I’ve never been much of a New Year’s resolution person, but the start of a new year is an opportunity to take stock and regroup. This year I’ve been thinking about the proliferation of derivative images online and in magazines, images that are, no matter how beautiful, simply reproductions of thousands of previous image. Photographers see something they like and go out try to get it themselves.
I understand the urge to impress rather than create (for starters, it’s easier), and confess that I catch myself doing it too. As with pop music and formula fiction, the images that seem to sell best (not to mention garner the most Facebook Likes and “Stunning!” comments), are often facsimiles of preceding material. So photographers who make a living with their images are forced to subvert their creative instincts in favor of putting food on the table; and photographers who do it for pleasure are lured by the attention a well-executed duplicate generates.
The problem is compounded for workshop leaders, who are paid to guide their customers to the iconic spots (why do you think you see so many Yosemite Tunnel View images in my gallery?). My solution is to follow the advice I give my workshop students: Rather than make the “classic” Tunnel View clearing storm or molten Horsetail Fall image your goal, make that image the starting point, before moving on to less conventional ways to capture the scene.
Of course spending lots of time at iconic locations, in the best conditions (or simply getting out anywhere in good conditions), leaves me with a ton of really nice but less creative captures. I share them occasionally, but for the most part I opt for quality over quantity, and usually try to share only the images that stimulated my creative juices. (Another way of putting this would be that I choose to share images that make me happy, rather than images I think will make you happy—sorry.)
Which brings me to the Half Dome reflection image at the top of this post. The first instinct for most at this bend in the Merced River is to capture the wider scene (below), which I certainly did. But most of my clicks this evening were zoomed closer, concentrating on compositions that emphasize the reflection.
I won’t pretend that I’m the first to photograph this scene this way—I share it here to illustrate the way I try to distill a scene to its most essential components. I was leading a group this evening and didn’t take a lot of pictures, but if I’d been by myself I’d have zoomed even tighter on the tree reflection, and certainly would have played with long exposures that would have turned the drifting foam into parallel white streaks.
Even if finding the unique view is already part of your capture paradigm, challenge yourself to do it more. And because it’s only fair to hold myself to the same standard I ask of others, I’m also challenging myself to create more and settle less—it will be my mantra for 2015.
Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh your screen to reorder the display.