As a leader of photo tours to many classic natural destinations in the United States, it's my obligation to bring participants to the photographic icons of each location. These locations have been shot hundreds of thousands of times yet we gravitate toward them because of their beauty. They are the post card shots we all want. As we stand elbow to elbow with many other photographers, I often wonder what we're trying to accomplish unless something new or different is tried. But every time I go to one of these places, everyone is using the same focal length as the postcard and framing it the same way. I encourage you to try something different. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Try A Different Time Of Day: Granted, there is an optimum time of day at which these iconic locations should be shot, but how often have you tried going back at a different time of day to experiment? If you don't, you may overlook a shot that works well. I love the light of dawn and dusk but many photographers don't get up early enough or stay out late enough to capture it. While most know to arrive for first light or stay for last light, many ignore the alpenglow of dawn and dusk. Capturing it translates to a longer working day, but if the goal is to get great photos, a few minutes more isn't gong to wreak havoc on your schedule. Try a morning shot in the afternoon or visa versa. If the subject has a definitive shape, shoot a silhouette rather than when light falls upon it.
Look for Intriguing Light: One of my most loved sayings is, "I'd rather shoot a mundane subject in great light than a great subject in dull light." A shot of a grizzly bear in flat gray light nets a boring image but a simple rock formation on the prairie with storm clouds and a rainbow nets a winner. In essence, it's all about the light - another one of my favorite sayings! You know it all comes together when you're at one of the iconic locations and the light is working for you. If the clouds look like they're going to go electric in color, by all means, head to the icon and capture it in all its glory.
Do Something Different: For the past nine years I've been leading a tour to the top of Hunts Mesa in Monument Valley. It's not for the faint of heart as the ride up is serious four wheeling and we camp out on the mesa to get sunset and sunrise light but it's an experience that every photographer should have under his or her belt. Having seen images of the area prior to my first visit I wanted to make sure I didn't tape record them and sought to produce something different. I photographed it as a panoramic, I bracketed to blend the exposures using HDR, and I attached my 80-400 and picked out little hors d'oeuvres from the scene.
Short List of Ideas: To make your images different from all the other iconic ones, try the following: look for unique light, experiment with the time of day, plan the shoot to coincide with a full or crescent moon, try a different focal length from the post card shot, shoot from a different angle, make a double exposure, zoom the lens while making the exposure, isolate a section of the whole, make it black and white, light paint the subject after it gets dark, or try a combination of the above. Come up with your own elaborations, make a list and place it in your camera bag. By all means, make the iconic shot, but then play, have fun, and put your own twist on it.