Friday Foto Talk: Do you need a guide?   2 comments

Good morning!  Dawn in Arches National Park over the world's longest natural stone arch, Landscape Arch.

Good morning! Dawn in Arches National Park over the world’s longest natural stone arch, Landscape Arch.  Click on image for purchase options.

I’ve been kicking around some thoughts on this subject lately.  Photo workshops have been multiplying like rabbits lately, and I’ve been pondering the reasons for this.    Since I do mostly nature, landscape and travel photography, I will focus on those.  But the ideas in this and the next post apply equally to other types of photography.  I will follow this with one on workshops in particular next Friday Foto Talk.

It seems like an age since I was in Colorado but it was only a few weeks ago.  The Sangre de Cristo Mtns. loom over a dry lake-bed.

It seems like an age since I was in Colorado but it was only a few weeks ago. The Sangre de Cristo Mtns. loom over a dry lake-bed.

If you’re interested in any of these images (which are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission) please contact me.  If you click on them you will go to either the image (e.g. at top) or my image galleries.  But since internet access is quite slow for image download where I am, it may be awhile before most of these are on my site.  I would feel honored, however, to satisfy any last-minute holiday gift needs on a personal basis.  Just let me know.  Thanks!

A full waterpocket in the desert southwest means the "wet" season has arrived.

A full water-pocket in the desert southwest means the “wet” season has arrived.

Too Many Guides or Not Enough?

The answer may be yes and yes:  Too many; not enough good ones.  But let me start with what got me thinking about all this in the first place.  On trips like the one I’m on right now, in national parks and other natural areas, I’ve noticed people being, for want of a better word, uncomfortable.  Many people don’t seem to be sure of what to do or where to go.  I’ve caught some even following me, which annoys me but shouldn’t.  To me this suggests that many travelers need a guide.

In parks, most people go to the visitor center and ask a ranger, then go directly to the suggested locale.  On the way to the trail or viewpoint, they ignore the natural curiosity they have about things glimpsed out of the corners of their eyes.  They ignore the kid in them trying to get out.

I don't avoid popular photo subjects altogether.  But I do tend to have the urge to visit them only under unusual conditions.  Snow at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is quite unusual.

While I tend to avoid popular photo subjects like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, I have the urge to visit them mostly under unusual conditions.  Snow here is fairly rare.

Traveling photographers tend to do some pretty focused internet research, and that helps.  But the most common mistake of all (one I’ve been guilty of) often gets in the way.  That is, people tend to include too much in their itineraries.  They don’t appreciate how big the world is, how much is relatively unknown and un-photographed, and how much time it takes to check an area out in enough depth to photograph it well.  As a result of this unawareness, a lot of photographers settle for replication of over-shot subjects.

All sorts of travelers, including photographers, often plan a trip as a series of stops.  They end up too focused on destination as opposed to journey.  I don’t think they are aware of this most of the time.  The right kind of guide (sadly few and far between) can help out.  A good guide will walk the line between in-depth experience and efficiently visiting as many places as feasible.  They will allow time for unplanned stops.  And yet so many people, if asked, would insist that they do not need a guide.  Americans especially are independent minded, almost to a (foolish) point.  But so many don’t pair that trait with its natural partner, the ability to strike off in a direction that’s different from the crowd.

I was surprised to find this green grass deep in an inaccessible alcove at Arches National Park, Utah.

Exploration:  I was surprised to find this green grass deep in an inaccessible canyon at Arches National Park, Utah.

American parks are really set up for the independent, road-tripping, overlook-hopping traveler.  Contrast this picture with the tour group.  In popular scenic areas there are plenty of groups too.  Unfortunately, most are too large (think buses with backup alarms!), but that’s beginning to change.

We all love to look down our noses at tour groups don’t we?  The problem with this attitude is that it ignores the inconvenient fact that these people (they aren’t always Asian either!) are simply being honest about their unfamiliarity with the area.  They’re logically using their limited time rather wisely.  Who’re the smart ones?  I occasionally use guides when I’m overseas, but probably not as much as I should.

I’m lucky to have the sense of direction, map-reading and observational skills that years of geologic fieldwork will give anyone.  But in civilized areas it’s a different story.  Unless I have a definite itinerary I’m at a bit of a loss.  Even in my hometown Portland, where there are countless diversions, I’m guilty of not taking advantage of all the city offers.  In natural areas it’s a different story.  I know what I want to do.  If it’s a new place I want to explore; if I’ve been there before I want to revisit favorite spots and explore where I haven’t yet been.

Zion National Park's Kolob Canyons is often missed by travelers.

Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons is often missed by travelers.

The Toadstools in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

The Toadstools in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

I don’t brag about this.  I’m just pointing out that not all people are at the same place in life.  We don’t all have the same background or experiences.  I’ve been lost countless times and Lost only a handful.  The difference between the two?  You can, at least subconsciously, wish to get lost, all the while having confidence in the ability to find your way back after you’ve had your fill of wandering.  But being Lost is far different and never happens except accidentally.  If for you being lost is always the same and always a bad thing, then I think you could sometimes use a guide.

Don’t forget to tune in next Friday for a follow-up post where we’ll dive into photography workshops: pros & cons; how to decide if they’re for you, etc.  Thanks again for reading and have a fantastic weekend!

Another full water-pocket (or water-tank), this one in Zion National Park - East.

Another full water-pocket (or water-tank), this one near sunset in Zion National Park – East.

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2 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Do you need a guide?

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  1. Breathtaking images of the Southwest–Zion being one of my favorite (ever) destinations. I’m a meander–one who allows a destination to appear. Although I head toward point A, I may emerge on the other side of its edges. Serendipity is a blossoming experience. I really enjoy your sensibility to nature and the land.

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