|Been There, Done That
by Gary W. Stanley
In my digital article this month, "Digital Learning Curves," I talked about having to spend several months at home this winter recovering from an operation.
My only photographic outlet for the most part was taking pictures of the lobster boats from my deck overlooking the harbor.
As winter passed, it amazed me just how many different compositions there were, and how different the light and the mood of that harbor scene could be on any given day (Swampscott Boats & Storm and Swampscott Snow).
It's funny when you stop to think about it. I know that the light is constantly changing. I know that weather conditions will give your subject a totally different look, and yet it still blew me away that I could walk out onto my deck with my camera and tripod and photograph that scene, come back in the house and have an image even more incredible than the last.
I remember several years ago I was lecturing at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for the annual New England Camera Club Council. A woman approached me and in the course of the conversation asked me if I had photographs of the Jenne Farm and Portland Headlight in my slide program.
She said that if she saw one more picture of either place, she was going to be sick (I changed the exact wording to protect the innocent).
I told her that there were in fact pictures of both the Jenne Farm and Portland Headlight in the show, and asked her: "Just because those places have been photographed perhaps thousands of times, are they any less beautiful? Are they any less deserving of your personal vision?" I suggested that she go ahead and watch the program anyway and then come back and see me. After the program she came up to me and apologized. "The images were stunning, I've never seen those two places photographed in such great light and with such interesting compositions."
Many photographers have probably felt the way she did, and I'm sure that there are those places so often photographed that you could easily become complacent. I can hear you now: "Been There, Done That!" Like you, there are those places that I have photographed over and over again. For example, I often go home to Vermont to see friends, and while I'm there I head over to photograph the Jenne Farm. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've photographed that place, brought photo tour groups there, winter, summer, spring and fall, I've done it. I've also been photographing and leading photo tours in Acadia National Park Maine for about 12 years, going up there about three times a year.
While you may think that I could easily become bored with those two locations, I still think back to the very first time I came over the crest of that small rise in the road and saw the Jenne Farm just as it was pictured in that old Kodak book: "The Joy of Photography." I still get a big grin on my face when I round the bend on Ocean Drive and get my first view of Otter Cliffs as the first light of the day gently kisses that rugged Maine coastline. "Been There, Done That?"
Back in the mid-nineties I remember sitting through a two-hour slide presentation where I watched well over a thousand of some of the best slides from around the world. The entrants had competed in an international slide salon. As I got up from the program, my friend turned around and said to me: "I didn't think that there's a need for us to take another photograph."
I pondered his statement and was troubled by the thought, but, as is usually the case with me, after a while I begin to think about photographing in some of those places myself. What if I was able to go to those places? How would I photograph it? How could I make my own compositions different from those that I have seen? I continue to use that approach in my photography today. No matter how often I've personally photographed that familiar location, I continue to work it as though it was my first time shooting there.
Part of fine tuning your photography involves working your subject (see Fine Tuning Your Photography). It involves finding different ways to compose your shot, and ways to be more creative, even when photographing a familiar location.
Ask yourself: What other lens could I use to add interest to the shot? Is there a filter that I didn't use last time (Like a polarizer or grad filter?) that I could use this time to improve on the image that I now have in front of me? Did I have exposure problems last time that I could handle better this time? Why did I shoot only horizontal compositions last year when a vertical could be great? Last time I was here, I shot this location with my film camera. I wonder how well my new digital camera will handle this scene?
Maybe you've said this: "I'm sure the shot I got of this place last year will be real hard to top this year." Maybe, maybe not! I can't begin to tell you how many times I've prejudged the outcome when returning to a specific location only to be blown away by another great image. "Been There, Done That?"
The lesson that I learned by being home bound for an extended period of time has really turned into a positive thing. It has helped my creativity, my determination to always take each day as another great opportunity to create new images and express my artistic vision.
The whole photographic process is a repeat of certain necessary steps: setting up your tripod, selecting a lens, choosing the film, calculating correct exposure, choosing the right composition, looking for unwanted objects in your composition and on and on. "Been There, Done That."
So, the next time your friends ask you to go with them to a familiar location, one that you may have photographed before, don't say: "Been There, Done That" Just look at them and say: okay, let's Go There, Do That!