Shooting the icons- a response to Tony Sweet's blog "it's crazy out there"

October 15, 2012  •  5 Comments

Hi there fellas, so I read this post this morning from Tony Sweet: that's had me thinking on it all day where he is bemoaning shooting popular locations that are the photographic icons of an area and sharing, shoulder to shoulder, the scene with other photographers. Tony just came to Acadia to lead a workshop so I was trying to follow what he was doing and see what he was making. I like Tony Sweet enough, met him up here last year when he was leading an autumn workshop and got my picture taken with him:

"me and Tony Sweet" one of the worst pictures of me ever taken I would hope- made by his assistant, (obviously a landscape shooter because the camera settings were 1/15 sec at f/6.3 iso 100. Look how bad I appear: my eyes are closed, my clothes-pinned work-pants fly is open!, my knees are dirty from kneeling and shooting and it's just a big disaster, but thanks Tony!

I like other photographers that wear bandanas when they shoot :-)

Anyways, so in this morning's post that he wrote he claimed that he would never again shoot the Otter Cliffs shot from the boulder beach that everybody who comes to Acadia makes to photograph makes. He was saying that you gotta get there early to claim your place because he's not budging and going along the lines of feeling frustrated that the place is overshot, having to stand shoulder to shoulder with other photographers making seemingly the same image, and I've felt that way too for a few years now myself. Now I'm thinking that I should reread his post so I don't inaccurately quote him and or unnecessarily slander his wisdom- imagining I just did that, let's move on. There's one particularly popular shot here on the island and in Acadia National Park that I really don't like to make much because in my mind it is The most overshot photography tourist place on the map around here and that's the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. The thing with the BHLighthouse is that there's pretty much one composition that people make and it's from the northeast side looking south toward the lighthouse which is in the right of the frame and the ocean and foreground rocks to the left.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse Google image search

 I'm actually just sick of this one- one thing is that the lighthouse always leans back from wide angle lens distortion and the only thing I'm interested in seeing when I see a new take from this place is how the photographer deals with that issue and what if any weather is going on in the scene to make it interesting. Now I've shot the BHL for 11 years, and I really don't have much of a favorite image from it, but I do have a pretty good timelapse sequence.

I've shot the Bass Harbor Lighthouse at dawn, at dusk, at night, from 4 points of the compass, in video, in timelapse, long exposure, black and white, and I'll find other ways to do it too. The great thing is that it's about a 6 minute drive from me so I can go there when the weather is good, and it's a kick ass location for photography- hence it's popularity, and when people come to town to shoot they definitely should shoot it.

Back to Otter Cliffs from boulder beach and Tony Sweet- I hear ya man! And the thing is- if you weren't leading a workshop in the most popular month of the year for photographers on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, then you would find the peaceful sanctuary of solace that landscape photography can offer- because from now on I could shoot Otter Cliffs from boulder beach naked with bunny ears on with no fear of embarrassment, because I will be the only one there that morning- I swear. It's pretty cool to see how popular photography is and how some places just draw so many photographers, but even in that case when I'm standing shoulder to shoulder with other shooters making what seems to be the same picture: I'm no longer afraid that we are making the same image because when you get right down to it, we all see the scene differently. Because we're all humans and flawed in our own ways. And the reason that I read Tony's post in the first place was because I recognized the rocks in the foreground and knew he was in town last week so I wanted to see how he played the scene. And he realized his final image with fly-paper textures and a bunch of Nik color efex filters that none of the rest of us would have used so in the end it was a completely original and interesting take on the second most shot place in the park- so kudos, high-fives, and hat's off to you sir for that! Coincidentally and as it is, I happened to shoot the same scene last week as well, which would be the only time this year that I did so because I tend to try to take the road less traveled in regards to composition and will usually shoot in the other direction like. But how can I spurn and overlook one of the best shots in Acadia- so I try to shoot there at least occasionally, even if it's shot by everybody who comes here. 

"Otter Cliffs 10/10/12"

interlude: I just got back from going to make pictures, I had some good energy and the skies were pretty interesting and dynamic so I went to go photo some blueberry foliage and lichens that I saw the other day after leaving Ship Harbor and practicing seascapes- heard the sounds of the surf though and was drawn to the shore and made some long exposure seascapes first- and here's my point:

Should I not make long exposure seascapes because they've been done before, and done awesomely- should we not shoot sunrises and sunsets because they are and always will be in a state of overkill- and on and on, should we neglect making any picture because some similar photo has been done already? No way! That's what we do- we love the search for an image, love the sound of the slap of the mirror (or the sound of the sensor turning on if you are shooting mirror up), we love the pursuit of the perfect image- if we don't try we'll never find it, and it's our duty- I mean if I were ever fortunate enough to visit Yosemite would I pass up the opportunity to shoot "Tunnel View" or Half-Dome just because it's been done to the extreme? Not! 

Tony might have been having a bad day when he wrote his post, and I don't blame him for it because like I said earlier I'd rather go down the road less traveled as well, and I would hope that Tony Sweet shoots this vantage point again because he does it well and he's able to put his particular spin and personality into the final realization. But it's definitely something to keep in mind- how would you put you personality into the icons of photography? And just because it's been shot before, which everything has!- should we pass it up? No way! Go get em kiddos! 

That's enough of me. Go make some pictures, and have a nice day -Nate from Maine, Usa.

"Otter Cliffs and Sea Streams" This is the photo that I made that morning that I like the most- 10 minutes after the one at boulder beach and a wicked scramble down the sheer cliffside. -Bet Tony hasn't shot from here! Whatever-


Jim Denham(non-registered)
Not sure why I'm reading this 5 months after the fact, but I think the point you've made here is important. A fella posted a lone tree in a field the other day on B& and commented that a forum he was looking into didn't want 'cliche' pictures and the lone tree was one they called out. They wanted originality, but as I looked at his picture, it was obviously different than any other one I've seen, not so much in the composition, but in the focal points and processing he called out. As you stated we're all different and have our own defects - we SEE differently even when looking at the same thing! Fantastic post Nate! The images and time lapse are also very good! Otter Cliffs 10/10/12 is superb! The faint light from the waves in the foreground is awesome! Good form my friend!
Benjamin Williamson(non-registered)
Nice rant. The Otter Cliffs and Sea Streams photo is incredible. I'd love to see a print of that.
Stefan Hargus(non-registered)
Well said.
Hey Nate: Just a few thoughts on the way home. First off, maybe your eyes are closed, but you can always open your eyes....I can't turn back the clock!! You also have the great advantage of living here, which your work certainly shows, which is outstanding, by the way. And you are correct, I was having a less than optimal day after wading through people to get out of boulder beach. And I also agree about reshooting great scenes, which I do a lot on my mid Atlantic coast. Again, the ultimate point of my post was to the mindless populating of a location, which kills the experience for everyone, and a call for some common sense. If a small place is about coming back at another time? Sure, I'll go down there again to shoot, but only if I'm the only person there, which may be a tall request at this time of year.
Thanks for your thoughtful post and the great B&W work! (btw, I know the location of your last shot....just up the road from my 'secret' location, which you know about). See you next year, Nate.
David Orr (orrokinawa)(non-registered)
Fantastic stuff man, read Tonys blog the other day and know how he feels but also agree with you completely. Fantastic stuff Nate, glad I had the chance to meet you on G+ hope to one day be scheduling a photo trip in Maine with you ! Take care out there in the muck !
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