A Photographer’s Need To Be Different

Picture this. You wake up at 4am… head out to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park for the first time to catch a sunrise photo shoot. You’ve seen the beautiful photos of Mesa Arch so you know what type of photo to expect (there’s many at 500px.com). You also know that there’s going to be 30 other photographers lined up next to you. Do you: A) Line up next to 30 other photographers and shoot your version of the arch at sunrise or do you, B) Leave the group and shoot something totally different?

I’ve been to Mesa a few times and I’ve seen both types of photographers. And it’s a discussion I see often online as well. There’s photographers that shoot the “gimme” shot and there’s photographers that do their best to stay far away from every other photographer in the area, so they can try to get something “different”. What I usually try to teach people is this. Remember that one of the draws to Mesa Arch is the foreground… the arch… the sunlight hitting the arch and making the rock formations glow… the depth of everything in between what you see a few feet away from you, all the way to what you see way off in the distance. That’s why people go there.

(click to see the photo larger)

It’s totally an individual decision on what you decide to shoot. But what I’m suggesting is don’t let your desire to be “different” take you away from why you went to a location in the first place.

All too often I’ve seen some one post a story that they set out to create a different photo of Mesa Arch. Something different that the 30 other people they’re standing next to in the crowd that is typical at Mesa in the morning. Then I see something like this.

(click to see the photo larger)

You know what. I’ve been to Mesa several times. You don’t have to even be near the crowd when you take this photo. Just walk to the side of the arch where no one else will be standing, put your zoom lens on, and take the photo. No need to look through an arch at all because you’re not even including the arch in your photo. Hell, there’s no need to even go to Mesa Arch to shoot something like this. Just pull off the side of the road in dozens of areas in Canyonlands NP and you can get it. But that need to be different kept them from seeing and capturing the full beauty of one of the nicest arches in the park.

An Important Lesson That’s Helped Me Many Times
So here’s a lesson/exercise that I learned about a long time ago. I think it’s a good way to balance taking photos that have been taken before, with being more creative and capturing something different. When you arrive at a location, split your time in half. If you’re going to be there for 60 minutes, then shoot the “gimme” stuff for the first 30 minutes. You know, the hero shots that you can conquer, and go home knowing you’ve got some killer stuff in the bag already. Then, for the remaining 30 minutes, go off and explore and be different. If you arrive at Mesa Arch and realize that there’s about a 20 minute window of good light, then shoot the typical Mesa Arch photos for the first 10 minutes. Then break away, walk around and get more creative for the other 10. Best case scenario, you get a great Mesa shot and you get some great photos from areas around it that you didn’t expect. Worst case scenario? You have a killer Mesa Arch shot that you can go home with.

It’s an exercise that’s worked for me many times over the years. Sometimes my favorite photos are from the 2nd half of that time shooting, where I really found something out of the way and different from what I expected. But sometimes I’m really happy with the photo I took while standing next to 20 other people. I know it’s mine. I know, in my own way, it’s different, and it’s my interpretation of the scenery around me.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!

  • jcruzfotodotcom

    Very good point and very good tip Matt. Thanks. I saw a quote once… “Don’t dare to be different. Dare to be yourself. If that doesn’t make you different then something is wrong.”

    • A.G. Photography

      Good Point!

  • Glenn

    Thanks for saying this. If I heard someone say that’s the same photo everyone takes I’ll simply say “Yes it is, but I took this one.” I’m going to the Grand Tetons in a couple of weeks and guess what, I’ll come back with a photo of the Mormon barn.

  • PaulP1234

    Wonderful post! We do go there for “the picture” and yet we do want to do something original.

  • A.G. Photography

    Does that area of the park have a time limit to visit? “by tour only” type thing?

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Nope. You just need a park pass that you can purchase when you enter the park, but that’s it.

      • A.G. Photography

        Ohh. Ok. What else is in that park?

  • Ginny T

    Excellent points. Last week I had a frustrating experience trying to stalk a very paranoid Oriole that would come to my feeder only when my camera wasn’t in hand. I set myself up by a clean window, waited every morning for two days, hiding myself best I could. Finally, it came, didn’t see me and I had clear shots. It should have been great but I learned that shooting at an angle through a window throws the focus WAY off. I knew there would be some degeneration in the image from the cheap glass but didn’t expect such a FAIL. I gave up for a while thinking that the Oriole just wasn’t worth it to me, there are a million pics of Orioles far more awesome than I could ever capture… but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted a pic of the dumb bird that *I* took! Well, I haven’t gotten it yet because it quit coming but when it returns, I have another plan.

    • Paul Bellerose

      change the food…maybe the bird is a picky eater!

      • Ginny T

        The food is always clean *but* I rubbed some olive oil around the openings to deter bees (Googled for advice). It worked great; no more bees but also no more Orioles. Washed it off w/soap and water – the birds are back. Setting up a tripod with a remote – hoping the dogs don’t bowl my gear over. I’m back to wondering if this bird is worth it

  • Paul

    Excellent observation! Should be required reading for all workshop attendees.

    You have excellent practical ideas. As Voltaire (?) said, ” Common sense is not so common”.