With so many people making photos at iconic locations, how do you stay inspired?

The summit of Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain in Maine is one of the most popular photo spots in New England.

I recently led a photo walk for a local land trust when one of the participants asked me how I stay inspired to make photos. She was referring specifically to situations she has encountered photographing at iconic locations that are often crowded with dozen of photographers. I understood what she meant. When I started out in photography in the early ’90’s, I was primarily a nature photographer and I spent much of my first decade shooting landscapes in iconic locations like the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. At the time, I envisioned my photographic life as looking like the photo below – enjoying the beauty of the natural world while I work, either alone or with my wife Marcy.

A photographer above the fog on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park.

It was an exciting vision and one that I enjoyed in real life until I started encountering scenes like below on Cadillac Mountain and at Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park.

The crowd on Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. Sunrise.
Arches National Park, UT Tourists and photographers wait for the light at Delicate Arch.

The scenes were still beautiful and I managed to make pretty pictures, but the experience felt more like a party than a peaceful moment outside working on my art. I don’t have a good answer for how to stay inspired in these situations, because I avoid them now. Part of what interests me in my landscape photography is making photos of a unique moment in time and if there are another 20, 50, 100 photographers there, that uniqueness fades, no matter how creative I get (and I have trouble being inspired in those moments anyway.)

Lichen covered maple trees in a flood plain along Wytipitlock Stream in the Reed Plantation in Reed, Maine.

The main thing that has kept me going at this for more than 25 years now is working on projects meaningful to me which a lot of the time means photographing land that is in the process of being conserved. These projects also inspire me to work harder to find unique images because they are places new to me and they often lack the obvious ‘grand landscape’ locations.

White pines at sunset in the Reed Plantation in Reed, Maine,

Reed Plantation in Maine was one of those places/projects. (You can read about how Apple funded the purchase of this working forest by The Conservation Fund in my previous post, Conserving Working Forest in Northern Maine.) At the time I photographed it in 2016, Reed Plantation was 30,000+ acres of working forest without hills or ponds and a lot of it had been logged in one way or another over the previous 20 years. Three days of driving logging roads, bushwhacking along streams, and waiting for good light were the only way to find the good shots. And there was zero competition for tripod space!

Dawn on the Mattawamkeag River as it flows through the Reed Plantation in Wytipitlock, Maine.

So I guess my advice would be to get off the beaten path, which is harder than it used to be. Take away the comfortable – dramatic vistas, your favorite lens, etc., and you’ll find your creative vision stretching in new ways. I still visit the iconic locations, but I don’t stress about getting pictures there anymore. I can just enjoy the scenery and be part of the party!

How do you stay inspired?


2 thoughts on “With so many people making photos at iconic locations, how do you stay inspired?

  1. I’m sure you have a much deeper love and appreciation of nature than many of the picture takers who are mainly interested in collecting pictures of Instagram famous locations to show to their friends. Your photography tells stories, I value that a great deal more than another picture of sunrise from Cadillac or the Bass Harbor lighthouse.

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