It's All in Your Head
Maintaining Excitement in Photography
September 30, 2005

They say you canít go home again, meaning you canít recover the past. Age and experience tend to make us somewhat jaded, whether we realize it or not. Even so, I am convinced that maintaining a sense of anticipation, wonder, and discovery is a requirement for making great images.
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In my high school days, photographic experiences in the fields and woodlands around my home were exhilarating. Each outing was a new adventure. Every new aspect of photography that I discovered wowed me. I photographed cars, abandoned houses, plants, birds, and insects. I photographed during the day and I photographed at night using a flash, flashlight, and candles. I remember buying a terrible 400mm T-mount telephoto lens for about $40 and taking photos that blew me away with their compressed perspective. Later, my first photographic experiences in the American west seemed like grand adventures, the stuff of storybooks. Long drives, infinite horizons, and eccentric characters made my mind brim with excitement and anticipation. 
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Much has happened in the 35 years since I became interested in photography. I do not photograph much around home now, though I should. I can now drive from my home in Ohio to my favorite photographic haunts in the western states without a map. Certainly, nothing can bring back the wonder of not knowing what waits around the next bend in the road, or the surprise of seeing cement teepees at the rest stops along I-90 in South Dakota. Just as certainly, it is possible to look at familiar things in new ways, and with a fresh mindset, to keep the excitement of photography going.
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As with the $40 telephoto lens mentioned earlier, sometimes a new piece of photographic equipment can bring with it the ability to do things that could not be done previously. When this happens, it always opens a new world of exciting possibilities. Less than $40 will buy a pinhole body cap that enables the taking of photos with a soft old-world look and nearly infinite depth of field. They can produce stunning images under the right circumstances. Image-stabilized lenses can enable photography in situations where it was previously impossible. The key is purchasing items that extend your personal photographic horizons. Blindly buying the camera of the month may only give you more of the same pixels you already have. Tools that further your vision are the ones worth buying first.
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Equipment aside, I sometimes long for the feeling of wonder and discovery that accompanied my early trips west. This sometimes happens on photo shoots when things start feeling stale, mechanical, or unproductive. In this situation I have more than once simply left a location for somewhere else, sometimes a dayís drive away. On other occasions, I have switched from photographing wildlife to photographing landscapes in the same location. Making changes like this has always produced the images I want. When I get the unmistakable "been there done that" feeling between shoots, I do some research to find new places, or areas I may have missed on previous visits to a familiar place. I think about how I might use my knowledge of familiar places along with new techniques to produce fresh images the next time I am out shooting.
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Having great experiences in the field is one of the most important aspects of nature photography. It is far more important than equipment selection or location. Great images generally flow from great experiences. When the photographic experience becomes mundane, all is lost. Fortunately, it is possible to go home again to the excitement and exhilaration of your first images. It just requires a little more work than it did in the past.
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Happy shooting,
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Copyright 2005 Dean M. Chriss
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