April 2, 2020

To Create Great Images You Must Go to Great Locations…

Tongariki, Easter Island


Perhaps you’ve noticed that for the past several years, most of my best images were created in exotic and far away places such as Easter Island, Ukraine, Newfoundland, Hawaii, Alaska, Poland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
You see the same coming from other photographers: exotic images coming from exotic lands. The conclusion is obvious:
To create great images you must go to great locations!
But that’s a lie.
The real truth is this: great images are created anywhere you can see them. Even at home, your back yard or hometown.
To illustrate this proposition I gathered together some of the images that I had created within 15 minutes of my home:
An abstract created on the Poudre River, minutes from my home.
Seen along I25 in Ft Collins, CO
Almost home when I saw this storm cloud
I’m driving with my daughter and son in the back seat, when I noticed her enjoying the warm summer day with the window open and her eyes closed.
In my backyard.
From my “Ceiling Lamp” series, this lamp is at the Mourning Dove Ranch, which is my home.
Looking for Grain Silos when I found these chairs.
Found while working on the Grain Silos series.
This is an old set of silos located right in town. 
The Poudre River, near my home.
Two small cherry trees in my backyard.
A autumn day at at tree farm.
I found this sunflower on the ground alongside a field of sunflowers.
This is Ingrid. These are cows. 
Ingrid wanted a “unique” photo for her yearbook.
I photographed this storm system just a mile from home.
I was driving in a snowstorm when I saw this Cottonwood. I love cottonwoods and fortunately I always have my camera with me.
I found this in an old and somewhat dangerous trailer park along the river.
It was raining and so I grabbed some leaves and nuts from outside, and photographed this on the kitchen table with a bare bulb.
A local cow.
Wandering about when I saw these tracks.
With one dahlia, I created a small series of images.
This is the dahlia, I found it discarded and on the ground at a local nursery.
At this greenhouse, was a tool room, but I couldn’t find any lights. So a penlight and a long exposure were used to create this image.
A pressed dandelion from years earlier, photographed in my office.
This old 34 Chrysler was found down the road in my neighbor’s yard.
This old bicycle was also found in my friend Frank’s yard.
A “Frozen Pond” near my home.
My cat Wiggles was sitting on my office chair, in this image she is yawning, but I didn’t think that the title “Wiggles Yawning” sounded very good. Instead this was named “Wiggles Roaring.”
This “Skeleton” was found as is along the Poudre River.
I was pumping gas at the Forks when I saw this “Packard” behind the gas station.
A long exposure water abstract created at a spillway on the Poudre River.
I found this detail in old abandoned home. 
A melted shower enclosure in an old burned out home.
A few years back almost all of my work was created locally, but then I started to travel. Photographing in exotic locations was exciting and easy, but it made me a lazy photographer.
When you go to a place like Easter Island, you cannot NOT come away with a great image, they almost fall into your lap! The same is true in the Faroe Islands, everywhere you point the camera is a great shot.
Travel photography is easy because I’ve chosen a location that I find particularly interesting. It’s easy because I can leave all my cares at home and focus 24/7 on just one thing: creating. It’s also easier because I come to each new location with “fresh eyes.”
Shooting at home is much more challenging. At home I’ve got a million things on my mind and a million things to do, that’s two million distractions! And this makes it hard to photograph because almost anything, no matter how small, seems to take priority.
I also find it difficult to get into a creative groove when I’m creating in bits and spurts. One minute I’m a house-husband, the next a photographer, then a grandpa and then a photographer, then a rancher and again a photographer…I find it hard to switch in and out of creative mode.
But the virus is here, most of us are restricted in our travels and photographing at home is the new reality. And instead of seeing this as a negative restriction, I see it as the silver lining of an otherwise dark cloud.
I believe the real test of creating isn’t cherry-picking great images from great locations, but rather to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. To be able to find something remarkable in my everyday surroundings.
Edward Weston, who is my photo-spiritual guide, was confined to a chair in later life with with Parkinson’s when he said:
So I look at the coronavirus home confinement not as a curse, but a blessing. Travel photography is fun and it’s helped me create some great images, but it’s made me lazy. I’m now being challenged to really see again.
So here’s how I plan to approach this challenge:
First, I’ll set aside time to go out and shoot every day. For me, the more I shoot, the more I see. My biggest challenge will be to not let the little things distract me from getting out.
Second, I must learn to see past the mundane. When you’ve lived at one location for years, it becomes ordinary to the eye. And so here’s a little game I play when I’m in a location where I cannot see: I pretend that I’ve created a time machine and have brought back all of the great masters of photography: Adams, Weston, Strand, Caponigro, Bourke-White, Lang, Bullock and others. I ask myself if they were turned loose on this location, could they find a great image?
And of course I know the answer before I ask it: Yes.
And once I’ve decided that a great shot must be there, I look for it.
Third, when I’m juggling a lot of balls at home, I go into hyper mode, which is great for getting things done but exactly the opposite of what’s needed to be creative.
So what I have to do is slow down…I need to slow my heart rate and my thinking. I need to empty my mind and just see and feel.
I do this by stopping, sitting and looking. This helps take some of the “hyper” out of me and allows me to connect with my surroundings.
I don’t know how long this virus is going to restrict travel, but I’m hoping to use the time to develop some new creative habits and to train my eye to once again see wherever I’m at.
Dark clouds always have silver linings, if you look for them.

2 thoughts on “To Create Great Images You Must Go to Great Locations…

  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Cole. Because of them, I just had an idea that I can begin working on today in my backyard, involving 100 fluorescent orange yard marking flags I had to buy to get the 10 I actually needed. No telling what I’ll do with them tho…but if it turns into something exciting, I’ll blame you and the ‘Rona.

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