I’ve encountered a line of thinking in landscape photography that argues against shooting iconic scenes or locations. The thought seems to be along the lines that you will never be able to capture an iconic subject as well as the photographer or photographers who made it famous. Who’s going to capture the Yosemite Valley as well as Ansel Adams? Or the California coast like Edward Weston? If a subject has been captured many times by many photographers under many conditions, what can you possibly add to the accumulated body of work that will be new or interesting? Isn’t anything that you do simply going to be repetitive or derivative of what others already have done?
No, I say. There are many reasons and much value to be gained from shooting the icons. It’s probably fair to say the mountain in this image, “Longs Peak, Rising Clouds,” is an icon of Colorado’s Front Range. Do a search for Longs Peak on Google Images and you will find countless images of it. Here are a few of the reasons why I don’t hesitate to shoot it again (and again, and again!):
- No one sees the world quite like you do. Everybody has a unique vision. The subject matter of an image is just the building blocks by which this vision is expressed. If people get in trouble shooting the icons, it seems to me it’s because they’re simply trying to copy what’s been done before. Every subject, big or small, iconic or mundane, has limitless possibilities for interpretation and expression. If you’re in touch with your own vision of the world, it will come through uniquely regardless of your subject.
- Shooting the icons trains the creative mind. If you’ve ever been to an art museum, you’ve probably seen art students practicing sketching the masterpieces of the collection. As photographers, it’s probably not very profitable to set up your camera in a gallery and shoot someone else’s photograph on the wall. However, it is valuable to set up your camera and shoot the iconic landscape, in the same way that it is valuable for artists to sketch copies of masterpieces.
- There is no preemption in art. Just because Ansel Adams became famous for his images of Yosemite, and Edward Weston for his images of the California coast, does this mean other photographers are preempted from ever shooting there again? Of course not. Did authors stop writing literature after great works by Tolstoy, Dickens, or Hemingway? Did composers stop writing classical music after great works by Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven? Every artistic field has limitless opportunities to be explored, and the potential of iconic landscapes are not exhausted by the great photographers who have worked there before.
- Icons are marketable. Yes, it’s true. People relate to well-known, iconic landscapes and may give your work a second look if they recognize the subject. It may or may not be an important consideration to you, but it’s something to think about.
- Why not? Especially for digital photographers, there’s really no downside to trying your hand at the icons. In fact, I might suggest that any opportunity to practice with your camera, especially when faced with the challenge of capturing a well-known, iconic landscape in your own way, is good practice for your photography skills!