Whether you’re an aspiring photographer new to landscapes, or a seasoned professional, we all have our bucket list of locations we want to photograph. But the truth is, a lot of us spend most of our time in our home town dreaming about getting there. Stop dreaming, and get out and do what you love. No matter where you live, there is an abundance of photographic opportunities just waiting to be had. Start taking advantage of your knowledge of your local area. Just as it is in sports, you’ve got the “Home Field Advantage”.
Sometimes it’s hard to get inspired to photograph the things we see day in and day out. They just don’t compare to the epic dreams we have on our bucket lists. You have to find a way to break this cycle. Photography is a perishable skill. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The intent of this article is to give you some ideas to get that creative process going, and get you out in the field creating images.
Human nature gives us a weapon we can use to fight off our procrastination and start being productive. It’s called the competitive spirit. Who says you need a competitor? Challenge yourself! One of the ways you can get yourself out in your local area is to find something you have always wanted to learn, and challenge yourself to do it. Whether it be a new technique, using a lens you don’t normally shoot with, or a different compositional style, set a challenge for yourself. Human nature will kick in, and you will set out to accomplish your goal.
The shot of the sun star at the beginning of this article was accomplished in this manner. Although I have photographed sun stars many times before, it’s not something I always look for when I’m in the field. On this day, I was scouting an area I am planning on using for my local workshops. I challenged myself to find a location I could shoot a great sun star from. Viola! Challenge met, shot bagged. Not bad for being a twenty-five minute drive from my house.
Another technique you can use to start shooting more in your local area is get to know what I call “the green space windows”. Almost every city has little green space areas that are free of the chaos and clutter, and offer a view of the natural world. Get to know these locations and cherish them like gold. Epic light has the tendency to rear its head at the most inopportune times. You’re on your way to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk around sunset. The sun decides to peek out from behind the storm clouds that have shrouded the city all day, and put on a light show to die for. If you know where your green space windows are, your chances of capturing a great shot just increased tenfold. Otherwise, you’re going to be left sitting in your car, spouting out words I can’t disclose here. Not that I have ever done this myself.
The image of the Cholla cactus and stormy sunset sky was taken in one of those green space windows in my hometown of Kingman, Arizona. I had just dropped my daughter off for piano lessons when I noticed a little color starting to come through the storm clouds that had been around all day. A quick two or three minute drive put me in a location I could capture this incredible sunset right when the light was at its best. Just outside the frame to the left is a housing development, and to the right is a five lane street filled with retail stores. Straight ahead, Bliss.
Next step. Stop thinking on such a grand scale, and focus on the smaller things nature has to offer. Nature comes in all shapes and sizes. The truth is, we all walk past photographic opportunities every day of our lives and never realize it. Why? Because we haven’t trained ourselves to look for the smaller things. As nature photographers, we’re always on the prowl for our next grand landscape. If we took the time to look up, down, and all around, we’d realize there’s five more shots just waiting to be had. This is especially true on your home turf. Conditions may not be right for a grand landscape, but I’ll guarantee you there’s some more intimate shots just waiting to be added to your portfolio if you take the time to look. This shot of a barrel cactus was taken less than 500 feet from the sun star shot at the beginning of this article. Two shots, one location. I’ll take it.
Last of all, return to the same locations under different conditions. Often times we’ll find a composition that we really like, but the conditions just aren’t right to get a great shot. When it’s a location close to home, the cost of returning is next to nil, and you have the latitude to get there quickly if conditions start to set up favorably. When I originally found this composition of a hiking trail outside my hometown, I had nothing but a blue sky to work with. Although I really liked the shot, it just didn’t have the punch I was looking for. A week later, the southwest’s monsoon made one final push into our area, bringing with it my missing ingredient. Clouds. I returned to this location two nights in a row, and on the second I hit pay dirt.
It’s ok to have dreams of getting to the epic locations on your bucket list. But don’t let it get in the way of your passion for photography. Chances are, you’ve never heard of Kingman, Arizona. It’s not on the short list of locations to photograph before you die. It’s not on the longer list either. However, beauty does exist. I’m sure it’s the same in your hometown. So get out, start shooting, and make the best of your “Home Field Advantage”.
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