Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost
The Iconic versus Unknown Locations – Which Road To Take
Choosing whether to photograph known or unknown locations – the decision is always a challenge for me when I am choosing landscape photography locations. National Parks have iconic locations that are hard to pass up.
Outside of the National Parks, there are well-known landscapes that can be equally hard to ignore….. which leads me to this thought – do I travel to the most popular locations, or should I choose (literally) the road less taken when looking for landscape photo locations?
Let’s look at iconic landscapes first. The National Parks and iconic landscapes are popular to photograph and they are also popular with buyers of landscape photography. My goal with any of these locations is to photograph them under the best conditions so I can create a fine art photograph that captures the heart of the buyer. Yet sometimes iconic locations still present some challenges.
One of the most popular and iconic locations out there is Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. There’s every reason in the world to avoid it. Having to get there over two hours before sunrise to claim one of about five good spots and the crowd, and the freezing wind are just some of the issues. I’ll never go back, but I just felt I had to have it in my portfolio.
As noted above, my goal is to create a fine art photograph that captures the heart of the buyer. As you can imagine, weather greatly affects my chances of doing so which is why I often stay in a location for multiple days.
For example, a photograph of a sunset on a cloudless evening would not be as colorful as a photograph of the sunset with rays lighting up wispy clouds on the horizon in shades of gold and orange.
When I’m working the popular and iconic locations, my mind is always thinking about what else there could be nearby that would be different. I am wondering if I can find something that has not been photographed before.
Going Down the Road Less Traveled
As I wrote in my article, How to Discover Unique Landscape Photography Locations, there are many ways to find something unique. As mentioned, you can look at satellite images, but you still need to go down the road to find and assess the possibilities.
Sometimes it’s a location, that although occasionally photographed by others, it is difficult to get to, which still makes it special to me. To photograph Mount Assiniboine below, it requires a helicopter trip to a remote lodge in Alberta, Canada followed by a pre-dawn hike in bear territory (with bear spray) a couple of miles up a mountain trail to get to an incredible viewpoint. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
For me, as a landscape photographer, there is not much that is as exciting as finding something that I’m pretty sure very few people, if any, have photographed in a serious way before.
When I was photographing fall colors in Southwest Colorado, I used the time in the middle of the day to go down some back roads in search of something different. This one particular road was switch-backing back and forth as it ascended a mountain I had never been up before in my previous visits.
I would occasionally pass different gated private properties. As I proceeded around one of the many switchbacks, I came across this beautiful scene of Aspen trees lining the road, which is what I had hoped to find. Once again the road less traveled led me to a unique landscape photo opportunity that most likely no one had photographed before.
My trip preparations often involve looking at satellite images and during one of those times, I found what appeared to be a small fishing pier in a remote area in North Florida. It was not close to where I was photographing on the east coast, but the sun angles and forecast indicated it was going to be a good sunset opportunity. I forget how many back roads it took to get there, but in the end, the peace and serenity captured in this fine art photograph made the journey worthwhile.
The Rewards From the Road Less Traveled
My portfolio contains many landscape and wildlife photographs that were captured as a result of my taking the road less traveled by—and as Robert Frost wrote – “that has made of the difference”. I love the adventure of finding the best locations – even if it means getting lost, traveling on roads that lead to unexpected dead ends, and roads that were a bit beyond the vehicle I was driving.
But the reward is greater than just having an adventure … as a landscape photographer, I also have to say that some of my favorite photos are those of locations that are off the main road—taking a landscape photograph that no one had taken before … capturing the drama or stillness of seldom photographed landscape … being able to do so has truly made a difference for me in my photography journey.