Improve Your Photography by Staying Longer

March 15, 2016 ·

Dennis Frates

I live in a very scenic part of the U.S. Within an easy day’s drive, I can set up my tripod just about anywhere in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area or at the photogenic Oregon Coast, or I can photograph Mt. Hood from a variety of locations. I feel very fortunate to be so close to these world-class destinations. However, some of my very best images over the last 30 years as a professional photographer have come from destinations further away, for which I have had to travel and spend several days away from my home.

Being away from home forces me to photograph more intensively. I find that being on an extended trip of 3 to 10 days or more encourages me to focus my efforts in a way that I usually don’t do when I’m a short drive from my home. Long ago in my photographic career I recognized that traveling far and photographing is expensive, time consuming, and can be lonely at times. All of these factors push me to gain as many images as I can when on a trip. Because of these limitations I feel compelled to photograph for as much of a day as I can find the energy. As a result my efficiency and creative production is usually much better when I am on an extended photo outing. I understand that not everyone can afford the time for an expensive foray into a location, and I feel totally blessed that I am able to make several extended trips each year. I’m just saying…

This image was created on a 3 day trip to Central Oregon. When I arrived at this scene wind was fairly strong and the sky a very boring blue. Since I was on an extended trip with nothing else to do except watch TV in my motel room, I just planted myself here on the banks of the Deschutes River and waited for several hours. I was rewarded with this brief cloud cover. The scene lasted just a few minutes returning to the wind and blue sky conditions that I started with.
This image was created on a 3 day trip to Central Oregon. When I arrived at this scene wind was fairly strong and the sky a very boring blue. Since I was on an extended trip with nothing else to do except watch TV in my motel room, I just planted myself here on the banks of the Deschutes River and waited for several hours. I was rewarded with this brief cloud cover. The scene lasted just a few minutes returning to the wind and blue sky conditions that I started with.

 

I have photographed Crater Lake many times in all seasons over the last 25 years, but this day was the most special. On a four day photo trip with a fellow photographer, we spent every morning and evening at the lake’s rim waiting for something special to happen with the sky/lighting as we have done on so many occasions. We saw a scant few clouds forming this particular morning, but were pleasantly surprised when the entire sky was soon covered in these beautiful “popcorn” clouds. An added bonus was the absolute calmest conditions I have ever seen at the lake, which by the way, didn’t help with the mosquitoes! They were eating us alive, but we hardly noticed as we shot from a variety of locations for almost an hour before the clouds totally disappeared. I know my family would have bailed on this scene because of the conditions, and I can’t blame them.
I have photographed Crater Lake many times in all seasons over the last 25 years, but this day was the most special. On a four day photo trip with a fellow photographer, we spent every morning and evening at the lake’s rim waiting for something special to happen with the sky/lighting as we have done on so many occasions. We saw a scant few clouds forming this particular morning, but were pleasantly surprised when the entire sky was soon covered in these beautiful “popcorn” clouds. An added bonus was the absolute calmest conditions I have ever seen at the lake, which by the way, didn’t help with the mosquitoes! They were eating us alive, but we hardly noticed as we shot from a variety of locations for almost an hour before the clouds totally disappeared. I know my family would have bailed on this scene because of the conditions, and I can’t blame them.

There are so many distractions when photographing from my home base. It’s easy to give in to the comforts of home, or being with friends and family, or thinking there will be better conditions another day. Occasionally, I photograph when on a family outing or vacation, and although I do sometimes come away with a few good shots, my production is way down. When I am with my family, my first priority is to spend time with them, and any images I happen to get I consider gravy. Sometimes I go to a distant location a week before my family is scheduled to arrive. This ends up being the best of both worlds because after a week’s worth of intense photography, I welcome the family’s arrival. Photography is more out of my system by then, and I’m more able to relax and give photography a rest when I greet them at the airport.

This image was created during an extended trip to Kauai where I arrived before my family by one week. The shot was made on the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. After capturing this sunset shot I walked out by myself with a flashlight. It was a bit tense, and I doubt I would have attempted this image had my family been there.
This image was created during an extended trip to Kauai where I arrived before my family by one week. The shot was made on the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast. After capturing this sunset shot I walked out by myself with a flashlight. It was a bit tense, and I doubt I would have attempted this image had my family been there.

 

This shot of the Iao Needle in Maui was created when on a family trip. Four of us had hiked up to this vantage point along with what seemed like hundreds of other tourists. I carried my camera gear thinking I probably would get nothing, because it was clouded up and I wasn’t about to ask my family to wait with me for a clearing in the low clouds which could take hours. I got just a second of clearing and was able to click off one shot. Getting a good, well thought out shot with family along is rare for me, but if I had not been brought my camera...
This shot of the Iao Needle in Maui was created when on a family trip. Four of us had hiked up to this vantage point along with what seemed like hundreds of other tourists. I carried my camera gear thinking I probably would get nothing, because it was clouded up and I wasn’t about to ask my family to wait with me for a clearing in the low clouds which could take hours. I got just a second of clearing and was able to click off one shot. Getting a good, well thought out shot with family along is rare for me, but if I had not been brought my camera…

 

This is a shot I made while driving on the Big Island of Hawaii with my wife on vacation. She had no problem waiting in the car reading a map while I spent about 10 minutes with this scene. It’s rare when I can make such a powerful image in such a short time while traveling with family, but it does happen occasionally.
This is a shot I made while driving on the Big Island of Hawaii with my wife on vacation. She had no problem waiting in the car reading a map while I spent about 10 minutes with this scene. It’s rare when I can make such a powerful image in such a short time while traveling with family, but it does happen occasionally.

When on an extended photo trip, if the lighting is not optimal, or the flowers are not in bloom, or the wind is too strong, or whatever preconceived conditions are not there, I usually force myself to look for “something” to photograph. This forces me to create photographs I normally would not have sought out, but these are sometimes the best images of the trip. Another way to make the best of an extended outing when conditions are not perfect is to consider creating black and white images. Mid day shots are frequently worth shooting when rendered in black and white.  Mid day lighting can often be turned into wonderful shades of black and white tones.

When I travel from my home for a one day outing I pay particular attention to the weather, looking at several different forecasts and using the view from weather or road cams when they are available. But when I go for longer periods of time, I pay less attention to forecasts. Instead, I just go out each day and work with what is there. If it is mostly cloudy, I exclude the sky and look for close-ups and small scenic vignettes.  If there are interesting clouds patterns, I look for photos at sunrise or sunset or even midday and sometimes seek out the grand scenic. Totally sunny conditions have me thinking black and white or shooting very early or late to take advantage of the shadow areas, or perhaps even getting a sunburst in the frame when I partially hide the sun as it peeks around a rock or tree. The point is, there are always subjects and situations to photograph whatever the weather conditions are, and extended trips have the potential of making your outings more productive.

This image was taken on a 10-day solo trip to Lake Tahoe. I hiked to this particular location several times over the days I was there, and scouted out several vantage points to photograph for a return trip at sunset and sunrise. Although this shot was not the one I planned for, everything seemed to come together, and I had just seconds to respond. I used a long exposure to soften the water, and I tried to place the rocks in a favorable position that mimicked the clouds somewhat. Often I find my best images are ones I have not anticipated or planned for. It teaches me humility and to always remain open to whatever nature presents. Being in the area for several days greatly increases your chances of getting a unique shot like this.
This image was taken on a 10-day solo trip to Lake Tahoe. I hiked to this particular location several times over the days I was there, and scouted out several vantage points to photograph for a return trip at sunset and sunrise. Although this shot was not the one I planned for, everything seemed to come together, and I had just seconds to respond. I used a long exposure to soften the water, and I tried to place the rocks in a favorable position that mimicked the clouds somewhat. Often I find my best images are ones I have not anticipated or planned for. It teaches me humility and to always remain open to whatever nature presents. Being in the area for several days greatly increases your chances of getting a unique shot like this.

Extended trips also allow me more contemplative visits to scenic locations. Because I have extra time on my hands, I frequently consider possibilities that I might otherwise overlook. For example, I might consider using various lenses or filters that weren’t my first, obvious choices. I usually spend more time walking around my subject or trying to reach alternative vantage points, something I could easily skip when time is short. And of course, extended trips allow me to revisit the spot when the light is more complimentary.

Sometimes I use my motel as a home base and travel long distances to a place with better conditions if the situation is not good where I originally planned to photograph.

Occasionally I photograph on extended trips alone and sometimes I am accompanied by another professional photographer, and of course photography workshops are another way to get one into the filed for extended times. I see advantages to both being alone or with others. When I am alone I am really able to focus on my subject without any distractions. But being alone isn’t all that enjoyable day after day or week after week. I often find that I am injected with additional energy when I am with someone else. We feed off each other with ideas for subjects and locations to photograph. In addition, it’s always enjoyable to have someone to share the down times with. I find that when I am with someone who is as intent as I am to create images, I am able to focus quite well. The point is to allow yourself to be more contemplative with your photography, which can happen when you’re alone or with someone else, but in either case is much easier to achieve on extended trips.

This image was taken at Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies on the last day of a 10 day photography trip with another photographer. We had come to this location several times over the ten days and got some decent photographs, but an unexpected first of the season snowfall awaited us that morning. I have been to this lake many times over the years with my family, but I think it took an extended revisit to come away with this more unique image.
This image was taken at Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies on the last day of a 10 day photography trip with another photographer. We had come to this location several times over the ten days and got some decent photographs, but an unexpected first of the season snowfall awaited us that morning. I have been to this lake many times over the years with my family, but I think it took an extended revisit to come away with this more unique image.

I used to camp a lot and even backpack with my camera gear to remote locations. There are still times that require camping or backpacking because of an area’s remote location, but all things considered, I’d rather return each night to the comforts of a motel room. I find I am much more rested and motivated to photograph when starting from a motel room rather than a tent. The disadvantage, of course, is that I usually have to commute to get to where I want to photograph, whereas with camping I can get really close with my subject matter, allowing me opportunities to photograph that could otherwise be missed. As far as meals are concerned, I frequently eat out when on a long trip, and usually eat two large meals a day – one at mid morning and the other at mid afternoon. This frees me up to take advantage of first and last light. Of course, I always carry extra food in case I can’t pull my self away from an area in time to make it to a restaurant.

For the professional photographer, frequent extended photo trips are not as glamorous as some might think. Days can be long and boring at times, but the rewards of putting in the time are well worth the effort for anyone who is passionate about photography. For the professional photographer, extended trips are about work, but these trips will greatly increase your productivity and will add new imagery that you otherwise would have missed.

This image was shot in Badlands National Park. I drove 2 full 12 hour days by myself to get there. This was a 10 day solo trip, and was one of the more difficult car trips I have ever made, but I came away with some wonderful imagery. I had plenty of time to photograph off the main roads and trails, but this particular image was taken right next to my car!
This image was shot in Badlands National Park. I drove 2 full 12 hour days by myself to get there. This was a 10 day solo trip, and was one of the more difficult car trips I have ever made, but I came away with some wonderful imagery. I had plenty of time to photograph off the main roads and trails, but this particular image was taken right next to my car!

Dennis Frates
February 2016

 

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Dennis Frates

Dennis Frates’ love of the outdoors began at a very early age, and led to a passion for photographing landscapes and nature, which he has done for over 30 years. In college he earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in physical geography and ecology, and had the opportunity to study the physical landscapes and flora he was photographing. He has photographed extensively in the western US and abroad, finding unique fine art compositions in some of the worlds most stunning locations. Although he sells images to all sorts of markets, including National Geographic, Sierra Club, and National Audubon, the bulk of his enthusiasm is spent producing prints for the fine art market. His prints have been shown and sold in many national galleries. They have been accepted for several national juried exhibitions and have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Westmorland Art Nationals “Photograph of the Year”, and the Keh International Garden Photographer of the Year for two consecutive years. He sells hundreds of photographs/prints each year, for a large variety of products including posters, fine art prints, books, magazines, and has published seven books and 26 sole photographer landscape/nature calendars.

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