Location Photography

A friend of mine suggested I start offering some photo tips, so today I wanted to share about finding locations, or making the best of where you are.

Chatsworth, CA (yes, Chatsworth)

Some context. I've been in a creative rut and am looking to spice things up. Over the past few weeks I've had an interest in getting into medium format photography. Not knowing much about medium format cameras (there's so many options) and doing some research, I've settled on looking for used Hasselblads. Today, that search lead me to Chatsworth near Los Angeles. A camera shop had a day of buying used cameras, so I went to sell my camera and see what they had in their used department. Sadly, there were no used cameras.

While I was Out

While driving to Chatsworth, I didn't feel much excitement over the thought of Chatsworth. It didn't strike me as being an exotic place and I thought it would just be another LA suburb that was something to pass by. Not knowing where it was, I googled for directions. It looked like there were some cool mountains or rockpiles nearby. I figured after going to the camera store, I could spend some time exploring the Chatsworth area.


Planning Ahead

Normally when I go someplace to shoot, I google ahead of time to find at least a couple of places of interest to start with. Then along the way, I'll stop if I see something interesting or something I just can't pass up.

With Chatsworth and knowing nothing more than a name, I googled for pictures. I saw the pictures of rock formations and decided I would look for those. Not knowing where to go, I just drove into the areas that looked mountainous and got sort of lost.


U-Turns Are Welcome

As I drove, I saw a quiet looking street headed into the rock hills. But, I didn't notice the road until I was passing it. This lead me to having to go a long way to make a U-turn. In the process,  I came to a apartment complexes, looking for a driveway to flip a b and head back. I saw a tree on a hillside that looked really cool. The sun was shining through it in a beautiful way and so I pulled over.

I walked up to the tree, saw the best angle required me to lay onto the sidewalk, and proceeded to make some pictures of the tree and tall grass around it. Looking around, it was NOT an exotic location, but it got my photo-buzz going. It was a beautiful spot at a beautiful moment, and I got to be there. If you look at the above photo, none would be the wiser as to where it was, unless you were me or lived there.


Are You Willing?

Location photography is tricky. I want my photos to inspire others like an Ansel Adams photography. Early on I became aware that I am not Ansel Adams and have to make photos that are from me. But, it's easy to get into the thought that to make inspiring photos, I have to go somewhere exotic, i.e. the European continent or someplace where natives look like natives.

So, when I go out, be it to my local hangout, or across the world, I want to make photos that share what I see and saw.

Again, planning ahead is a big help, but so does something called patience and a bit of selfishness. I could have seen that tree but talked myself out of it because of the apartments. I do talk myself out at times and I walk away with nothing. I could have realized I would look stupid laying down on a sidewalk and let that stop me. Sometimes it does stop me.

After photographing the tree, I looked closer to see more details of the scene. The tall grass waving in the breeze was beautiful to hear and see.

Hopping Fences (it's ok to be frustrated)

Moving on, I found a park with a hillside to climb. From afar, I could see a perch I wanted to get up to. I parked my car and started a little hike. It looked a bit steep, but that didn't discourage me. What got in my way was a fence I couldn't see until I got up to it. The fence blocked off the whole hillside. I thought about hopping the fence, but I noticed the other side was really someone's backyard, with a clear view into their house. Normally I take the challenge, but I try to not trespass on someone's property without permission. It bummed me out to see a cool spot but not be able to get to it. My photo-buzz wore off and I turned around.

Walking to the car with a defeated feeling, I noticed dying leaves on a barren tree. The oranges stood out to me. Again, the location was in a city park and doesn't scream exotic, but I loved the leaves. So, I stopped and began photographing. Again, with patience, I photographed from different angles, trying to look for what was more interesting to me than just an eye-level photograph. Eventually I looked up and liked how the branches looked against the sky.

Come Back

I left the park to continue exploring the rocky areas. As I drove through that quiet road I found earlier, I saw awesome views but nowhere to stop and make pictures. Further down the road I saw a wide shoulder on the opposite side. Taking another long u-turn, I came back to it and saw it marked, "NO Parking." Well, I parked. Just as I pulled in, I looked over at the view and saw a train passing through the rocky areas. It looked awesome and I hurried to get my camera and hopped out. I got out in time to see it disappear. You could say I missed the train. So, I began to photograph the view anyways, but really I wanted to see the train. Having my trusty google with me, I looked up the Metrolink schedule to see the next train. It would be dark when the next train comes and not being the shot I wanted (although, now as I type this, maybe it would be a cool shot at night? hmmm). I decided to log this place to memory and come back when there would be a train. The sun and lighting might not be the same, but it might be.


Sometimes, you have to go to a location several times to make a shot you want. It's worth it. Plus, look around at other details you may be overlooking.

Have fun and keep your eyes open. Let your frustration be an encouragement to take a step back and look from another point of view.

Let me know your thoughts, or even some suggestions.