Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Lookout Point. Yellowstone National Park. July 31, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 A. F. Litt, All Rights Reserved
Photo of the day by A. F. Litt: September 9, 2014
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was our first stop in the park since we were camping at the Canyon Campground. It was morning and not too crazy busy yet, but still 17 people got this same shot from the same location in the 10 minutes we were there…
This brings up an issue I’ve struggled with on these types of shots, in these types of locations…
The scene is magnificent, the locations from which to shoot are limited, everyone there is taking the same picture, and even a quick look at Google Earth reveals that hundreds and thousands of people are taking essentially the same picture every year, every day even!
So, as a photographer, do you try to go for some crazy, unique angle or just stick with the basic, classic shot? Every day the weather and conditions are different, every few minutes the light changes the scene in subtle ways… We’re really not taking the same pictures over and over and over again, there are minute variations in style, technique and subject, sure, but how many untrained eyes are ever really going to be able to tell the difference?
Another complication in these locations is an issue of basic courtesy. In tourist mode, I am not comfortable setting up in the prime spot for even five minutes, planning out my shot, setting up my stabilization, taking test shots, taking real shots… all the while a line of people is forming up behind me until they are beating me over the head with their dSLRs, point-and-shoots, and smart phone cameras until I cede the position and let them in. I am trying to get in and out, showing basic courtesy to my fellow humans, and trying to be out of the spot in less than a minute. Sure, if I was coordinating with the NPS on the shoot, if I was on location in some sort of official capacity, I could take all the time I needed, but that is a different story entirely… Then I’d have access to different locations, which is my usual solution to these dilemmas, so the whole issue would resolve itself.
Living next to the Columbia River Gorge, I have to deal with this issue all most every week. Do I go for the classic shots, or do I go for the “creative” shots? For now, more often then not, I am choosing the classic shots. These are spectacular places and I like to let them speak for themselves.
Later, on my 20th visit to the same locations, by then I am branching out more and reaching for the more creative compositions, positions, and angles, but this is after I’ve got my sharp shot of Multnomah Falls, my slow shot, my icy shot, my summer shot, my fall shot, my long classic shot, my close classic shot, a great landscape orientation on each, a great portrait orientation on each… Then, if I am working for different clients on different projects, then I need to go get a new classic shot like this, a new classic shot like that… Suddenly, all those classic shots are adding up to a lot of work over many different seasons, over several different years. And these are the “classic shot” variations of just one subject in just one location… So how standard and redundant, really, is this basic, classic shot in the first place?
When I was younger, I was more focused on getting the “fancy” shots in these sorts of locations, the unique shots, but quite often I spent so much time trying to force my own small portion of creativity upon some amazing work of God and Nature that, just in its own existence, so far transcends the greatest artistic notions of even the most talented of men, that I ended up not getting the basic shots at all, the ones that succeeded in getting me out of the way and allowing the story of the place to tell itself.
And when dealing with some of the most photographed locations in the world, up to thousands of pictures a day for well over a hundred years, am I really going to come up with that one in a million shot that has never been taken before, one that brings a whole new perspective on the location or am I going to get something that feels a little forced, like I am trying a little too hard to be unique, and walking away with something that ends up not telling the story of the place at all?
There is a balance to all of this, of course. Sometimes those more unique shots just scream out to be taken, and I shoot them. Still, this summer, in tourist mode, not pro photo mode, for the most part I stuck to the basics. Because if I want to hang a great classic shot of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone on my wall, I’d rather it be one I took, not one someone else took, and to me, that pretty much resolves the debate. At least, it does for myself. I am not going to be back in these locations for quite some time, if ever, and I want to make sure that I am capturing the spectacular beauty of these places and not just trying to prove to myself that I am a unique, out of the box, creative talent.
Sometimes art happens only when you are pushing the envelope, but at other times, it requires us pulling back a bit and letting the scene speak for itself. With some of these places, nature is trying to tell us a story, to show us something, and the reason we see the same shots over and over again is because this is what nature wants us to see over and over again, and I personally do not have a problem with that.