When you start down the road of landscape and travel photography, you will almost certainly create a short list of places you want to see. Some of these places will be off the beaten path while others will be low-hanging fruit. One mindset that I see more and more these days is the idea that you shouldn't bother photographing well known locations because there's no way to get a unique shot; think places like Tunnel View in Yosemite, Times Square in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I can't think of a more backwards approach to photography or life.
Novelist and poet Wendell Berry said it perfectly, “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
There's a reason that so many tourists and photographers flock to Tunnel View year after year: It’s one of the most incredible views of rugged wilderness you'll ever see. You can look at every picture Ansel Adams ever composed of Tunnel View (and every great photographer before and after him) but none of them will be as meaningful or memorable as seeing it for yourself. And guess what: The moment you press the shutter release down on your camera you’ve created a unique image. It’s an image composed through your creative eye, with your life, backstory and experiences woven into its fabric, and taken at a different time than every image before or after it.
When you have a chance to see and photograph something that has been seen and photographed countless times, Do It!
The image I chose to accompany this article is of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, just outside Portland Oregon. The CRG as a whole has earned the nickname “Walt Disney Gorge” because so many tourists and photographers have discovered it and visit all throughout the year. Of all the waterfalls and beautiful scenes in the gorge, Multnomah Falls is without a doubt the most iconic. It’s located right off the main road through the gorge. You park, walk across the street and you’re there. It has a gift shop, a restaurant and a viewing platform.
Still, I went. Still, I took the shot. And my goodness was it incredible! The waterfall is huge and its roar is deafening. I was in Portland for 5 days and only got 2-3 hours of shooting in because of non stop heavy rain. Because of that rain, the waterfalls were raging and what made this photograph at least somewhat unique for me was the presence of the secondary waterfall to the right. If I had decided that every meaningful photo of the CRG had already been taken I would have missed this moment and I wouldn’t re remembering it so viscerally even as I sit here writing this column.
Sony α7R II, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS. 1/3-sec., f/20, ISO 50