“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring
When we think of outstanding sites for nature photography, most of us tend to think of places like Tanzania, the Pantanal, Costa Rica…you know, places that cost a fortune to visit. And these locations do indeed have wonderful photo opportunities, but some of the best images are captured by people who never wander far from home. Yes, there are wild things right in our neighborhoods, hiding secrets that are just begging to be photographed. Keep in mind my livelihood is dependent upon photographers traveling to distant destinations, but I feel it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there is beauty everywhere. Even without money to travel, there are photographable worlds available to you.
It was some of the first NANPA members, Wendy Shattil and her partner Bob Rozinski, who helped create the approach that my wife, Cathy, and I took to nature photography. Our first published wildlife photos appeared in their book, Close To Home, only because they opened submissions up to local photographers. Their message was repeated by one of the presenters and award winners at next month’s Las Vegas Summit, John Shaw, when he told me and everyone else in the audience, the importance of shooting close to home, especially if you want to make this kind of photography your profession. Not only is it less expensive, but because you can visit them much more often, you get to know close-to-home sites intimately. Visiting the iconic photo tour spots around the world is a lot of fun, and it give you access to an exciting range of species, but your images stand little chance of competing with those of photographers who have been to those locations many times.
For our first ten years as nature photographers, Cathy and I concentrated on destinations within an hour or two from home, exploring new roads and secret gates right in our neighborhood. We knew where to go and the best times to be there. We could identify entire generations of critters whose lives intersected with ours, and we were able to capture it all on film (ask someone to explain what film is). As we came to know the land better, new possibilities opened up for us. We had a vision of a hiker leaping over the sun, and we now knew the perfect place to execute such an image. Once again, Cathy managed to make me look like a stud, a testament to her skill with a camera. The shot was more dangerous than it looks because I was jumping from rock to rock without my glasses on. This is one of a handful of images we’ve taken that have received awards in the Nature’s Best Photo Contest, and every single one of them was taken close to home.
When we began leading photo tours for a living, we lost some of that connection to local places because we no longer had the time to devote to them. We now know some sites on other continents better than our own neighborhood. Wonderful photos of local subjects appear on social media, and we had no idea they even existed. You just can’t be everywhere at once, but almost anywhere you are, there are wonders that will test your photographic skill. Wherever you happen to be pointing your lens, perhaps we’ll meet someday on the hidden paths that run towards the Moon or to the Sun.
I’m looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the Nature Photography Summit in Las Vegas next month.