When No One Else Would

One of the questions I am frequently asked (right after, “what camera do you use?”) is: “how did you get that photo?”

There are a lot of ways to answer this question, but the most fundamental answer is simple: go when no one else would, and you’ll see what no one else will.

Taken on the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida, with no one else around.

When it comes to photography, most people just show up and take whatever they happen to see when they get there. Sometimes people get lucky. I’ve gotten lucky plenty of times. But my best images – my most compelling work – comes from outings when I went when no one else would.

Typically, this involves early mornings. I am not a morning person. This can be compounded by the seasons. For example, in Japan, there is no daylight savings time like in the United States, so morning comes very early during the summer months. Sunrise can be as early as 4:30am, which means you may need to get up at 3:00am to get somewhere interesting. But when you get there, and see an incredible sunrise with no other person in sight, and get the shot that you’ve been dreaming of for months or even years, you will know it was worth it.

A very early, solitary sunrise over rice paddies in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

This doesn’t just apply to landscape photography, though. This idea is equally valid, if not even more valid, at famous tourist destinations. Recently on Instagram, someone asked me about a photo I had taken in Kyoto. They noticed that there was no one in the shot, and were surprised to see such emptiness at a famous tourist destination. If you’ve ever been to Kyoto, you likely understand why this would be surprising. But my reply was the same:

Go when no one else would, and you’ll see what no one else will.

During one of my trips to Kyoto, I visited the famous Bamboo Forest, and took one of my favorite images there, without a single person in the shot. I didn’t have to mask or clone stamp anyone out. How did I avoid such edits? By being there by 5:00am. I enjoyed a solid hour of very few passersby, shooting to my heart’s content without getting in anyone’s way (or anyone getting in mine).

Early morning in Kyoto’s famous bamboo forest, with no one in sight.

This adage doesn’t just apply to the time of the day – it can also apply to the time of the year. Popular locations are naturally going to be packed during the months most convenient for travel (typically the summer). Even at early hours, you can expect lots of photographers at certain destinations. If you can go during the down season, you’re less likely to be left competing with other photographers, and you may even see sights others never will.

Consider winter in the White Mountains as an example. There aren’t a lot of people who want to get up before 5:00am and drive on icy roads just so they can go hike in the snow and freezing cold. (I am not one of those people either, by the way.) Nevertheless, those who do are at times rewarded with sights that few others will ever see. Frost covered trees, fresh snow packs, and much more can be enjoyed if you’re willing to make the journey.

The first light of morning illuminates freshly frosted trees in the White Mountains

Of course, it’s not always possible to do what I’m talking about, for a variety of reasons. Anyone who knows me also knows that I love cherry blossom season in Japan. In Tokyo at least, there are few places you can go that no one else would, regardless of the time of day. Due to the sheer volume of people, there’s always someone there if it’s the kind of place any normal person might want to be. During cherry blossom season, this means you will necessarily be fighting with crowds. Even at my favorite secret spots, there will inevitably be other people around.

A beautiful view of sakura in Tokyo. Not seen: me stuffed between 500 other people.

So, yes, this adage isn’t the only aspect of photography worth thinking about. But it is an important one.

Taking beautiful photographs involves more than just showing up. You need to choose not simply where you will be, but also when you will be there. Be willing to go the extra mile. As with many things in life, you will find that relatively few others are willing to go it with you.

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    Top 10 Photos of 2018

    We are once again on the cusp of another new year, which means it’s time to choose my top 10 images taken in 2018! I hope you’ll enjoy these images, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!

    #1: “Snowglow”

    The light of morning illuminates frosted trees in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

    #2: “Frozen Highland Lake”

    A beautiful sunset on Highland Lake in New Hampshire during the frigid cold snap of January 2018. 0F and a -20F windchill when taking this shot.

    #3: “Waves Of Gulf Light”

    Waves roll in along the white sand beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola Beach, Florida.

    #4: “Sugar Hill Lupine Festival”

    Lupines blooming in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire

    #5: “The Calm After The Storm”

    A beautiful sunset develops in the sky after hurricane Michael makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. Taken on Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola, Florida.

    #6: “Tall Timber Glow”

    A beautiful twilight over a cabin at Tall Timber Lodge in Pittsburg, New Hampshire

    #7: “Nuclear Dawn”

    A nuclear looking dawn evolves along the Gulf Coast of Florida at the Gulf Islands National Seashore

    #8: “Smoky Layers of Light”

    Layers of light and autumn color in the setting sun in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

    #9: “Smoky Autumn Flow”

    A flowing stream with autumn colors all around in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

    #10: “Autumn Burst In The Smoky Mountains”

    A burst of sunset light illuminates autumn colors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
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    • Lois LatraverseAll beautiful but my love of the Smoky Mountains make those close to my heart!ReplyCancel

    Travelogue: Great Smoky Mountains National Park In Autumn

    Last week I took a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to photograph the fall foliage. The colors were late this year, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t spectacular! I had a fantastic time exploring the region with my camera. Speaking of which, this was my first significant photo outing with the new Nikon Z7. I’ll be posting a review of the Z7 in the near future, but suffice it to say, I was highly pleased with the experience.

    [Click on any image to see a larger version in my galleries]

    Day 1

    My first day in the park was mostly spent exploring the surrounding streams and rivers in the region. Thanks to good amounts of rain, all the water in the park had a strong flow during my trip which made for great photos. I also made the hike up to Grotto Falls on this day, which thanks to the rain was gushing impressively. Grotto Falls is unique in that you can walk behind the waterfall, though unfortunately I wasn’t able to explore this spot photographically due to crowds. I was lucky to get the one shot I did without anyone in it.

    After shooting the streams I ran up to a spot near Gatlinburg for sunset, which turned out to be beautiful! Right before the sun went down, the light hit the edges of the mountains below which made for a great intimate shot using my Nikon 85mm f/1.8G. Thanks to the massive sensor of the Z7, I was able to shoot in DX mode which effectively gave me the reach of about 135mm while still having a very large image. The colors in this area where very vibrant on this day, and there were surprisingly few people around. I have to admit, sometimes I look shooting in solitude!

    Day 2

    The evening between my first and second days in the park was chaotic to say the least. Strong storms blew through the area, downing trees and limbs all throughout the region. I ended up sleeping in my car that night as it was both very loud from all the wind and rain, and I was concerned about having something fall on me. Not the most comfortable night’s sleep, but it did the job!

    In the morning I got up and went for an early hike to Laurel Falls. The hike to the waterfall is a bit over a mile, but the entire path is paved which makes the going much easier. Along with the waterfall, there was beautiful scenery throughout the hike, which I took my time to enjoy on the way back down. The third image below was made using a panning exposure with a slightly slower shutter speed which blurs the colors and gives a very pleasant effect for those who like abstract/artistic images.

    Thanks to the strong winds and rain the night before, many of the leaves had fallen off the trees and into the water of the rivers and streams around the park, so I also took some time to explore this scenery during my second day. I tried a number of long exposure shots which makes for an interesting effect in the water. Most photographs of water benefit from a polarizing filter (I use a Lee Landscape Polarizer) but this scene especially does as it allows for the color of the leaves in the water to really pop, which helps emphasize their movement in an image like this.

    The day ended with a bear sighting in the woods and some nice shooting along the winding roads throughout the park. While I enjoyed the bear sighting, it was a bit annoying because many of the visitors decided to simply stop their cars in the middle of the road as opposed to pulling off at an approved area. This naturally caused traffic to back up for a good 15-20 minutes. I ended up pulling off at one of the appropriate spots and cooking my dinner out of the back of my car. A can of soup, a container of propane, and an MSR pocket rocket make life a bit easier in this way.

    Day 3

    The start to day 3 was probably the most eventful part of the trip, though in an unfortunate way. I’ll get to that in moment, but first I should say the sunrise was spectacular! I got up at around 4:30am and headed up to Clingmans Dome, which offers a spectacular view over the surrounding mountains. With some high level clouds and plenty of space for the sun to the east, the sky lit up just before sunrise and continued to display nice colors even after the sun had risen. Along with the view of the fog in the valleys below, it made me surprised how relatively few people were up there at the start of the day.

    Unfortunately, while there were few people, I still managed to make one of them upset. Without getting too far into it, I ended up accidentally getting in the way of someone who was taking pictures. I should have asked when I moved to the spot that I did, but I honestly did not realize I was in their way until they said something. But by the time they said something, they had already made up their mind that I was selfish and didn’t care about others. I wish they had stayed because I would have happily gotten out of their way and moved elsewhere (the sun was not even up yet), but they ended up walking away and leaving, voicing their disapproval as they left.

    I feel really badly for getting in their way! I only wish they had given me the chance to make it right. It was an honest mistake, which as a human, I am prone to making.

    At any rate, the rest of the day was less eventful. I went back to Cades Cove where I was camping and took a bike ride around the loop. I had already hiked a good number of miles over the last couple of days, so my legs were pretty worn out after the ride! I’m glad I did it though – it was nice to be able to get around the traffic more freely than I could have done by car.

    Day 4

    Since the Smoky Mountains are about 8 hours from my home, I didn’t have a lot of time to explore on my last day, but I did get to do a little shooting along one of the rivers near my campsite before heading home, and I used the opportunity to test out the Z7’s square format setting. Of course, you can always shoot at the normal size of the sensor and crop to square after the fact, but there’s something enjoyable to me about the limitation of shooting in square format in certain situations. It makes you think differently about the scene and how you compose your shot, and helps increase your photographic discipline, which is always a good thing.

    I had a really great time exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s definitely something I’ll consider doing again in the future. Having spent so much time photographing in New Hampshire, I have to admit I’m a bit of an autumn snob because of the colors are so vibrant and beautiful there. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about shooting in the Smoky Mountains in comparison. But you can color me impressed – while the scenery is certainly different than what you find in New England, it is nevertheless beautiful and provides plenty of photographic opportunities.

    Thanks for reading and checking out my photos! You can see a few extra photos over at my galleries here.

    Until next time, stay safe, and happy shooting!

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      Japan’s Hidden Gems: Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter

      Many travelers to Japan take trips to popular destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto, and not without reason – these areas boast some of the most beautiful and easily accessed locations in the country. Some feel that popular places are not worth visiting and photographing since they’ve already been photographed repeatedly, but I would not agree with that sentiment. Popular locations become popular for a reason, and every photographer is going to offer a unique take on the location during their visit, if for not other reason than differing conditions. At the same time, Japan boasts a number of spectacular hidden gems that relatively few visitors will experience. While these may be off the beaten path a bit, they are just as much worth the visit if the itinerary allows for it.

      Colors of Dusk In The Kurashiki Bikan Historical District

      One such place is the Kurashiki Bikan Historic Quarter in Okayama Prefecture, Japan. What the area lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty and history. Hundreds of years ago, the Bikan Quarter was an area used for storage of important commodities such as rice. In fact, these storage buildings were so central to the area that the city’s name – Kurashiki – contains the word for them in Japanese (kura). The canal which exists there today was originally built to allow for the easy passage of supplies.

      Shops in the Bikan Quarter

      Today many of these old storehouses are maintained in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, though they now contain shops, restaurants, or museums rather than commodities. The canal, which once was important for transport, is now maintained as a way to take a short tour through the area on an old style boat. Both sides of the canal are lined with weeping willows and other beautiful plants, which make a boat ride down it all the more pleasant.

      The Kurashiki Bikan Canal

      Bikan Salaryman

      One of my favorite parts of this historical quarter is that all the power lines have been put underground or otherwise hidden from view, so that the area maintains the feel of old Japan. Buildings are often very close to one another in Japan by necessity, so there are typically power lines zigzagging in all directions wherever you go, but the good folks who maintain this area wanted to give it a greater ambiance by avoiding this visual distraction. Along with the old style lanterns around the canal, a visit to the Bikan District is like taking a trip back in time.

      Cycling Through The Old Town

      Some of Japan’s hidden gems can be difficult to access if you don’t have a vehicle or read Japanese, but that is thankfully not the case with the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. Okayama Station is situated along the main shinkansen (bullet train) line connected to Tokyo, and it is only a short train ride from there to Kurashiki Station. From this station, it’s a fairly brief and straightforward stroll to the district.

      Evening In The Kurashiki Bikan District

      If you’re planning a visit to Japan and want to get off the beaten path a bit, I highly recommend paying a visit to the Bikan District. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn some of Japan’s history and experience the past at the same time. And you’ll probably pick up some great souvenirs along the way!

      Bikan District Bridge View

      Travel Tip: stay around until dusk and blue hour. Although the crowds are typically light anyway, they thin out almost entirely at this time of day. As the lights and lanterns come on for the evening, the atmosphere in the district becomes all the more stunning.

      Want to explore Japan for yourself? Join one of my photography adventures next year with Japan Travel! More details: 

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        Highlights From The Great North Woods Fall Photography Workshop

        This year, I held my first fall workshop in the Great North Woods at the beautiful Tall Timber Lodge in Pittsburg, New Hampshire. Tall Timber is a lovely rustic lodge with various properties surrounding Back Lake. The lodge boasts superb amenities and the area’s most delicious restaurant, and is surrounded by the stunning fall foliage of the Great North Woods in autumn, making it the perfect place to host this kind of workshop.

        Below are a few of my images from the 2018 workshop. The group had a great time and got to some great color throughout the weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year’s workshop!

        Dixville Creek In Autumn

        North Woods Fall Color

        Dixville Autumn Brook

        Fall At The Baby Flume

        Vibrant Autumn Color In Dixville Notch

        Sunset Over First Connecticut Lake

        Beaver Brook Falls Upper

        2019 Great North Woods Fall Photography Workshops

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