shots. Some folks tell me that I’m actually getting better at it! The shot below is an example of how much change stays the same.
The other side of where to shoot and when is all about being prepared. Ask any top professional about what they do to prepare for a shoot somewhere away from home, and I’ll bet you get the same answer over and over. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you are going to go on a special vacation to somewhere exotic, will you just go to a travel site and randomly pick a destination? Probably not. If you are planning a trip to somewhere that you don’t know and probably won’t get back to often, do your research. In today’s environment, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. Go online and find out about interesting places wherever you are going. Check the blogs and online groups. Most people are happy to share. Look for photos of interesting places. Pay special attention to not just the place, but also time of day, exposure, angles, etc. so that you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Once you have that work done, plan where you want to be and when. Remember to check for ideal shooting times where you are going. Remember, just because evening golden light may start around 4 PM at home, doesn’t mean that’s when it will happen where you are going.
Something thing to keep in mind about iconic shots is that you are probably not going to be alone trying to take that shot. I’ve heard countless tales of photographers who got up before dawn, hauled a ton of gear to be in the perfect spot for a shot, only to find that fifty or a hundred others were already there and filling every good vantage point.
Make sure that your plans are flexible! If you want to get great outdoor shots, plan on some of the time having adverse weather. That can be a blessing or a curse, you need to decide which and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Above all, be a realist! The more practice you have shooting, the greater the likelihood that you will come home with pictures that make you proud. Take plenty of pictures. It may sound like common sense, but many people don’t. If your camera has repeat modes for shooting, use it. You’d be surprised at the differences you will find in three shots taken at five or six frames per second.
Earlier this year we spent a very nice day walking around Savanah, GA. The trip to Savanah was pretty spur of the moment so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Instead I relied on what has worked for me in other cities. I came away pleased with the results. Following is an example.
What it really comes down to is this. Do you want to be a “me too” photographer? If so, follow the crowd, take the same shots that everyone else does. If you want to be a real photographer, someone who views photography as a means to document their view and present it as their art, go off the beaten path. The first time the great scenes were photographed, they were new and novel and marvelous. Go out and find your iconic scenes, discover your art and use them to tell your story.
So now, to answer the trick question about the title of this post…the best place to shoot and how is (drum roll please)…wherever you are! The how is just as simple. The rules of good photography don’t change, use them, apply them and you’ll get the shots that you want.