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Finding Your Own Icons

Sandstone Patterns, Coyote Buttes, Arizona

So what is a hardcore wildlife shooter like myself doing shooting Red Rock country in the desert southwest?  Simple, I find these landscapes as irresistible as every other photographer who makes the pilgrimage to this “shrine of color.”  We are blessed in this country with some of the most extraordinary landforms on the planet, and it is no surprise that photographers are drawn here : where else can you find reds like this outside of a glowing sunset?

The challenge, of course, for anyone on one of these pilgrimages is to see beyond the icons. We have all seen hundreds of images of the classics : the sunburst through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, the beams of light in Antelope Canyon, the Wave at Coyote Buttes.  Great places all, and well worth a visit. But how can we, as photographers, see them in a new way?  Almost invariably, you find yourself trying to re-shoot the identical image as a thousand other photographers before you. I, for one, get zero satisfaction from that.  If you’re going to shoot an icon, make it your own – look for a new take, an unexpected angle, a unique moment.

I have made several trips to Arizona’s spectacular Coyote Buttes area over the years, and I will almost certainly go again. But does the world need any more pictures of the Wave? Probably not. But there are a thousand treasures all around it, all worthy of a look, and a picture. I took the picture above not more than 100 feet from the Wave, but I like it much more than the visual retreads I shot at the more famous site. It was a picture I found myself, spent time sorting out, and finally captured in the late afternoon light. It may not be the most breathtaking spot in an area filled with heart-stopping views, but it is a picture all my own – and it gives me more satisfaction than any of those I shot from the usual angles.

Next time I go, I’ll try and take a wrong turn somewhere – and see what else is out there.