Show Some Local Love

August 01, 2013

One of my favorite landscape photography tips was recently discussed by Guy Tal, David Leland Hyde and Greg Russell -- finding our own locations. Successful creative landscape photography is a journey of diverging paths that ultimately leads to unique images that are all your own. Certainly the internet is filled with landscape photography tips and techniques, and there are vast resources available that describe the use of camera settings and processing to define your personal style. Have you, though, considered how "location envy" may be holding you back as an artistic landscape photographer, and how that mindset may actually work as a barrier to your creativity?

It's Not Antelope Canyon

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but somehow my internet searches for locations in New Mexico led me to Antelope Canyon. If you have not seen images of Antelope Canyon, do a Google image search. It’s a magnificent place, and I can only imagine what it is like to be there. When I first saw the images, my thought was, “I want that! I want to take a photo like that!” Antelope Canyon, though, was a bit outside my scope of travel plans, which left me feeling disempowered as a new photographer. Driven by my curiosity for all things geology, I did a little more Google research and found that Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon. I continued to Google until I found a slot canyon in New Mexico. When I looked up the directions, I realized that it is only 45 minutes from my home in Santa Fe.

Over the course of two years, I have taken more than 200 photographs of the slot canyon at Kasha Katuwe National Monument, one of the many little-known New Mexico attractions that is cherished by the locals. Very few of my photos have been processed and even fewer are posted on my website. Every time I went there, I felt a deep connection, but my images were lackluster. Over and over again I said the same thing to myself, “It's not Antelope Canyon.”

Local Love

Only recently did I begin to look at things in a different way. Being in a location wishing that it was some place else began to feel like I was dismissing and even disrespecting the beauty that nature had placed at my feet. I decided to look deeper at the photos of Antelope Canyon and understand what I love about slot canyon photography. What I now know is that I love the geology, light, shadow and gradient of color. When I realized this, I turned once again to Google to find landscape photography tips for slot canyons, driven by a desire to learn more so that I could better capture the essence of my little slot canyon.

Armed with new knowledge, insight and perspective, I set off one morning. I spent time in one small section of the canyon, studying the light, shadows, colors and composition. When I came home, I went through the files and chose a few shots that grabbed my attention. After some processing, I had five complete photos. But even more than that, I had five unique slot canyon images that captured the character and experience of a location that is relatively unknown.

I sat back and said to myself, “It's not Antelope Canyon,” and, for the first time, found joy in that thought. In that moment, I fell in love with that little slot canyon even more.

Exploring My Backyard

When I moved to Santa Fe, I knew nothing about the secret places that surround me. I talked to locals and I did research every weekend. I Googled state parks, national monuments, national forests, badlands, every search term that came to mind. I studied every image that I could find on Google, and watched streaming video on webcams, learning the light and landscape. As more locals saw my photography, they started recommending the places they love, and the list of “hidden landscapes” continues to grow.

Share Your Own Local Love

“Location envy” only robs all of us of sharing in your experience with your “backyard.” Just as you haven’t seen the places that I photograph, I, and many others, have not seen the incredible beauty that you live with every day. So as you see images that spark your “location envy,” ask yourself what it is about the images that strikes you, and then challenge yourself to explore your surroundings and find places that offer the same opportunities. Challenge yourself to capture the character of the locations and to inject your experience into every photograph.

Recommended Reading Here are the links to the posts by Guy, David and Greg. I highly recommend them.

Conservation Photography’s New Challenge by Guy Tal

Make Your Own Tripod Tracks by David Leland Hyde

Moving Past The Repertoire by Greg Russell

For more landscape photography tips about finding locations in your "backyard," Stuart Sipahigil has written an incredible eBook -- Close To Home, available through Craft & Vision.

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