While looking over the 10,000 or so images from this recent trip around the West, I’ve been finding little jewels in the heap of…well, let’s just say there are many photos not worth keeping. Realizing that I already looked at these photos once, however briefly, I know they don’t necessarily have immediate impact. Their charms are typically more subtle. Best of all, many demonstrate important photography habits that I practice more or less naturally, and are worth sharing.
This photo I made while camping in a (very) chilly Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. This is my favorite geothermal area in the park (with Norris being a close second). I love photographing here in the evening (see image below), well after the sun has set, and also in the very early morning. I was there in mid-October, so mornings were downright freezing. This means plenty of steam, but it also means you will probably see buffalo rousing from their beds in the morning. These iconic beasts often spend the night in thermal areas when nights turn cold.
The concept that the photo at top demonstrates is this: there is almost no photo, certainly no landscape or nature composition, that is not worth trying from a very low shooting position. It is often the case where the lower the camera is, the better. So you need to get down on your belly or have a tripod which allows you to set the camera very close to the ground.
The shame part of the tip comes from the fact that people will often stare at you while you’re in “strange” shooting positions. I will usually start off shooting the composition from a bit further away, then move closer as I shoot. Usually the best photos are the closer ones. When I am very low, hand-holding the camera, I will often crawl on my belly towards my subject. In the case of the photo at top, White Dome Geyser, I was doing my best imitation of “army guy crawling under razor wire” when I felt a rumbling in my belly.
At first I thought it was just my stomach telling me it was past breakfast time (I had been shooting for a couple hours, since before sunrise). But the geyser quickly made it clear what the rumbling meant as it began to erupt. I managed to get a few frames off before I started getting pelted with hot water and had to scramble away.
As I got up and looked around, there were at least a couple observers chuckling and nudging each other. Sure, I felt a little embarrassed, but I also knew there was a good chance I got a nice shot. Always remember this: your photo will last longer than you, while your shame usually lasts mere minutes; you will have forgotten all about it by next day. So go ahead, photograph without any shame.