Old Familiar Places

By Roger (6 April 2015)

I love to travel with my camera. If you're looking for someone to travel far and often, I'll volunteer. I've been lucky enough to move from city to city around the US and to several in other countries. I really love to visit historic locations and lived, for six years, in a city that was more than 2,000 years old. It is such a thrill to see new places; have unique experiences; and meet new people. You want to put all of it into your camera.

Narrow streets of a medieval town, Poznan, Poland

Narrow streets of a medieval town, Poznan, Poland

At the same time, don't forgo frequent visits to a nearby location. There are many advantages to photographing in an area you are familiar with.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

For me, a good example is Williamsburg, Virginia. It's just a couple of hours from where we live now, and we used to live even closer. Both of my daughters graduated from the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg. Mark and I led the Worldwide Photowalk there for three years. I've walked the streets of Williamsburg many, many times. I know I will be back there, again.

If you've never been there, you might be overwhelmed by the whole spectacle. The walk around it is about 2 miles, and some of the best attractions for photographers are not obvious. The weather may not be favorable to make the photographs you hoped for. You probably don't have time to investigate all the locations and displays. There is never enough time.

Because of my familiarity with the town, I have favorite spots: locations where something is always going on; locations that have great photo subjects and backgrounds; locations to watch and photograph people.

I didn't see this shot the first time I visited.

I didn't see this shot the first time I visited.

The first time you visit a new location, you feel compelled to bring all your gear, so you're ready for everything. (Or is that just me?) Carrying a heavy load of gear will slow you down and give you back problems. These distractions can impact your ability to get the shot you want. For places I visit frequently, I know which lenses worked best and which ones to leave at home. The whole experience is different when you know you can re-visit a location. I don't feel bad if I can't get the shot I planned – I'll just put that on my list for the next visit.

Also, if you pay attention during your post-processing, you'll notice things that can help you on your next visit. We have a somewhat famous cherry blossom festival, here in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Mark and I have been to it a few times. Most people cram around the far side of the Reflecting Pool, wherever they can find a space, and point their cameras at the Jefferson Memorial. The sun rises behind the memorial, so it's a pretty shot.

The Jefferson Memorial, with a crescent moon

The Jefferson Memorial, with a crescent moon

I've post-processed many photos from here and have had time to reflect on what I should have done better. Our photo group is headed there in a couple of weeks, so I went out, this past weekend, to verify a certain spot that gives me an angle most will miss. I took several reference shots, zoomed in, with just the memorial. No one else was there because the blossoms are still buds. The blossoms are later than usual due to our cold winter. Can you see the detail I wanted in the photo below?

I hope those clouds are there in two weeks.

I hope those clouds are there in two weeks.

When you arrive at the proper time for this shot, it is still dark. Which makes sense, right? You can't catch the sunrise behind the memorial if arrive when it's light out. You can't see into the rotunda that early. I want to be able to see old TJ between the columns, with the sunrise as a backlight. Because I've been there several times, I know this location. New photographers won't even know to look for it. This is another advantage to going back to a location several times. I found this view when I was post-processing the 2013 photo. That time, I just got lucky in my choice of location. Luck is not something you should plan on when making photographs.

100% zoom

100% zoom

So, don't be afraid to go back to a location more than once. The more familiar places offer opportunities to improve on your skills; allow you to be more relaxed; and give you time. Time to thoroughly think through and make the photo you want – although, my offer to travel some place new still stands. Have fun.