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Over the years I’ve been photographing nature, I’ve accumulated my fair share of images made close to the car. The problem is they look like many other’s photos who have done the same. Unless the light is very dramatic, these shots are a dime a dozen. There is satisfaction knowing I have them in my files, but I prefer shots that have my signature. To me, the real satisfaction comes when I capture the gems that can only be had by walking, looking for, and finding the shot off the beaten path.
As you get away from your car, it ensures you’ll get pictures that are different from most other photographers. Even if you wander short distances, you’ll be amazed at how the landscape changes. For instance, rather than shoot toward a fall colored stand of aspens, get inside it with a wide angle lens and shoot up toward a blue sky to emphasize the grandeur of the trunks and leaves. Find a roadside stream and walk up or down it to look for mini rapids, wildlife, or a unique plant that my not grow at the pullout.
A great tool to have if you wander far is a GPS especially if there are no trails and you need to find your way back to your vehicle in the dark. When I go to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, I find it indispensable. There are no trails and it’s very easy to get lost. Before I go out on a sunset shoot, I mark the car as a way point and wander around the dunes to look for great ripples or classic yuccas. The gates are locked upon darkness so it’s imperative I be out by then but I don’t like to waste magical New Mexico sunset light. I perform a GO TO on the GPS, and a direct path back to the car is created. I get to optimize my time away from the vehicle.
Depending on how far from the car I intend to walk, I pare down the equipment in my backpack and carry only the essentials. The less weight I carry, the longer I can stay out in the field. Essentials include a tripod, and wide angle and telephoto zoom, close up filters, a flash, extra batteries and memory cards. If I can’t capture the image with what I carry, it wasn’t meant to be.
But most of all, what makes my juices flow and gives me the most pleasure when I get away from the car is it allows me to connect with the surroundings. Road noise disappears, the air seems more pure, and the sounds of nature or my footsteps are all I hear. All these factors contribute to the experience and allows me to open my photo eyes more readily and see things I may ordinarily overlook. The net effect is better photographs. Even if I walk away not having clicked the shutter, the shared time with my surroundings makes the time well spent.