With the digital-fueled photography renaissance, it seems that the number of trophy destinations has grown proportionally. For example, once no more than an anonymous trickle on El Capitan’s southeast flank, Horsetail Fall now draws thousands of photographers to Yosemite at sunset each February. And long gone are the days of a peaceful midday walk in the quiet coolness of Antelope Canyon.
Because I’ve photographed all of these scenes, and no doubt will continue doing so, I completely understand the urge to bag the trophy shot. They’re trophies because they’re beautiful, and (usually) relatively easy to access. But what puzzles me is why so many photographers pursue trophies to the exclusion of opportunities to create something uniquely their own. To me, the greatest joy of photography isn’t duplicating what others have already done, it’s the search for something new—especially at frequently photographed locations.
That said, I can’t deny that the opportunity to capture a trophy draws many photographers to my workshops. But while I do love helping my workshop students land their trophy, my job doesn’t end there—a significant part of my responsibility is challenging them to not make the trophy shot their goal, make it their starting point. Chances are, I tell them, if a shot is special enough to achieve trophy status, there are lots of other special views and subjects nearby.
Transcending the trophy is a mindset. Once you’ve bagged your trophy, see if you can identify a unique foreground or background, or approach the scene from a different angle. And if the standard view is horizontal, look for something vertical; if it’s wide, try a telephoto—and vice-versa.
And don’t forget that there might be great stuff happening behind you—you’ll never know if you don’t turn around. I try to make a point of checking behind me, but sometimes I need a reminder. For example…
Don Smith and I wrapped up the last day of this year’s back-to-back Iceland photo workshops with an afternoon in the Golden Circle. A recent storm had dumped loads of fresh snow everywhere, a great way to wrap up two fantastic workshops. After spending a couple of hours at massive Gullfoss waterfall, we took the group to Strokkur geyser for our final sunset.
Strokkur is a towering geyser in a beautiful setting. Erupting up to 125 feet every 5 to 10 minutes, Strokkur’s frequency allows many do-overs if you don’t get it right the first (or second, or…) time. This year fast-changing clouds and fresh snow added a new visual dimension I was especially excited to take advantage of.
I think the best shot here is getting the geyser backlit by the setting sun, so I positioned myself accordingly and waited, adjusting my position and composition after each eruption. As the sun set and I prepared for the next eruption, I noticed that our guide Albert Dros was on the other side of the geyser, pointing the exact opposite direction my camera pointed. Normally when I see another photographer not taking what I think is the best shot, I don’t think much of it. But since Albert is such a fantastic photographer, I glanced over my shoulder to see what I was missing. Yikes.
I instantly forgot the geyser, grabbed my gear, and “raced” toward the snow-glazed trees that were now framed by electric pink clouds, and garnished with a dollop of moon. Much to my frustration, the trail was completely coated with ice—since I’d decided to forego the crampons, to avoid falling I could only move about as fast as I do in those dreams when I’m trying to run for my life in a normal speed world, but find I can only move in slow motion (I’m not the only one who has those dreams, right?).
Fortunately, Iceland twilight is slower than any slow-motion dream, and I covered the 50 feet over to this scene with plenty of time to work the composition. I already had my Sony 12 – 24 f/2.8 GM lens mounted on my Sony a7R V, which turned out to be perfect for emphasizing the snowy scene in my immediate foreground, while still maximizing the colorful clouds. Of course this shrunk the moon to almost microscopic proportions—some may disagree, but I kind of love the small moon as a delicate accent to this already magic scene.
That is a gorgeous wintery photo. That Albert…he was a gem of guide. Yes, I was looking to see what he was looking at as well!
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