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Photographing Familiar Landscapes In New Ways

I’m sure most landscape photographers would love to regularly shoot the amazing waterfalls and glaciers of Iceland, or the vast mountain ranges of Peru, the rolling green hills of the Palouse region of the northwest United States, or the colorful sunsets of Fiji.

Most of us should only be so lucky. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create compelling images of the less spectacular locations in our local regions. Every location is just another place to be creative and invite those who haven’t been there to a new, unknown place.

Over the last few years, I have visited my local national and state parks dozens of times. It may seem like there’s nothing left to shoot after the first few visits. But, it’s not so much what you shoot, in this case, but when and how you shoot it.

I have a favorite small waterfall that I like to shoot at my closest national park. It’s nothing like the waterfalls in the Shenandoah Mountains a few hours away, or the ones in Washington State, a plane ride away. Let’s face it…it’s tiny, maybe a few feet high. But it is close by. I can be there in half an hour. It’s always different, based on whether a storm recently came through or some fallen trees and branches changed the course of the flowing water. Here are some ways I can create unique, compelling images from such a small landscape.

First, I can use a telephoto lens to zoom in on specific areas of flowing water, creating a more intimate landscape. I can ‘focus’ on the curves of water around specific rocks. Combined with a longer exposure, I can create leading lines with the water flowing over the rocks and into a basin. It’s good to go ahead and grab the wide shots of the entire falls, if it’s an interesting composition, but sometimes there’s just too much going on in the scene and too much clutter.

Second, I can look for different angles. One of my favorite methods is to get as close to the water at the bottom of the falls as possible, creating the idea that I’m in the water looking up at the falls. With waterproof waders, I might even get into the water to shoot. Another angle might be to shoot from the side of the falls and try to include some of the area behind the water.  If possible, I’ll try to shoot from the top of the falls and lead the viewer with the flow of the water.

Third, I make sure to visit at different times of day and throughout the different seasons. Any landscape looks different between sunrise, mid-day, and sunset. The light is always changing and offering different looks. The light from an image I make tomorrow morning will have a different look than if I shoot later in the day. The earlier shoot will probably have a much warmer look than one later in the day. An ice-covered waterfall shot in Winter will obviously have a completely different look than one created in any of the other seasons. The different seasons also add different elements to create unique images, such as patterns in ice formations or the vibrant colors from fallen leaves in Autumn.

So, as much as we all might like to jet off to some exotic locale and photograph a majestic landscape, we can often create some of our favorite images just from the smaller, more intimate areas where we live. Hopefully, these tips will help you see some great photo opportunities around you every day.