Saturday, April 10, 2010

Getting unfamiliar with a location


I had this idea for working locations, and how to break from past routines.

In general we as humans try to do things in the fewest steps, with the least effort, while maximizing results. Sweeping statement, but I find it to be true related to some of the aspects of my approach to wildlife photography.

fewest steps
I go to place that have worked, and when I try new places if it doesn't work I put more effort in to the places that have worked. For the sake of observation, we all take in the smallest amount of visual queues to refresh our image of a place or scene - most of it is actually perceived from memory! That's why you might have never noticed a new store on a well traveled path, or something similar. And why it doesn't take all day to drive to work, because the path is known, and it is why driving somewhere the first time seem laborious, and 'risky' or 'uncharted', and well, requires more effort.

That last part also relates to how we will commonly take time to look where someone else is actively looking. Why waste time finding something or just trying to find something, when it is possible someone else has already found an interesting item... When I'm out shooting I now actively take in to account that people might stop and see me and change my encounter.

I also actively try to not just roll up on someone and influence their encounter if possible. A week or two ago I was at blackwater refuge and drove past someone I knew and another person too, just to let them have a peaceful solo sunrise, while I moved on to find my own spot. That worked out great because I found this heron and watched him hunt for 20 minutes straight, and we both had a good time ;)

Great Blue Heron

least effort
The downside to using the least effort is that major areas go completely unexplored, and routines lead to (in my opinion) lesser results. One example would be wear patterns on a carpet in (say) my apartment. The carpet a foot to the right or left is just as walkable and usable but habits form and areas go under used and other get overused. Least effort causes wear to form in the direct paths from one spot to another.

For wildlife photography, to bring those points back to being meaningful to my blog and this post, it is easy to form habits and wear patterns and wind up missing possibly huge areas worthy of exploring.

At blackwater refuge I realized that there are a few trails that I have in one case NEVER walked, and in another case only ever walked for 5 minutes on one occasion. Chances are if I explored those areas I'd find owls, foxes, song/small birds, delmarva fox squirrels, and who knows what else. But I've not put the effort in and they are like the unworn sections of carpet in my apt.

One of my newer goals is to not just go where other folks are going, and seeing what is mostly plainly findable, but to search more and see what hides around the corner from the easy to find.

Bald Eagle Fishing @ Blackwater RefugeEagle Portrait

At blackwater this winter I tried a spot I've driven past many times, and setup one a couple occasions and got this eagle fishing shot and also one of an eagle perched close by. It was very easy to drive on by, and hard(er) to stop and risk it, but it paid off - I didn't have anything quite like these - encounter or image wise from blackwater...

I can think of a couple of trails at Bombay Hook refuge that I've also either never hiked or never given more than a brief survey.

In summary, while I think it is very good to get to know a location, and form habits that lead to success, the opposite is also true. Treating a location like it is brand new and giving time to each spot or area in search of something is worth pursuing too. Using this approach can add new life to a spot that seems well known and lacking *new*.

p.s. for reference I've been to blackwater around idk 50 times in 4 years, and bombay hook 25 times in 3 years...

-50- / Jon