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As landscape photographers, many of us started out by shooting the iconic landscape photography locations. Perhaps some get bored with these locations, or perhaps they were never interested in them at all. In this article I discuss the benefits of photographing familiar and unfamiliar locations as well as some of the potential downfalls.
Let’s start with the familiar locations. These are locations that may be dubbed as “iconic” in the photo world. Some of them may just be familiar to those local to the area. I call these locally familiar locations. There is a benefit to shooting these familiar locations. Many times, these locations that require very brief hikes, such as scenic overlooks. If you enjoy tapping on that snooze button on the alarm numerous times, these can be great alternative locations to get a shot. If you have been there before, then you already know where you are going and what type of image you might be after.
Here is a photo of wildflowers beneath the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. This is a good example of a local iconic landscape photography location. For those around Arizona, this is a popular scene and location. For many others who have never been in this region, this would be more unfamiliar.
There are also places that I consider global iconic landscape photography locations. A place like Horseshoe Bend comes to mind. For one, it is an incredibly scenic view of the Colorado River. It is a relatively easy location to make a beautiful image and requires just a short, easy hike from the parking lot. If you are in the area and looking for a sunrise or sunset location in a pinch, it works perfectly. It is also an easily recognizable location that many tourists and print collectors from around the world want to hang on their walls.
As someone who specializes in fine art prints, I find that clients purchase familiar images more so then locations they don’t know. If photography is your business, this is one of the many benefits of shooting familiar locations.
In addition to prints, aspiring photographers may take workshops to these rather familiar locations. Perhaps there is just pure enjoyment in photographing a familiar location. It can be more comfortable for some photographers to be in this environment compared to a new unfamiliar place.
Now, it’s important to realize that these familiar iconic landscape photography locations can come at a price. The more familiar the location, the greater the possibility of more crowds. If you are not a fan of crowds, or hoping to have a location all to yourself, then you may need to expand your explorations to lesser known areas. Because these locations can be popular amongst other landscape photographers, I often suggest pushing yourself to create a unique image from these places, if possible.
Let’s face it, familiar landscape photography locations can get boring and predictable. They can even be difficult to create new compelling imagery. However, I certainly would not pass up the opportunity should one arise. Familiar locations can be a great place to learn your camera at ease. There may not be as much pressure to create an image that is unique since a return might be easier.
Now, if you are a more adventurous landscape photographer then you will likely find yourself exploring the unknown landscapes. I am going to break this down into two separate categories like before. Globally unknown and locally unknown.
Let’s start with locally unknown. In places where there are vast wilderness areas it is easy to venture into a location you may have never seen before. This location also might be incredibly close to home. I live right up against the Superstition Wilderness boundary in Arizona. While I have explored many of the trails and backcountry areas in this region, there is still plenty of unknown landscape to me. However, I have explored and photographed areas that even locals don’t recognize.
For example this particular location required getting off the main road and hiking up a hill to see this view. Although there were signs of previous travel to this location, it was new to me and I have passed it numerous times over the years.
Now let’s talk about globally unknown locations. These are typically locations well off the beaten path were few have ventured before. Often times these are the locations that help sell workshops as many want to create new and unique images for themselves. There are a number of landscape photographers who lead workshops that are specifically based on these locations. It is definitely intriguing exploring the unknown as the creative and adventurous side of us comes out.
Does shooting these unknown locations only benefit photo workshops? Absolutely not. While familiar locations still tend to sell better for fine art prints, I have found I still get a decent amount of orders for prints of unfamiliar locations. Some people just want more unique artwork for their walls rather than what they may see over and over again in a gallery.
When it comes to personal preference though, it seems most landscape photographers want to venture into the unknown. There is certainly a drive to explore and create more when we don’t know what to expect. Do we create our best works in these places? It is difficult to know for sure, but there is definitely more enjoyment.
I am a professional photographer based out of the Sonoran desert of Arizona. I've been fortunate to explore and wander the southwest for the majority of my life. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as a child, I wasn't quite familiar with the outdoors or nature for that matter. Aside from flipping through Nat Geo magazines during class, I wasn't sure if any of this stuff actually existed. After moving across the country to the desert I soon found myself exploring the desert landscape. I became fascinated by the flora and fauna as well as seeing the rugged mountains for the first time. Soon enough, I picked up a camera and began to document my explorations. I began to look at the scenery in a different way, studying how the light and weather worked with the landscape. It became more and more enjoyable for me, and one day someone asked to purchase a print. As they say, the rest is history right? I've been fortunate to have my work printed in such publications as Arizona Highways Magazine and Digital Photo Mag UK as well as many online publications.