Special Places for Photography

Yesterday I was up on Castro Ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains just to the west of Los Angeles. This is one of my favorite places near home. I can be there in less than an hour, and I have now been there frequently, through all seasons, in sun and rain.

I think there is real value to returning to a location again and again, to making it so much yours that you know where things are, and details of that place start to become old friends. I have been reading a book by an English naturalist, John Lister-Kaye, a book called, At The Water's Edge. The entire book is about his experiences taking the same circular walk from his home in a Scottish glen (like a valley) up to a small loch (lake) for the past thirty years! His observations encourage the reader to look again at the nature around us and to discover its wildness for ourselves.

I think that happens anytime I can go back to a natural location again and again. Sure, I absolutely love going to places from Maine to Costa Rica, but in some ways, coming back to a location I know, and photographing there over time gives me a stronger sense of place than being at other locations. And it helps me see the wildness in me and places nearby.

Going back to a location again and again helps you gain perspective on a place throughout the year. You start to look for subtle, yet important changes. You see a patch of flowers in bloom and immediately you know what they are and how they are doing this year.

You might think that being in an area so close to the huge population of the LA area that there would be a lot of people up there. I saw a total of ... none. The morning was chilly and it was early, but still, not another person. In all the times I have been to Castro Crest, I rarely see many people, except on the weekend when I might see all of half a dozen. This is one of the most accessible and truly wild places I have ever been to.

But all areas have places like this if you get out and look for them. I know of special places like this around Minneapolis/St. Paul where I lived most of my life. I know of special places like this near my sister's home in Freeport, Maine. I think every photographer should find and explore such a special place, then make it his or her own by regularly photographing there.

I can honestly say that I now know a lot more about the chaparral, an important shrub-based ecosystem unique to California in the U.S. I have read quite a bit about it, but there is nothing like being out in it, especially a place you can truly experience throughout the year. I have seen and photographed the world of the chaparral as demonstrated at this location, as seen at Castro Crest. I am not saying I know everything there is to know about chaparral, but I truly know a lot more about it from this direct experience.

And I have gotten photos that I truly like. I can't say my expedition to Castro Crest yesterday netted me brilliant images that I will show off to everyone. But I don't need to do that. I know I will get my best shots over time. Yesterday, I simply needed to reconnect with my friends there and capture some images that might express something a little new.

The big-pod ceonothus were in full bloom. These are pretty, though not dramatic, white-flowered shrubs that are an important part of the chaparral here. I photographed some early prickly phlox  -- I had not seen them in bloom this early before. I found a lovely small manzanita that showed off its wonderful bark in the low light of the early morning sun.

All of these things were important to me. I don't care if none of these images go any further than my opening them and putting them on this blog. They are my connection to wildness in a place not so far from home.

About Rob Sheppard

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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5 Responses to Special Places for Photography

  1. This is exactly how I feel about Pt. Reyes. It is about a hour away from where I live in Berkeley, CA. I try to get there every month and frequently walk the Abbotts Lagoon trail, which I find has great all year round interest. I find if I get there early and on a weekday there are few or no people there. It also takes the pressure off of trying to photograph and document the location as I know I will probably be there again soon. Here are my recent findings: http://naturalhistorywanderings.com/2011/01/24/winter-at-abbotts-lagoon/

  2. I love this approach to photography too. I get great satisfaction from immersing myself in an area and learning it's secrets. With a young family I'm not able to take big trips around the country or world right now, so I find myself exploring easily accessible areas near home for a few hours or a day at a time.

  3. Francie says:

    This is exactly how I feel about the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast, just 45 minutes from Tallahassee, Florida http://www.fws.gov/saintmarks/. Now that I am retired it is a privilege to be a volunteer there, and a member of the first Photo Club on any National Wildlife Refuge. My favorite time is in the winter, pre-dawn at the lighthouse, although any time at the Refuge is a great time!
    You expressed my feelings so well, I enjoy photography at the Refuge, but I go also because it is a refuge for me, as I find my strongest connection to Source is in nature.

  4. Tony Traub says:

    I also live very close to the Santa Monica Mountains. This area is a wonderful place to shoot. I think most photographers around here do not realize the photographic
    opportunities that there are in this area. I totally understand that the Sierras and other areas in California are outstanding for landscapes, but with a good fey you can get some fine photos right here in our own backyard. I can be in the local mountains in way less than an hour which is very cool.

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