Below is an article I recently wrote. Who knows, you may see it in some publication before too long…
Sometimes the Best Plan is No Plan at All
The alarm on my watch lit up the dark, sleepy silence like a lighthouse in a thick Nor’easter. It was 4:30 am and I was groggy and undecided about what this morning held for me in photographic terms. Armed with a crude internet map, a Red Bull and a general idea of which direction was east, I jumped in my car and headed out into the darkness. Where my tripod legs would rest that morning was anyone’s guess—especially mine.
I know what you’re thinking—those that fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Any photographer that’s ever traveled to somewhere new and undiscovered has likely done his or her homework before arriving, having diligently researched fantastic locations with everything from geographic coordinates to tidal charts to the exact minute of sunrise and sunset. The simple truth, however, is sometimes all this just isn’t possible. Whether it’s a business trip or family vacation, you may not have had the time or foresight to lay out your dream photography schedule. Fear not! Just because you don’t have somewhere to go and shoot, doesn’t mean it’s not still out there waiting to be discovered.
It’s a challenge not knowing what, where or how you’re going to capture a memorable and meaningful image on any particular morning or evening. Therein, however, lies the magnificence of such a situation. Having no particular destination heightens the senses along the journey. Each new bend in the road reveals a potential five-star image. Each mysterious trailhead beckons to be trodden.
As I approached Galena Summit, my mind was racing with the inevitable thoughts and questions that plague me each time I pull the “drive and shoot” routine. Where was the sun? Are those clouds going to part long enough for me to capture that magic light? How am I going to find an engaging foreground in the dark? Man it looks cold out there…
Eventually I arrived at a dirt road with a sign showing Alturas Creek was nearby. I had seen this little blue line on the map earlier in my minimal research and knew there was potential in this area for a great image. If I could find this body of water, regardless of how small, I knew I could capture a fabulous foreground reflection, and find a way to work in the rolling prairie and majestic peaks in the remaining thirds of my image. I grabbed my (frozen) fishing waders and hurriedly put on my pack. The light was coming quickly now…
While it is possible to find a solid location to shoot by sheer chance alone, it’s best to have done at least some sort of minimal research beforehand. Beforehand, however, is a relative term. Ten minutes on the internet or five minutes with a local can go a long way in giving you a general sense of what you’d like to capture or what photographic bounty lies nearby. Below are several helpful hints to making the “drive and shoot” routine work for you.
1. Know when the sun will rise and set. This will help you to know when you’re getting down to the wire as you search for a shooting location.
2. Give yourself plenty of time. Inspiration may come quickly, or it may not.
3. Pack all your gear AND the kitchen sink. Not knowing what image awaits, it’s best to be prepared with an arsenal of lenses and filters.
4. Look for scenic byways in and around the area. They are named so for a reason.
5. Tap into the local knowledge. Find anyone that’s willing to chat for a moment—tell them you’re a photographer and you’re looking for great places to shoot. Everyone has a favorite haunt, and it may be just what you’re looking for as well.
6. Take a map and look for prominent landmarks. Rivers, creeks and lakes often harbor wildlife or at least several scenic elements to work with.
I was frantically pacing now, searching for a frame-filler that would make the early morning goose-chase worth it all. I waded through the river and crested the bank. VICTORY! Before me lay several slow-moving pools of water, a brilliant sky reflecting off the still surface. Frost-laden reeds filled my foreground as the morning sky ignited like wildfire with the rising sun. Did I find this spectacle of nature, or did it find me? I’d say it was a little of both. You’ll never know what’s out there if you don’t get in the car and drive. Don’t let a lack of location squelch your creative vision—even with minimal preparation, a maximum desire to shoot will pay off in the end.