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I hear much maligning these days about photography hot spots. You know them, they are the places photographers seem to flock to Mesa Arch, Tunnel View, Horseshoe Bend, Kjeragbolten (that rock wedged between two other rocks in Norway), etc… The list goes on an on and they tend to be natural wonders. Although, cityscapes are certainly included (e.g. New York’s Manhattanhenge).
But do those photography hot spots deserve their increasingly bad reputation? I asked some fellow photographers to give their perspective on the love and hate of shooting at photographic hot spots.
Let’s face it; these places are popular for a reason. They are gorgeous! Maybe not when there is a crowd (even the Mona Lisa is hard to enjoy from four rows back in a packed crowd), but there is a reason these locations draw people, with or without cameras.
For instance, we see a picture of symmetry and grandeur of the Taj Mahal and we are drawn in.
And all those photography hot spots in National Parks around the world? Those parks were set up to protect and preserve the often astonishing and sublime beauty we humans are lucky enough to share with this world.
The hard part of photography can be finding subjects. For outdoor and landscape photographers, in particular, more effort is put into researching, getting to and finding the right location than actually shooting.
Hot spots make the learning more readily accessible when the pain is taken out of the hunting process. These days almost any hotspot can be found online with direction or precise coordinates on a map. It is a chance to get out and shoot more and an opportunity to learn from other photographers at the hot spot.
Photographer Eileen Descallar Ringwald explains what she enjoys about the social aspect of hot spots.
“While I value getting away from crowds, I do see advantages to be had when in groups. Once in Yosemite on a climbing-focused trip, a photographer I met by chance in the El Cap picnic area told me the elusive moonbow conditions were going to occur that night. I went out at night to the Lower Yosemite Falls Bridge and was at first shocked to see just how many photographers and even non-photographers were there. However, everyone was very polite. People made way for tripods and shared long exposure settings throughout the night. One photographer even shared where he normally went to shoot the Upper Falls. I had a fun time and got some decent shots as well. This was an experience I would have missed if I hadn’t decided to ‘follow the crowd’.“
When you get in with the right group, the benefits can multiply. It can lead you in directions you would not have discovered on your own.
Landscape photographer and instructor Gary Crabbe spends a lot of his time outdoors with this camera. He has used photography hot spots as a means to an end.
“The lure of great iconic photo locations should not be ignored or dismissed on the pathway to developing our own personal vision. I always recommend that once you’ve nailed a certain shot, dare to explore further afield or venture off the regularly traveled path. This will allow you to seek out more unique or personal compositions. Regardless of what primary area my travels take me, I always like to find one or two nearby lesser-known locations that fuel a bit more of the journey with an eye toward photographic discovery and adventure.“
I shot Mesa Arch at sunrise (pictured above) because it makes for a beautiful image. I visited the park with my friend Michael Riffle. As we were spending three days in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, he suggested a location nearby that I hadn’t previously explored.
It was Dead Horse Point State Park and at sunrise in October, it looked like this:
While Mesa Arch and the ‘Big 5’ National Parks of Utah are a big draw, there are so many other unique and interesting sites to explore. While I wouldn’t have planned a trip to Dead Horse Point if I were alone, it, and many other sites, are valuable add-ons made possible by first hitting the Gateway Hot Spots.
Sure, you’ve seen the photos and you might have even been to that photography hot spot. But times and weather change. Different light means a different mode. Fewer people, more people. A chance encounter with wildlife.
It all makes hot spots different for everyone on each occasion. They are an easy way to grow as a photographer because they teach us not to be complacent and accept that, “Well, I shot that already. It never changes.”
For instance, another day at the Taj Mahal can bring a new feeling. Maybe the shot works better with people? Maybe the light isn’t as crisp? Take the opportunity to learn from them.
“Crowds at locations can provide challenges for photographers. Especially iconic travel locations can be very crowded making clean compositions tough, making it hard to find spots to shoot. It’s also hard to try and capture more authentic, idyllic scenes. It’s great that so many people are traveling, but this provides photographers with new challenges in composing our shots and even in competing with other photographers for the coveted angles. I think these challenges can push us to be creative. They are opportunities to find new angles at favorite sites, wake up early to beat the crowds and to even discover more off the beaten path locations to shoot.“
“I have to wonder if the photographers who yell and scream, push people out of the way, damage plant life and infrastructure, or otherwise act to disrupt others, have any understanding as to why a great view at an iconic location is special? Even when the light isn’t great or there are too many tourists on the trail in front of their camera; do they feel anything? A photographer who acts out because something went wrong while hunting for a preconceived trophy is at best missing the gift of visiting these places. At worst, ruining the visit for everyone else who does.“
Pam Boling, a talented, multi-faceted photographer from Las Vegas, sees a lack of effort and originality as a common outcome.
“I am most inspired when I am shooting portraits or landscapes. My most lucrative client, however, is the commercial client. Commercial content rarely inspires me. Getting the exposure right in commercial environments can sometimes be the most challenging: I am often faced with window light, fluorescent lights, OCF, harsh backlight, and sometimes reflective surfaces. I think the photographic process – whatever the subject – eventually becomes the driving force once the toolbox is worn around the edges. Some photographers don’t go beyond the normal tools and the results are uninspired.“
Freelance writer and photographer Peter Tellone put it most succinctly when it comes to copying others.
“Copying greatness does not make you a Chef, it makes you a Cook. The entire point in this madness that is art is to be the Chef.“
If you don’t expand your vision, if you don’t break out of the mold of others, you are nothing more than a fancy copy machine.
These hot spots make it easy to take a great photo because the scene, in and of itself, is already amazing. You just need some decent light to get a decent photo. To be great you need to build, expand and reinterpret what others have done, and what the scene gives you.
I have tried presenting both sides to the controversy of iconic photography hot spots. Honestly, I can see both sides of the story. Some positive aspects and some negative.
What do you think? Do you love or hate photography hot spots?
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