One of the things that I’ve noticed about photographers is that many of them have a rather disturbing tendency to become bored with subject matter that they’ve seen before. Nature photographers are probably the biggest offenders in this regard, and within this grouping the sub-category of landscape photographers are the worst. (Full disclosure—I consider myself a landscape photographer.) “Done to death” is the cynical—if popular—phrase. It’s so hackneyed, it has its own acronym: DTD.
If I ever start acting this way myself—taking sublime natural scenes for granted simply because I’ve photographed them before (or, even worse, because I’ve seen a lot of others’ photographs), I hope someone will slap me silly.
During the first morning of my recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was up on the Foothills Parkway, just a few miles from the park’s northeast entrance in Tennessee, to photograph sunrise. The image immediately below was shot on that morning. There were a couple of other photographers, who were clearly shooting together, at the same overlook that morning, about 50 feet from my position. Shortly after the sun came up, as the two of them were packing up their belongings, I heard one say to the other: “Well, that was a shrug,” in reference to the sunrise. My jaw just about hit the ground. If that was a shrug of a sunrise, I’d like to spend every morning shrugging to the point that my shoulders hurt.
Later on the same trip, one morning at Cades Cove, I ran into another photographer. We spent a few minutes talking and he told me that he’d just arrived at the park. At that point, I’d been on location for about a week, and he asked me for some suggestions about places to shoot. I suggested several of the many beautiful rivers and creeks and a sour look came over his face. “I’m sick to death of streams and creeks,” he told me. (I wasn’t sure how that was possible if he’d just arrived, but never mind that.) “I don’t care if I ever see another creek. This place is just lousy with them.” In the early evening of that same day, I was in the Elkmont section of the park, shooting along the Little River Trail and obtained the shot you see below. Just another ho hum day shooting another one of the countless, boring streams in the Smokies.
Then there was the gentleman I stumbled across on my first day in the park—apparently it was his last. He told me that he’d been shooting wildflowers for several days and that if he “never saw another wildflower it would be too soon.” I’m pretty sure he missed the below scene, which I photographed the next day.
I understand the tendency to become somewhat jaded with subject matter after photographing it for days on end, but there’s a stark difference between the familiar and the prosaic, something that seems lost on many photographers.
I found myself cheek to jowl—a situation I heartily dislike—with a bevy of photographers (all part of a large workshop) one evening at Clingman’s Dome as I waited for the sun to set. While I don’t like being hemmed in, I was pleased to be in the company of a bunch of people who decidedly did not take the scene for granted. That much was clear by the cries of delight that went up from the assembled masses as the sun slowly disappeared behind a distant ridgeline.
Perhaps there’s hope for landscape photographers after all.
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.