“I want to get that shot” is something a fellow photographer said to me one night when discussing places we want to visit and photograph. I thought it was interesting statement, especially after they elaborated on what they wanted. I’ve been hearing and seeing this statement quite a bit lately. Some people actually want to set up the shot to match what they’ve seen as closely as possible and some say it but mean it more in the way that they would like to shoot that location – maybe at the same time of day, year, etc. but not necessarily to copy it. After reviewing what I do when I look for places to go shooting and I’m trying to come up with a concept or composition, I realized I do not think in a similar way to that at all. I have never looked at a photograph and said to myself “I want to get ‘that’ shot”.
The idea of just copying or setting up a shot exactly like someone else did is not appealing to me at all. I’m not going to get into a big ethics discussion in this post but if you are interested in some thought provoking articles on ethics, here’s one suggestion to read. When I look at another photographers work, I’m looking for inspiration and maybe ideas for locations. I’ll consider their composition, editing technique, style, etc. but when I get to the location, I’m going to try to see something new. I want to express my style and what I might be feeling through my images.
In the Canadian Rockies we have quite a few very famous and very photographed locations. There’s a reason everyone wants to visit these spots and photograph them – they are exceedingly beautiful and unique in the world. Vermilion Lakes and Moraine Lake are just two examples. But the fact that these places can be crowded or have been overshot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit them or try to get your own photos. You have to see it for yourself! I prefer locations without anyone (or many people) around but I’ve gone to spots to see a sunrise and had to deal with over 20 photographers there. It was still beautiful and I will likely go back sometime to try and get a different shot. There are also a few locations I would like go to that I know could have up to a hundred people there. I’ll have to prepare myself for that and I know that is the situation I’m getting into ahead of time. When you go to a spot that generally has a lot of photographers there, you have to remember what can make that moment unique in that one spot you are standing (hopefully no one gets too awkwardly close and if it’s a small space everyone is polite). The spot you set up in, the angle you chose, focal length, etc. makes the image yours. The conditions of the sky are a lottery but you might get to experience a sky that can be completely different day to day or even minute by minute.
I’m going to use a few images from Moraine Lake to illustrate a few points. Moraine Lake is a go to spot for sunrise, often visited for sunset and lately for night photography. Social media has amplified the exposure these places get and the crowds have increased over the last few years. If you get to Lake Louise too late in the day, you’re going to have issue with parking and crowds.
Case #1: Common Spot = Common Shot
This is basically a shot anyone can get/will get/has taken with some minor differences. I took the photo below just before any color hit the ten peaks. There was very little happening in the sky but the water was completely still and the reflections were wonderful. There’s probably quite a few shots taken during a moment like this and likely from a spot close to where I was standing. I used an HDR technique to blend a series of exposures. I like the image – its clean, the reflections are great, I think it gives a calming feeling, but I wouldn’t say it would stand out hugely against the millions of Moraine Lake photos.
Case #2: Unique Conditions
These are the shots that no one else will have unless they were there the exact same time as you were and basically all the same conditions were met for them to see and capture what you did. I love these moments! It’s almost like a special treat because you didn’t have to work too hard to get something new and different ;).
I have two examples. The first is from my first visit to Moraine Lake and an image I’ve featured in my blogs before. Definitely a “holy s%#& I hope I got that in my exposure” moment. A massive fireball crossed in front of the Milky Way with a smaller one trailing behind it. If you want shots like this, you have to be going out, keeping an eye out and eventually maybe you’ll get lucky.
The second example is from a sunrise shoot where I had no specific plans for a unique shot. We were just stopping by on a drive back to Calgary because it was convenient and the timing worked out for sunrise. I was setting up for a self-portrait (as you do) when two ravens landed on the rock I was going to sit on. I quickly recomposed and shot a few frames before a tourist scared the birds away. So the shooting star across the Milky Way was an example of a lucky moment and the ravens a lucky moment as well but one that required me to be aware and quick thinking and acting.
Case #3: Original Concept
I lied about using Moraine Lake to illustrate all my points. I haven’t actually gone to do a concept shoot or purposefully tried to get a unique angle or something at Moraine (just got my lucky shots!). So here’s one from a barn I visited in the spring. I blended three exposures; one for me in the doorway, one for me in the window and one for light painting the front of the barn.
Case #4: Straight Up Copying
I don’t have an example of this because I have never intentionally gone out to recreate an image or idea. This is where we get into “delicate” territory. If you take someone’s photo and you go to a spot and try to recreate the angle, timing, posing - essentially as much as you can - I would considering that copying and unethical. There’s a big difference between inspiration and copying or coincidence and intention. There is a lot to consider when you see two similar images. You can now find a ton of photos of people standing under some sort of night sky with their headlamp or flashlight pointed up to the sky. I would say something like that falls under the inspiration category. If someone was going out to the same locations, trying to set up the same compositions and poses as another shot they saw, then that’s no longer being inspired, that’s copying.
This is by no means a complete discussion. I’ve only touched on a few points and examples. It’s really up to the photographer as to how creative they want to be (or can be) and how much work they want to put into their images. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with something different and staying ahead of the crowds. I also accept there are locations and situations where I’ll probably get a great shot, but it’s not going to be the most creative or unique shot. At least I’m getting some practice in and enjoying a beautiful landscape. Enjoyment and exploring places I've never been to is a huge part of why I keep at my photography; and I get an outlet for my creative side.