Photography is Exploration, Discovery and Reward

 In Picture

In January, I wrote about how I thought that Photography is Curiosity, Creativity, Math, Science and Imagination. It’s now March and I still feel the same (us creative types can sometimes change our minds quickly), but as I said when I wrote that article I feel that photography is much more than those five things. In this case, photography is exploration and discovery which leads to reward. And when you explore and discovery, you’re photography pursuits (and life in general) will be richer and filled with more rewards.

Exploration in Photography

The action of traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it.

The above quote comes from Google and to me summarizes one part of exploration in photography. When we visit places that are unfamiliar to us, we learn about the area’s features while looking for items that would make a great photo. This exploration, much like curiosity, can open up photo possibilities that we didn’t know existed and lead to interesting discoveries. By exploring new areas, you’ll find that you have to adapt skills honed for other areas and as you adapt those skills, you’ll be rewarded not only by the challenge of adaptation but also by the reward of new experience.

Exploration isn’t limited to unfamiliar areas, because even familiar areas change daily. The sunrise and sunset have different colors and the character of light changes throughout the day, the season and the year. Even coming back to a location a year later on the same date can leave it completely changed. While the actual physical area may feel familiar, if you concentrate on the lighting and the conditions that you see instead of a pinpoint on the map, you can realize that the familiar is unfamiliar. I love photographing the same location over and over, because each day it feels so unfamiliar to me. Take the example of the two photos below. The one on the left was photographed in March and the one on the right was photographed in November. It’s the same foreground and composition, but completely different look and feel.

A 72 second long exposure blurs the waves on Lake Superior and the clouds above.crescent moon over Lake Superior

I have mixed feelings about exploration, because exploration takes time and if you’re in an area for only a short amount, you want to shortcut that exploration process. The most effective way is to hire someone that has gone there and photographed before. Then, you’ll get to visit the “good” spots quickly and effectively. Or you can do research to learn about the area before you go which will shortcut the process even more. The ultimate goal of exploration for a photographer is the reward of a good photo. The ultimate goal of exploration is discovery.

Discovery in Photography

I found this feature while exploring the Badlands National Park. It was far off the path and didn't make for a great photo at the time, but in Mid-March the sun will set directly over this feature and that discovery made the rough hike worth it.

I found this feature while exploring the Badlands National Park. It was far off the path and didn’t make for a great photo at the time, but in Mid-March the sun will set directly over this feature and that discovery made the rough hike worth it.

[the act of] finding (something or someone) unexpectedly or in the course of a search.

To me, it’s the discoveries that I make during exploration that make the journey worth it (or if I discover that I’ve discovered nothing, I’m rewarded), because to me the ultimate goal for how I approach photography isn’t about making a good photo. It’s about exploration combined with discovery and that act alone — the search for a good photo — that makes the journey worth it. But, if I discover a new location, the perfect place for a sunset or sunrise and interesting item to photograph the reward becomes even greater.

When the discovery of something excellent to photograph comes from my own personal exploration, I feel a deeper connection to any photograph that I made. When I make the discovery by pouring over a book and seeing someone else’s version of a photo and find a place that way, the discovery feels less rich to me and that deep connection created by personal exploration diminishes.

But, sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of time or you have different goals than just personal exploration and discovery. Depending on the goal, you can approach it as one of exploration and discovery. For example, if you’re taking a photography course, instead of looking at the course as an exploration of the landscape to discover a new photos, which a class can be, you can look at it as an exploration of unfamiliar skills or even as an exploration of how far you can push your skills with new knowledge that can lead to a deeper discovery of the personal nature.

Reward in Photography

The ultimate reward in any photographic adventure is the making of a cool photo. But, to keep you excited about photography when you don’t get that cool photo (which happens more often than not), then you have to start to look at exploration and discovery on their own terms as something that provides its own reward. When you do that, you’ll continue to have that drive to explore and exploration always brings discovery. Sometimes, that discovery is an amazing photo.

Photography Workshops to Help you Explore and Discover



My Recent Explorations and Discoveries

In February, I journed to the Badland National Park for a long weekend. I wanted to explore the park to see what I could discover any interesting formations and places to shoot the full moon over. I also wanted to get sunrise and sunset over some interesting badland formations. I decided to spend the first day there just exploring and seeing what I could find and how it would line up with sunrise and sunsets. The next day, I made my full moon, sunrise and sunset pictures at the places that I had discovered the day before and then explored the park for more locations. Each time I discovered something, I made a mental note on when to come back to photograph it. It was a rewarding experience and I came away with far greater than the five-shots-a-day goal that I set for myself. Here are a few pictures from my Badlands trip.

Recent Explorations and Discoveries near Grand Marais, Minnesota

Despite exploring Cook County for the last 10 years with my camera, I’ve still managed to discover new photo possiblities. Here are a few discoveries I’ve made in February. Click a thumbnail to see it larger.

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Standing on fast ice next to Lake Superior. Minnesotagrand marais lighthouse and full moon