Seeing Something Familiar for the First Time


To me, one of the great rewards of photography is experiencing a place for the first time. I love the exhilaration of seeing a new mountain range, or a new tree, or a new waterfall. People remind me all time how lucky I am to be able to experience such cool places for the first time. And they are right!

One of the challenges of photography is the exact opposite situation: seeing a familiar location as if it were new. Think about it, you’ve been someplace over and over again…how do you encourage yourself to experience that place as if it were new? Now, put a camera in your hand and force yourself to create an image that is a different perspective of a familiar location. It isn’t easy sometimes!

I had this situation last weekend during the Spring Tremont Workshop. I was with a small group of attendees along the trail that tracks the Middle Prong of the Little River up the mountainside. If you are familiar with this trail, you know that the lovely Lynn Camp Prong Cascade is about half a mile up the trail on your left. You can’t miss this gem, which results from the perfect combination of rocks, water, trees, and gravity. As you walk along the trail, there is a small bench and you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about. The bench provides a perfect vantage point for the cascade, framing the scene with trees on each side and an opening for the cascade in just the right place. It is as if a photographer planted the trees. This scene is so wonderful that I consider Lynn Camp Prong Cascade to be one of two iconic locations in the Tremont area. It is a must shoot scene!

The trouble for me is that I’ve been to this location so many times. Between hiking the trail just for the sake of hiking, and photographing extensively in this area, I estimate that I’ve seen Lynn Camp Prong Cascade close to 200 times over the last 25 years. Consequently, I habitually see the cascade in the same composition: vertical camera orientation with the cascade perfectly centered between the trees. Just be careful to avoid too much overlap in the trees and don’t overexpose the white water, and you have an awesome shot.

For the workshop last weekend, however, I told myself that I was going to find a new perspective on this familiar cascade. I challenged myself to see it as if it were the first time. I even mentioned this to some of the attendees at the location. So, after we shot the “classic” view, I moved around and found a spot to the right where a gap among the trees created a window for the cascade. I turned my camera to the landscape orientation and placed the cascade on the far left side of the frame. I visualized that the bright, young spring leaves on the right side of the frame would balance out the cascade. When I first saw the resulting image on my computer, I realized that some dodging (brightening) was required to make that happen. Then, voila!, the resulting image that you see here.

I love this perspective. If photography is not an obsession for you, you might say, so what? Just move a little to one side. No big deal. I agree with you. It is easy to say that, but the challenge is to make it happen in a real situation. It was especially exciting to me at that moment because I was able to demonstrate to the attendees that it is important to work a scene, even if you already know it well. There is nothing like seeing a familiar place as if it were new!!

Now, my challenge to you is to look at a familiar place in your life as if it is new. Study it and I know you’ll see what I mean. Have fun with it!

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