Your gear is terrible, your photography is terrible, and you’re terrible.
We all wind up in that place eventually. Just as you have moments of inspiration and clarity when it comes to your photography, there are also times when you feel you couldn’t make a good photograph if it came gift-wrapped like a basket full of puppies bathed in mid-morning light. It’s hard to break out of these kind of ruts because the best way to make progress is to get out and shoot. Unfortunately, you don’t want to get out and shoot because you feel like you’re only making hot garbage when you do.
A vicious circle if there ever was one.
I hit a photography wall at least once a year. Whenever that occurs, I set up some easy pins to knock down so I can get back my photo-groove. For me, the pins don’t get any larger and tipsier than the waterfalls of Ricketts Glen State Park. I’ve been going to the park since I was a kid and I return at least once every year to photograph the falls.
The Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen boasts 22 named waterfalls ranging in size from 9 feet to more than 90 feet tall. Having returned to the trail so many times, I’ve probably photographed each set of falls at least a dozen times. With all those return visits it’s definitely hard to get unique looks at each of the waterfalls. Fortunately, when I make the trip north these days, getting completely different material isn’t generally what I’m after.
When I hike the falls, I generally enter the park about 30-40 minutes before sunrise so I’m hitting the first set of falls along the trail a few minutes before the sun comes up. There’s a couple of benefits to this strategy. First and foremost it maximizes the amount of time I can photograph the falls before the sun peaks over the tree line and creates nasty highlights on the water. Secondly, if I go during a weekday, it’s generally about three to four hours before I see another human being.
Being alone amongst these grand spectacles of nature is completely cleansing not only for my photography, but for my soul. As I set up each shot, I focus on each compositional element, each adjustment, each shutter press. I can relax, take some deep breaths, and take my time. That kind of tranquility can truly be a luxury in our day to day lives and in our lives as photographers.
To be fair, most of my shots end up looking the same, and you’re always at the mercy of what kind of weather you have, (sunny cloudless days are the absolute worst) but it’s getting that trigger finger moving that matters the most. After the 7.2 mile hike and hundreds of photos taken around the entire Falls Trail, I often find that besides being exhausted and a little gimpy in the knees, I’m also more open to photographic possibilities. That’s what my trips to Ricketts Glen are about and they never fail to deliver.
And if you can celebrate your newfound photo freedom with two dogs with everything from Abe’s and a Stewart’s birch beer, so much the better.