The famous Snake River Overlook in Grand Teton National Park, WY.
Icons–love em’ or hate em’, they are there. Impressive, gorgeous, familiar and…overdone??? There’s a general sentiment among photographers that typically frowns upon showing up to “the same old place” and shooting “the same old photo”. There was a time when I subscribed to this school of thought as well to a degree. But I must say I’ve changed my stance in recent months.
Just because it’s been seen countless times before and photographed by countless photographers, does that make it any less special to the one clicking the shutter? I’d certainly argue it doesn’t. Because for every photographer that sees Snake River Overlook for the first time, it still causes wonder and awe and a desire to showcase it in all its beauty.
I have photographed this location many times before, and just happened to have an evening here once again while teaching a workshop this past weekend in GTNP. There are times when I show up to iconic locations and search desperately for a different take on the “same old”. What I realized this time around, is that sometimes the “same old” is simply the best. Has our idea of beauty changed much in the 50 or so years since Ansel Adams shot from this exact location? Absolutely not. Were I to have been the first set of eyes to this location, I’d like to think I would have captured the same view that we all now know from the dramatic image of Adams. Surely it would have looked different than his, with different light, and different skies, and different…vision. That being said, the location for shooting likely would not have varied much, because there is simply no better view offering the complete experience.
On this particular visit, I was hellbent on finding something different. I spent the better part of a half hour walking the rim above the Snake River Valley as my student set up at “the spot”. Inevitably, I wandered back to the place that I, and so many others had photographed from so many times before. It was, without question, the most complete and satisfactory spot from which to shoot this grand vista. So what if it had been done a million times. So what if I had shot it numerous times to date. Had I shot it at this time? In this light? With those clouds? And this lens? And this frame of mind? No. And once again, I was enthused about creating something special.
Nobody has ever discounted a tennis player’s triumph when winning at Wimbledon on the same grass court, nor has any student ever felt less than satisfied after completing the same difficult math problem tackled by so many before. Regardless of the result or destination, we all do things to arrive there just a bit differently. You’d be hard pressed to find a medium that displays this thought process any better than photography.
Subtle nuances make all the difference in whether an image has impact or not. Just the slightest camera movement will remove a distracting object, or include an instrumental element. Place may be uniform, but vision is entirely unique to the creative mind at work. Don’t shy away from these iconic places. You’d be doing yourself a disservice both as a general observer, and even more so as a photographer. They are gorgeous and fulfilling. If you must, use what you have already seen countless times before as more of an influence and less of a template. In the end, the results may be just slightly different, but the most important part is that it is your image. Your capture. Your masterpiece. What are your thoughts on shooting icons???
This image is the newest addition to my Selenium Series. It will be printed in an extremely limited run of just three prints, and sold at a premium to collectors with a taste for the exceptional. Come check it out at either of the arts festivals I’ll be participating at this summer (Park City Aug. 6-8 or Jackson Hole Aug. 20-22).
Shot with a Canon 5D MkII, 16-35 2.8II, Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad, Gitzo Tripod