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What does Guns N Roses and Nature Photography Have in Common?

Over the last few years I cannot even begin to tell you just how many times that I have been asked what someone can do to immediately improve their photography. Deep down, I have always kind of laughed at this question. Not because the photographers who were asking me this didn’t have potential or anything like that, but that it just seemed so indicative of our society in general. We want what we want when we want it. We have pills for this and widgetized solutions for that.

I never want to leave someone hanging with an I don’t know or cliché statement like practice makes perfect. Nor did they want to hear my wax poetically about learning to see, the golden mean, experimentation, or quality of light. So for some time I really gave this question a bit of thought. After a while I actually came up with a really good, to the point, precise answer. This answer I felt really did hit at the heart of something that holds many aspiring photographers back.

So just what exactly was this magic bullet of guru like answers? One word, patience. Two words: learn patience. Too ambiguous you say? No way! Although it is kind of an ironic answer to such a question, its so much deeper than just face value.

Over the last few years that I have been leading and instructing photo workshops, one of the biggest mistakes that I see time and time again are folks inability to slow their minds, find patience, work the situation thoroughly, and let things unfold as they will. This is relevant both to aspiring wildlife photographers as well as landscape photographers. We are the product of our culture and society. And that is a culture of immediacy. Back in the 1970s, marketing gurus claimed that the American attention span was exactly 7 seconds. That meant that a print ad had exactly 7 seconds to capture someone’s attention and convey its message. Today, marketeers (sounds cooler than marketers) claim that ads have but just 3 seconds and some even believe that the American attention span is down to 1 second for ads.

My point in all of this is that we are quick to loose attention and interest in something. Photography by its very nature demands patience, and this much most photographers understand and practice to some degree. Most however don’t have enough of it.

Whether its waiting out an animal for action, or waiting out a landscape for that perfect combination of light, color, and clouds, photography is a game of patience. When I photograph on my own, that is to say without customers, I will sometimes spend hours working a subject or waiting patiently for what I want to unfold. The longer you spend with a subject, the more creative that you will become in photographing it. The more compositions you will begin to find. And as a byproduct of these things, you may just begin to work towards something amazing.

Though it’s a “re-post” of an image this year in the journal I think that this image, Currituck Light and Starry Skies, is a perfect example of this. This photograph is the culmination of about a month’s worth of work. There are 5 lighthouses on the Outer Banks (I’m including Cape Lookout in that figure). If you ask most photographers which one of the lighthouses is their least favorite to photograph, most will tell you that it is the Currituck Beach Light – the one in this photograph. I actually agreed with them about this until one day I made the decision that I was going to change this for myself at least.

Being that I lived in the funky little 4×4 access only part of the beach just north of Corolla, this was MY lighthouse. I watched this beacon shine into the night each and every night from the back deck of my house, while I was driving down the beach, when I went to town for groceries, etc. . This lighthouse loomed over our landscape standing watch over us both day and night. So yeah, this really was my lighthouse and as a photographer living in the Corolla area, I saw it as my duty to hunt down and find that truly unique and beautiful composition of this lighthouse.

Most photographers don’t like this one simply because of the trees. Back in the 1950s loblolly pines were planted in the vicinity of the Currituck Beach Light so as to create habitat for ring necked pheasants (hunting was the original reason folks vacationed here). Well as these trees matured, they came to dominate the landscape leaving only the top half on the lighthouse sticking up above the tree line. This completely eliminated any of the classic ways of depicting lighthouses on the Outer Banks. So the result has generally been the same photograph taken over and over ad infinitum.

So for nearly a month I searched. I kayaked into tight little creeks in the marsh. I slipped on 5mm neoprene waders and found myself stuck up to my hips in mud. I burned many gallons of gas running my Carolina Skiff to different vantage points in the Currituck Sound. I hiked. I explored. I actually had a hell of a lot of fun exploring.

Then one night, I found it. I stepped into place, looked up and realized that this was it, exactly what I had been looking for and I immediately knew exactly when and how that I could make this work. The results? Something unseen, un-photographed, unique, and truly mine. To date this is currently one of my most popular photographs.  This is the result of considerable patience – nearly a month of patience and perseverance.  This is what happens when you really work a subject.

So what does Guns N Roses and Nature Photography have in common? “All you need is just a little patience…”

This entry was posted in Landscape Photography, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.