Why do we choose to photograph what and where we do?


Recently, I posted an image on Facebook which caused a friend to have the following thoughts.  “Looking at your image this morning,  I started thinking about where we choose to capture images and why we do so. What draws us to photograph at certain locations over and over? Do we tend to photograph certain locations because they are rich with opportunity or because we feel a certain affinity or attraction to the location? Do certain locations put us at ease and make the creation of images less stressful? Or are we hunting for something there that we may have missed or not yet seen? Perhaps a new way of seeing? Do each of us have a finite number of places to capture “The Capture That Is Worthy”? I have found myself falling into the rhythm of all the familiar places rather than seeking new opportunities. I’m sensing that I need to push my boundaries once again and break out of my rut.”

Wow Jim, that is a lot to think about, however, you ask some good questions.  I have some thoughts but would also like to hear blog readers too.

1.  I believe we should photograph what makes our hearts sing.  If it does not resonate with me there is a good chance it will not resonate with you. Photograph what appeals to you.

2. I believe going back to the same places for repeated opportunity is important.  Ansel, you know, Adams? Yup that guy.  He spent many a day at places like Yosemite and the Alabama Hills.  The light will be different, you will bring new knowledge each time, your maturity if you will.  Your mood will be different, your attitude will be different, your skill level improved and on and on.  I remember going to the Lonaconing Silk Mill the first time, I was overwhelmed.  The next time I was more relaxed and got into a groove. The next time I worked on details, the next other things. Each time my images changed, my vision changed.  I now look forward to going again. I see repeated opportunity as a good thing and have personally found that my work becomes better with each visit.  The Palouse comes to mind.  This will be my 8th year there. Do I make as many images each trip?  No, however, I do think the images I do make are stronger than the previous years.   More mature if you will.

3.  I do think we tend to photograph locations that are comfortable and familiar and this makes sense.  Again, why photograph what we are not drawn to?  That said, I do think we need to stretch!  A friend told me I needed to photograph the Disney Concert Hall in LA.  I said no 4 years in a row until I finally caved and went.  It was an very important moment in my journey as a photographer.  I realized during that trip that I was unwilling to go because I was afraid I would not do well.  I was afraid I would not know what to do.  You see, I didn’t know anything about photographing architecture and was avoiding it due to my FUD.  (Fears uncertainties and doubts)  When I finally went, I had great success and realized it was….. JUST PHOTOGRAPHY!!!  In the end it was just like a landscape scene,  the same principals apply.  So both work for me.  The comfortable and the stretch.  Do them both!

Okay, enough of my thoughts.  Your turn, what say you?

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  1. Teri Lou November 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Oh John what a great conversation to have. I agree with your thoughts, so many opportunities we have everyday to capture an image, so many we pass by. I love that photography allows us to see and points out that we see so little. The best is going to a workshop and sharing all the various ways the participants saw the same thing. We both know that the vision is completely different between Karen Messick, Lynette Shepard, Dewitt Jones and Graham Scott-Taylor – for example. Photography centers me, it challenges me to grow and inspires me to travel…it is the best profession/hobby – I am a lucky girl!

    • john8276 November 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      Hey TL. Yes, WE are lucky to do what we do. Blessed you might say. Thanks for chiming in.

  2. marty golin November 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Your “…it was JUST PHOTOGRAPHY!!!” is great. The more one mindfully sees ones environment, whether for the first time or hundredth time, & photographs what speaks to us, the process is same. Do it enough times, & it becomes habitual (internalized), & it becomes JUST WHAT ONE NORMALLY DOES. This process is much more important than location. One may not capture the icons of nature in a parking lot, but (IMHO) the results can be the same.

    • john8276 November 6, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      Dang, I love your thinking Marty. May I borrow “The process is much more important than the location”? That is just terrific. Thank you my friend.

      • marty golin November 7, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

        Absolutively. My pleasure to contribute to the cause.

  3. Jan Beernaert November 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    As I feel it: it doesn’t mather; the only thing that counts: it should come from the hart; it’s the way YOU feel; it’s your art; if You like: it it’s great!

  4. Alice Olive November 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    Great post. I think I agree with everything you’ve said here! Definitely when I return to a favourite location, I take less images, but I’m more pleased with the ‘newest’ lot. And, frankly, I’m not thinking about anyone else’s reaction, I’m shooting simply what appeals to my eye. Thanks for admitting you have fears, too. I can’t imagine someone with your talent not being able to find something beautiful in ANY location!

    • john8276 November 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

      This coming from a woman who can see a photograph EVERYWHERE! Thank you Alice, however, you are one that I admire. You have a strong ability to “see” beyond the ordinary. You have a gift.

      Oh yes, I have MANY fears and they linger and linger and linger…. always fighting those demons…

      I am finally to your place of not worrying about what others think so much. I photograph for me. Don’t get me wrong, its always nice to get positive feedback or the occasional and ultimate confirmation a SALE!

      • Alice Olive November 7, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

        Thank you for the compliment, John! And yes, agree about positive feedback. Just saw one of my images in someone’s (not related to me) home – felt damn good!

  5. janice November 6, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    I think making a photograph is a lot like the experience of reading; you get to know the characters, find the delight of the story, imagine the twists… In re-reading, you can discover new details, make fresh connections, and develop what you may have missed the first time around. And each and every book is a brand new adventure. For me, as a beginning photographer, the joy is still in the experience of making the photograph and not necessarily (at least not yet) in the end product.

    • john8276 November 6, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      An apt analogy Janice. Your last thought applies to beginner or well experienced photographers alike. All should find joy in the making. The end product is icing on the cake! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Bonnie Rovere November 6, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    I think I simply photograph things that make me happy. Things that I will enjoy seeing over and over. You know what kind of a mood you will be in when you head out, but you never know how it will translate into your photographs.. It’s always something new, no matter how many times you repeat the experience.

  7. James Milligan November 7, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Interesting subject and certainly a vast array of reasons as to why we go to a place to photograph. I can only speak for my self but my reason to go to photograph X is simple….I want to see and experience the location. Why did I travel to Death Valley ,because I wanted to see the geology I taught about for years. The bonus was a nice collection of images and a fun time with John and Dan and the folks who participated.

    So tomorrow I will join up with John and Jeff for a work shop in Cape Cod,a place I have visited for the last 20 years. That seems to not fit my reason to choice this tour. However, I want to see what I missed in the last 20 years. Life is short,just go where your heart and mind take you and don’t over think it.

  8. MWS November 7, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m always going to default to details, but repeated visits to any particular location allow me to “broaden” my scope since I am more at ease and able to see more.

    Stretching out of one’s comfort zone impacts everything. I found all the real estate presented by a wide angle lens downright scary at first, but using one has influenced the way I compose with every lens.

    New places (and new people) present an opportunity to grow as an artist. Cross pollination is powerful stuff.

    • john8276 November 8, 2013 at 2:19 am #

      Thanks for chiming in MWS.

  9. Jim Stephens November 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    When I posed my questions on JB’s image on Facebook, I never had any idea it would turn into a blog post on his site. I would like to thank him for taking the time to post his thoughts and to thank everyone who has posted a comment. It has been enlightening.

    Many times I go back to a location looking for new images or to see if I can capture it better based on previous experience. I do continue to learn whether it’s a repeat or new territory to explore. I think I need to expand to new locations at the present. As I see it all that really matters is to do what speaks to you and keep taking images. Keep the growth moving forward. Questions answered.

    • john8276 November 7, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      You’re welcome and thank you! I’m not sure we “answered” all of your questions but I do think a good dialogue has been started.

  10. Stephan November 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    The answer is “D. All of the above.”

    I think Jim said it all. Reading, studying, applying and experiencing can bring us to infinite places or concepts. Do we ever repeat what we have done before? Is it ever “exactly” the same? Simplicity or complexed? Shaken or stirred? Personal preferences and mix.

    As for the application and process, that is ever changing. How we apply our knowledge, artistic vision and talents creates infinite options.

    When does a baseball player know when he (or she) will hit a home run or grand slam? When the moment presents itself? When the ball goes over the fence? When the bat makes contact with the ball? Or, do we know before the moment happens? We can prepare. We can train. We can study. Ultimately we have to perform.

    I believe we plan our trips to our various destinations and expect certain things or outcomes. Why go or do anything if there is not some sort of purpose? The mere thought of going or seeing an image that speaks to you sometimes is enough to spark or reignite the passions for why we photograph or whatever else we are passionate for!

    As you mentioned, even Ansel Adams repeated and simply lived at many of the locations he photographed. Was he trying to better his last performance or simply desire to be in the place that he was – mind, experience and spirit?

    FEAR – Focus + Experience + Apply + Result

    Great post JB and Jim!

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