In between our visits to the Pacific Northwest Claudia and I spent a little time in the Eastern Sierra, and close to home in Yosemite. Last year I was in New Zealand in October, and I missed our local autumn, so it was nice to catch a bit of autumn glow in some of our favorite places.
When photographing familiar locations it’s easy to get jaded and think, “I’ve done all this before.” But actually you haven’t. No place is ever exactly the same, because things are always changing. And you’ve changed too; you’re not the same person, or the same photographer, as the last time you were there.
When I go back to a familiar spot, I often ask myself what’s changed – what’s different about the conditions that might create new opportunities. What’s happening now that’s interesting or unusual? It could be the light, the weather, fall color, flowers, water levels, beavers flooding a grove of aspens, a riverbank eroding… nothing ever stays the same.
But I might also just try to look more deeply. I’ll wander around, notice what catches my attention, and see where that leads me. I’ll often find something that I’d previously overlooked. Maybe I overlooked it because I wasn’t there at the same time of day, or with the same conditions. Or maybe I overlooked it because I was focused on something else, or was in a different mood, or hadn’t grown enough as a photographer to recognize its potential. Regardless of the reason, when I’m open to seeing new things I usually find them.
I made the photograph above while exploring a creek I’d visited many times before in autumn. I felt I knew every nook and cranny. But somehow I’d never noticed this eddy with swirling leaves. Maybe I’d never been there before at the right time, or maybe the course of the creek changed, or maybe the water level was different. No matter: I saw the swirl on this day, and recognized its potential. I’m a sucker for swirling leaves or foam.
My first composition wasn’t very interesting, so I kept looking and found this angle, pointing downstream, with a sunlit rock outcrop reflecting in the water. It took a bit of experimentation to dial in the shutter speed; eventually I settled on six seconds. And the swirls were constantly changing, so it took many exposures to get a good one. I didn’t fire away aimlessly; I only clicked the shutter when the leaves seemed to be swirling distinctly, in the right place. Yet I still ended up making 58 exposures of this scene, and picking this one frame.
The first photograph below is from a small pond, surrounded by wild blueberries, that I’d photographed many times before in autumn. But I just wandered along the shore, seeing what I could see, eventually making a complete circuit around the pond. At one point I noticed this view, with blueberry bushes, reeds, and reflections of blue sky, trees, and clouds. Maybe I never noticed this view because I’d never been to this spot at the right time of day before. Certainly the clouds reflected in the water weren’t usually there. Maybe the vegetation along shore had changed; it’s always in flux. Or maybe I was just seeing things differently that day.
Going back to a familiar location might not seem very inspiring. But you can look at it as an opportunity to dig a little deeper, and find something you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe you’ll inspire yourself by finding new levels of vision and creativity.
— Michael Frye
P.S. By the way, the blueberries in the photograph below were starting to dry out, but still delicious.
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.