Considering the size of our planet (510,072,000 km2 at last count) it's pretty strange that we, as photographers, cram ourselves into such small areas. Across the globe there are honeypot locations that seem to have an irresistible pull on us. Perhaps these areas exhibit extremely high magnetic attraction pulling us and our metal and electronics to them!
Or perhaps some of us (myself very much included!) are just lacking the inspiration or - more likely - the willpower to break free of this invisible force. We get drawn to the same spots over and over hoping the conditions are that much better than the last time we were there.
I have been musing on such 'honeypotting' for some time now. Why do I feel the need to drive an hour or more on a regular basis to visit a location already visited by thousands? Why can't I just take a walk from my back door? What do I hope to achieve that others haven't already and more successfully?
I'm not sure I have the answer. These questions play on my mind often, and I'll share my perhaps paradoxical thoughts here.
We're Pressed For Time
Time is our most precious gift. When it comes to photography most of us get out a lot less often than we'd like and often in conditions that aren't our ideal. I swear I see the most interesting conditions on the train to/from work! And so we value our time out with the camera, it's precious to us and we want the best results.
Given the choice of potentially 'wasting' that time out - wrong place, wrong time - and finding we don't make any photographs we're happy with, or heading to a well known spot with plentiful compositions and the chance of good light, well, it's not surprising most of us choose the latter. We fear we'll wander the countryside aimlessly, desperate to find something while everyone else is at the best spots with the best light. Why oh why did I not just go there? Doubt, second guessing, disappointment.
Going to these honeypot locations is as close to a guarantee as you get in photography. We've seen the location in books and on Flickr, we know great images are possible here. The variables are reduced, it becomes a matter of getting good light and executing the technical practices well. Our responsibility and set of concerns is smaller.
To be honest I don't think any of us should feel bad for that. For probably the vast majority of photographers going out and making a "good" picture is the only goal. Maybe going to such locations is the best way of doing that with the time we have.
The world is just so big. It's overwhelming. If everything is a possibility then how do you choose the right thing?
Constraints are a good thing, it narrows options. I think this plays a role in location selection. If we're going to filter the entire world down to somewhere to take pictures on a Saturday morning then I think it's fairly natural to see what's worked and use that as guidance.
We're not the first photographers, or artists or even people to walk the land. "We stand on the shoulders of giants" and if over our existence we've filtered it down to good places and not so good places, why should we repeat the same mistakes? The human mind is a remarkable pattern matching machine and if we recognise something that works then attempting to repeat it is I think also fairly natural.
I guess I'm skirting around a key point here, which is that of intention which I need to talk about before going on to my latest thinking on this subject.
We all see the world through our own eyes and as objective as we might try to be, we are always imagining someone else's position yet with our own back story and motivations. Not everyone picks up a camera for the same reasons that we do, they have their own intention.
In our eyes they may use that camera to produce sun drenched images of cliché locations or to create arty farty nonsense. Yet they may be completely comfortable with what they're doing and happy to do it. If somebody wants to spend what time they have with a camera taking photos at honeypot locations then they should - and I have - go and do it. "Live and let live", I say.
Be True to Yourself
From my own perspective, recently I've been feeling a growing need to move beyond making more classical pictures of well visited locations. Not that I think I mastered that art, indeed a part of me wonders if I'm running away as it's easier than doing so. Personally I hope that this is a sign of growing maturity in my own approach and a desire to produce something more "me".
My interpretation is to listen to your emotional and sensory reaction to the world around you, and use that to guide your work. In some ways trying to avoid preconceptions or being overly influenced, but using more of a sense of intuition, where you find yourself slipping into a certain "zone" where things happen instinctively and subconsciously. It's difficult to put into words. I guess it's about seeing for yourself, reacting to it, and knowing that it's right, that you are moved by it.
By contrast my interpretation of being "untrue to myself" is motivated by an intention to mimic others' images, being so heavily influenced by other images that it's difficult for "you" to shine through, making an image for plaudits and faves on Flickr, etc. To differing degrees these represent only a fraction of us with the input and reaction of others completing the whole. So "being true" seems to me to be about tuning out the influence of others for a while and listening to your own instincts and reactions.
Coming back to my original point, I'm trying to listen to myself and find things that interest me more, and do more exploring to find things that interest me. That means I'm trying to walk away from the honeypot locations and find interest in other areas, or looking at things from a different perspective. This means relying a lot more on my luck and my intuition than it does on research of well known locations. This means getting it wrong a lot in the hope that I'll get it right sometimes!
Yet I had come through a fantastic bank of fog before arriving at the car park and it was sitting in the valley behind me.
"Be brave" I said to myself as I started trudging in the opposite direction, towards the fog. Above it sat that fantastic purpley twilight colour that I adore.
Though I stopped for this I cursed myself for not being better prepared, for not being in the right position, for taking a gamble when I'm sure some great images were to be had up on Mam Tor.
I didn't quite get what I was looking for but upon returning to the car and chasing the fog bank further along the road I got two of my favourite shots of the year (top and bottom of this post). Perhaps if I had been up Mam Tor I would have come back down and come to this fog bank anyway, but I like to think this was karma in some way and payment for my decision.
I consider the "true to myself" point again. Are they "me"? I'm not sure. I was certainly having a heart attack from the excitement of the conditions! Is that listening to myself? I think so, and I think "Enveloped" is one of my most evocative images to date, something I consciously hope to capture in my work.
I've often thought the phrase "adventure photography" sounded a bit daring, perhaps involving extreme sport, climbing mountains and the like. And yet I wonder if it's more of an adventure of oneself and what interests you. I think the real adventure is from taking the alternate path or better yet the path not yet trod and finding something that interests and moves you. Perhaps the adventure is more psychological than it is physical, and that is being true to ourselves.