Put your personal creative stamp on even the most overphotographed places
By Bill Hatcher
All of us have places we’ve read about, seen pictures of and dreamed about one day visiting, but for one reason or another, the years go by, and we haven’t made that trip. With time, our mental image of that place changes, becomes molded and might even be narrowed by looking at the same photos of the place again and again.
For photographers, there exists a danger when we finally travel to a fabled location—almost by intuition, we create the very same photos that have been repeated a thousand times before by others. What image do you think of when I mention the Mittens in Monument Valley, the ruins at Machu Picchu or the multihued formations of Bryce Canyon?
One could say the natural wonder has been reduced to the lowest common denominator. To me, the iconic images of these beautiful places are just the starting point when photographing in national parks or any natural wild areas. It’s not easy to expand on what appears to be the perfect vantage from which to photograph a certain place, but as adventure photographers, we can put our personal creative stamp on even the most overphotographed place.
I happen to live within a few hours’ drive of many national parks and monuments. The locations of these parks were originally places selected for their beauty. They have been photographed in every imaginable way since William Henry Jackson first brought his 8x10 camera out West.
It’s tempting for me to race out and photograph in these places again and again. I often do so, but when I make plans to shoot in these locations, I’m more likely to carefully arrange my visit around a unique trip or activity. The creative process works like this: when I know I’ll be traveling to Yosemite, Yellowstone or other iconic locations, I look carefully at who I’m traveling with and what I’ll be doing in the park. Will it be rock climbing, biking, boating, a family trip with the kids, etc?
In this way, I can have an idea of the type of photos I might be able to make that will be relatively unique. An adventure approach to the parks opens extraordinary doors to shooting creative photos. The people and activity in my photos are the creative key, even when I’m shooting at a scenic pullout in the Grand Canyon.
Last fall, I was invited on a rafting trip down the Green River and Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park and Cataract Canyon with the intention of using the rafts to explore a remote corner of Canyonlands called the Maze.
I had never really explored the Maze in any depth, despite the area being so close to home. I first heard of the Maze when I was only 14, back when Outside Magazine was still called Mariah. In the magazine, an article described the Maze as a place of deep canyons that were accessible only by climbing and rappelling. It was inhabited for hundreds of years by a people called the Fremont, who hunted in the canyons and left behind colorful life-sized figure paintings—some of the finest Indian pictograph drawings to be found in North America.