“You can’t take a bad photo in a place like this!” I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Yet somehow, even with digital technology allowing immediate review, and easy access to the world’s most beautiful locations, it remains difficult to get a photo that really captures the feeling of a spectacular place.
I learned from Galen Rowell, one of the most influential visionaries of the adventure photography world, that focused critique of your own work is one of the best ways to become a better photographer. Here are 5 examples of some arguably lame photos from shockingly spectacular locations, and what I could have done differently to get a great image.
1. Wrong Lens: Here, on Talluraju, a Matterhorn-like peak at the head of the Santa Cruz valley in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, my lens did no go wide enough and as a result I cropped the human element too close to the edge, and still missed the summit entirely. With today’s small sensor digital cameras, a wider-angle lens is often more important than a bigger telephoto. I should have chosen a wider-angle lens for the climb, knowing I would have little opportunity to move around for a better angle.
2. Making Steep Look Flat: This is an extreme example, but by shooting straight down with a fish-eye lens, I made this climber on a vertical cliff in a steep-sided valley in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park look like she’s crawling along on the ground. I should have zoomed in on the parts of the photo I really liked - the climber and the partly frozen pond beneath her – and not tried to get everything into the frame.
3. Missing the Point: These two bands of differently-colored rock on this slab were so distracting to me, that I missed the point of the happy couple walking along in front of a town-sized glacier flowing into a green tarn high in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia during a CMH Summer Adventure at CMH Bobbie Burns. I should have included more of the background.
4. Trusting Autofocus Too Much: Modern cameras work so well that even experienced professional photographers sometimes rely too heavily on the automatic functions. Here, I should have used a manual focus setting to ensure that the ice climber was in focus.
5. Get out of bed for more than a cup of coffee: By this point, I should have already been outside for half an hour, shooting the rosy alpenglow painting the tips of the Bugaboo Spires during a summer adventure at the CMH Bugaboo Lodge.
Critique your own photos, both good and bad, with a sharp eye and a sense of humor every chance you get, and when adventure travel leads you to the places of your dreams, you’ll take photos worthy of the adventure.