These were the words I would never forget. It was one of those photography meetups where people show (brag) their good shots. There was this particular star trails shot along a railway that really grabbed my interest. I kindly asked the photographer where it was. His reply was a very cold “I’m not telling. Go find your own spot.” I was only a beginner back then; barely two months of doing serious photography. There was no way I could have done a better shot than this very experienced guy. I learned my lesson very early. I swore I would never do the same thing to other togs.
Why are some photographers very protective of their new-found locations? I never really bothered asking them. I just think they are insecure.
Let’s suppose that every photographer would share every good spot. Does that mean every shot would look the same? Far from it! The location is only one part of the equation. A photographer has to SEE. Even if a photographer copies the shot of another photographer there are still way too many factors that would affect the image. That’s why we never trust the weatherman because there is no way we can predict what it’s gonna be like when we arrived at our destination.
Here’s my shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
I bet you a thousand bucks that you won’t find a shot that looks like it. Compare it with Ken Duncan’s shot from the same location:
His obviously looks way better than mine. He captured the same scene when the sky showed a magnificent array of colours. My shot had a different stormy mood.
It’s not just the weather. Choice of equipment matters a lot as well. Ken Duncan most likely used a 6×17 panoramic camera loaded with Velvia 50 film and a 90mm lens. I, on the other hand, used my cheap Olympus E-P1 and equally cheap and mediocre 17mm/2.8 lens. I just stitched multiple shots to arrive at my panoramic image. That’s why my shot looks wider. Our exposures would have been very different as well. Ken would have set his to about f64 which means that at ISO 50 the exposure time would be long enough to smoothen the water and produced some cloud movement. I can’t stop down my lens smaller than f8 without significantly sacrificing image quality due to diffraction. The E-P1’s native ISO of 200 would have also made my exposure time a lot quicker than his. Of course, if you are really anal, you can check the EXIF data of a shot you like and bring exactly the same set of equipment and use the same settings. But then what does that make you?
As you can see, it’s not just the location. How you react to the situation when you get there matters too. I have my own favourite locations but because of the ever-changing weather patterns, my photos look different because of how I approach the same subject. Sometimes the tide isn’t low enough that I would get rock pools. There are times when they are so low that I would get sand ripples. If the tide is high then I can do long exposure techniques to get some movement in the water. Of course there are those times when non-photographers are there and they become part of the shot.
(These two shots were about three years apart.)
And then there’s imagination. A photographer does not have to show what’s real. Reality, most of the time, is just plain boring. What was shot and the final image could be very different from each other.
It’s not just about the shot. Sharing locations is also a very good learning process. If another photographer manages to produce a better shot than I did then that image becomes a learning tool for me. Why did I not see that angle?! That’s a clever perspective! I didn’t think it would look good in monochrome as well. That same spot actually looks better during sunset! And so on… If the other photographer’s shot looks completely uninspired then I didn’t really lose anything, right?
On a slightly different experience, I remember being at Luna Park in Sydney while I was just there strolling with my point-and-shoot camera. I haven’t even started doing real photography back then. I saw this puddle of water where there was a very nice reflection of Luna Park. That was a very memorable moment for me because a “pro” blatantly copied what I was doing. Years after, I managed to sell a few copies of that image. Not sure where the pro went with his. You can read about that experience here.
Don’t be afraid to share your favourite locations with other photographers. In fact, you might want to invite them to shoot with you next time you visit those spots. It’s all about your own vision and that’s something that nobody else can duplicate.
Happy shooting (and sharing)!