When I was younger, my dad took a class on photography at a local community college. To this day, he says that the biggest thing he learned from the class was that to take interesting pictures, you have to go to interesting places. I suppose that if you are a travel, landscape, or nature photographer, that is true. What a lot of people don’t realize is that interesting places are all around us. Having grown up in Ohio, I always thought that I was stuck in a dreary, featureless landscape of corn and soybeans.
While partially correct, that notion was thrown aside when I sat down one evening and told myself that I would scour the internet for some new locations. I thought about how Ohio has so many state parks, (and even a national park), and thus, there had to be something worth capturing somewhere. The list that I came up with was almost three pages long with 30 unique locations.
This was the product of roughly thirty minutes of searching. I searched Google for some state parks, looked through Instagram pages, such as Ohio Explored, and found photographers using hashtags of areas or cities. This quick search gave me a rough idea of how many places I could potentially visit. The best part was that I was able to see pictures to gain an understanding of what the location was like and what sort of weather might work best for it.Pages like Ohio Explored are awesome for inspiration and encouragement to really check out the area around you. I was shocked at how many cool places there are in what is seemingly a pretty boring state. Seeing some images that interested me led to a quick search on Google Maps. Surprisingly, a lot of the shots were at small parks less than an acre or two in size, something that could easily be passed by with no real interest. I even looked at a few places that I had already been. A park near my house has a few cool waterfalls and nature trails. Sure enough, I stumbled on something interesting. A nice little waterfall sat at the end of a creek. It took some climbing to get to the right spot, but provided an image that I have printed, which may stay in my portfolio for a while. With nature and landscape work, you have very little control over the situation. When I shoot portraits, I enjoy the ability to create each aspect of the image. Every shadow and highlight is placed because I put it there, whether I realize it or not. If I don’t show up to shoot a landscape at the right time, I’ve missed the opportunity. Because of this, I often find that revisiting locations can yield new and better work. Even in cliché locations, such as Hocking Hills State Park (one of the most overly photographed locations in Ohio), I found some angles that I haven’t seen on Flickr or Instagram. Each individual will find something different that pleases them, and that is why I prefer to experience new places for myself, rather than basing my judgment off of someone else’s experience. This applies to portrait work as well. I happen to live about twenty minutes from downtown Columbus. As any photographer based in a city knows, this provides almost endless possibilities. For portrait and lifestyle work, the city is your best friend. Weather can change everything, but so can walking a few blocks and finding a new alley, piece of architecture, or unexpected park. If you don’t live near a city, you still have some great opportunities. Nature is the best backdrop. You can shoot almost anything in a small nature park or preserve if you point your camera in the right direction. Exploring can be refreshing for your photography as well. I find that I have no stress when I go out to shoot casually. With models or a planned nature shoot, I’m often on a time crunch — maybe I only have a half-hour with them or that golden hour is really only twenty minutes. Being able to slow down and relax with my camera can be awfully revealing. I often find that I could have been doing something differently with my camera or my composition that I hadn’t realized in my haste, or I start to learn more about what could make an interesting image. Sometimes, I point my camera at something and realize that it is a waste of time. Shooting often, even casually, is an incredible way to train yourself in restraint. When I shoot work for printing, I am better able to better analyze all of the image rather than just the subject. Starting out with portrait photography, it is easy to get caught up in that shallow depth of field or perfect catch light, completely missing a distracting element in the background. Waterfalls often capture the attention of a lot of beginning photographers, so much so that they don’t see the low hanging branch or drab landscape in which the waterfall sits, ruining the image. The more you shoot and analyze your work, the better you will get at seeing these flaws while you’re working. Exploring with my camera has also helped tremendously with finding locations for portrait work. It is awfully surprising how many nature shots can double as portrait backdrops. The difference between a wide lens and a 50mm can make a huge difference in how the scene renders. If you don’t get out, explore, and revisit, you could miss that. The biggest weakness that I see in people’s work across the board is a great subject that is presented in an uninteresting way. Product, portrait, nature, sport, and even food photographers can all benefit from spending a little more time with their camera in a new and different situation. Having that refreshing moment with your camera on a cool fall morning or watching a beautiful sunrise can change your workflow, which I’ve learned from experience. Regardless of what state or country you live in, a quick Google or Instagram search could open your eyes to some great images just waiting to be made.
What are some ways you look for new places?