Photography in your “backyard”

I’m like many photographers, I suspect. When I dream about what I want to photograph, my dreams lead me to far away “iconic” vistas in national parks from Acadia to Zion. And, whether you’re an experienced photographer and a fan of pros like George Lepp, Tim Fitzharris, Bob Krist, or William Neill, (they’re among my favorites) or you just devoured your first edition of Outdoor Photographer and are really motivated to test your eye, you’ve probably found yourself with more desire to travel than the funds or time to make the trip.

How many of us have allowed ourselves to feel left out of the excitement of “real nature photography” if we couldn’t travel to those icons that the pros have helped make famous in their books and all those calendars that magically appear every November.

Just last tonight, I was perusing Tim Fitzharris’ National Park Photography looking at some of the great national park locations I’d love to visit. I’ll get to some of them, in time. But, what do I do tomorrow if I can’t hop a flight? Sitting in my family room with my d-slr, reading travel guides, and how-to articles in a stack of photo mags doesn’t get me any closer to Yosemite any more than it adds images I can share with friends or market in my portfolio.

So what’s a guy to do? Think. Where can you find scenes with the magic of a one-armed-bandit at a Las Vegas casino? You know what I mean – vistas that whet your appetite for sunrise images tomorrow morning and then become the temptress that lures you back again and again.

May I suggest . . . your “backyard?” Your backyard, just outside your back door, may be a treasure trove if you look at it with the “photographer’s eye.” I guarantee there are countless images you can be proud of, that close.

However, we don’t have to take such a macro view of the word “backyard.” Most of us can get to many ideal sites that are within a few minutes or a couple hours’ drive of our homes. Many of these will readily (and repeatedly) give up the quality images we crave.

This thought was like a magic elixer that cures all ills after it occurred to me last spring. With it tucked away in the back of my mind I walked out my back door one early spring morning for my daily jaunt. Nearby Hogback Road was a quiet place to walk.

It always looked pretty much like it sounds, though – eight-tenths of a mile bounded on the west side by cultivated and manured farm land that would soon sprout acres of field corn and on the east, largely under swamp water. Unfortunately, both sides were littered with everything from old refrigerators to bulging plastic trash bags, tires, and even rotting deer carcasses. This little used rural byway, perennially in disrepair, is familiar to very few people who aren’t at the wheel of John Deere.

For some reason, that morning I could see beyond the litter. I noticed spring’s first blush of wild flowers but since typical April showers had kept my camera high and dry in the backseat of my pick-up I could only note their appearance and plan for my next walk.

But that morning would be the first of an eight-month long foray into the joys of “backyard photography. Ultimately I’d collect a portfolio of images that would find their way into an exhibit at a local library and collect ego boosting “oos and aahs” (as if I needed ego boosting). But, these results along with the opening almost a year ago of my storefront, Natural Images Gallery, also led to the ever gratifying opportunity to witness people putting their money where their mouths are.

On this one short stretch of country road I learned more about nature photography than my whole bookshelf had been able to teach me. I discovered first hand the value of foreground to a landscape photo, why it’s important to check the corners of my image, how valuable the background can be, even how that critical depth-of-field can make or break an image.

But one of the most important lessons learned on Hogsback Road, was I didn’t need a plane ticket to get my camera in front of interesting, fun, even dramatic images. They were in my “back yard” all the while.