If you enjoy the outdoors, it is likely you are a photographer. You are on the trail and come around a bend. Suddenly, the world drops away and a vast landscape stretches to an incomprehensibly distant horizon. When nature shows off like this, it is natural to want to preserve it in pixels.
The grand landscape will always be the top priority to a hiker with a camera, but with practice, photography can also be a window to natural beauty that we routinely pass by unnoticed.
Over the years, I have been to a handful of photographic seminars, always in a place of special natural beauty. But I am not sure that Yosemite or Point Reyes is the best place to learn to see beyond the usual wide angle landscape. If you gave a camera to a monkey in Yosemite Valley, he would likely return with some nice photographs. How could he miss? But could he take a good photograph in a vacant lot?
I believe that the measure of a good photographer is one who makes extraordinary images in ordinary surroundings. Cultivating the heightened visual acuity necessary to create images like this is an excellent way to bring us closer to the natural world. Getting out into nature is important, but when we go, we should strive to walk into it and not just through it.
I am better at preaching it than doing it, but photography has helped me open my eyes to natural beauty that I would have otherwise passed without notice. It has awakened me to the beauty of nature at my feet or close at hand that I never saw before. It has challenged me to see with a child’s eyes and discover extraordinary sights in ordinary places.
With this in mind, photography becomes as much a practice in expanded seeing as the pursuit of a picture. You don’t need a hoochy-coochy Nikon SLR to do this. Next time you hit the trail, grab your pocket camera. Use your hike as an opportunity to really look at the “ordinary” sights you pass. Is there a spider web bejeweled with morning dew? Are some fallen maple leaves resting on autumn’s tawny grasses just so? How about the brightly colored lichen on that rock? I wonder if a photo of the sycamore trees reflected in that creek pool will look like one of Monet’s impressionist paintings.
It is a bit surprising, but I have learned that images of simple scenes like this wear far better on a viewer’s eyes than the photo of the alpine peaks bathed in alpenglow. Mark my words, you will take that image off the wall while the picture of the maples leaves on the grass continues to please.
The possibilities are endless. As we look more carefully, we begin to see more deeply. In the process, we learn that the ordinary things we pass without notice are indeed extraordinary.