A few days ago, a photographer on Facebook sadly lamented that they made a trip all the way down to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado only to be sorely disappointed because of the state of the aspen trees. This year was a mixed bag, with some patches changing quite early, some getting blackened by frost, and others slowly fading to a dull green. I would agree with this photographer’s sentiment (and should note that I have sounded a lot like this in the past) – 2014 was not a great year for fall colors in the San Juans if you arrived with specific expectations for hillsides of golden aspens, mountaintops full of fresh snow, and interesting weather for photography. Still, fellow Dreamscaper Ron Coscorrosa and I both came away with quite a few photos we like from the same place at the same time. The difference between us and the photographer I mentioned above? We arrived with few expectations for what we hoped to photograph and instead welcomed the opportunities that came along.
After a long dry spell in terms of “good” conditions for photography, we have started leaving the expectations at home and are both enjoying photography more as a result. Specifically, we have not seen what most photographers would consider a “good” sunset since February (and that particular sunset was occurring behind us, leaving nothing over the mountains we had planned to photograph). Same goes for 2013, as in nearly all of the year of 2013 during which we traveled and photographed extensively. While we experienced a few high points in terms of conditions, most of the sunrises and sunsets we witnessed while out in the field for photography were average at best. Even though I generally have a firm “good clouds or no clouds” policy for my photography, the one pathetic former contrail pretending to be a cloud that turns pink at sunset has started to look appealing. Very. Dry. Spell.
Thus, giving up expectations for conditions and locations has become a necessary condition for enjoying photography trips and coming away with something more than disappointment as a result. As a photographer who used to always leave on trips with some pretty firm goals and expectations, I have been able to find what for me has been a better way, in terms of both enjoyment and results, by following some of the practices below.
•Stop browsing through other people’s photographsof a location before you visit it to help leave space to discover your own opportunities. If you spend an entire trip thinking about finding other peoples’ photographs, it will be more difficult to create your own.
•Stop creating real or mental checklistsof locations and photographs you want take. With a checklist in hand or in your mind, you leave less opportunity to take advantage of serendipitous conditions. A checklist can be limiting because reality may not conform with a preconceived concept once you arrive at a place and that preconceived concept can sometimes get in the way of something even better than what you have in your mind. I chatted with a photographer on this same trip who shared his disappointment that it was snowing because he only wanted to photograph a specific scene under blue skies. His one idea for photographing a particular scene seemed to keep him from wanting to even try to photograph it under possibly better and more interesting conditions –fresh snow and a clearing storm.
•Develop an interest in photographing smaller scenesand strive toward placing the same value on producing a photograph of a smaller scene and a photograph of a grand landscape. One of the best cures for disappointing conditions for photographing grand landscapes is focusing instead on intimate scenes, natural abstracts, and smaller vignettes. By broadening your photographic interests, you can create opportunities for photography under almost any conditions.
•Try photography by wandering around. Instead of arriving at a location with a specific plan in mind, commit to arriving early to spend time exploring without an agenda. The freedom to photograph without any expectations for even a small period of time can help demonstrate the payoff of this kind of approach when you take a photograph you would not have expected to otherwise find.
If you, like me, have struggled with the negative impact of going into a photographic experience with expectations for conditions or scenery only to walk away disappointed, I encourage you to try a different approach on your next outing. Try giving yourself the freedom to photograph without expectations for the location, the conditions, or yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised with both the pleasure of the experience and the results that such freedom can produce.
Note: If you enjoy the photos in this post, you might enjoy our recently published e-book, Beyond the Grand Landscape.