Beyond the Trophy

I get two types of photographers on my photo tours. The first are the amateurs who love nature and use their camera as a vehicle of immersion into nature’s beauty. They really don’t care what they photograph as long as they get to be in nature. The experience is first, photography second. They have no agenda other than to enjoy nature and learn a few new things. These photographers really benefit from the photo tour not only in terms of personal growth in photography but also in reconfirming their connection with the natural world.

The other group are the semi-pros, these photographers are really serious about photography and come mostly to get great pictures to add to their portfolio. They want to be put in the right place at the right time, get the shot and move on. These photographers are trophy hunters, who want to bag their limit of killer images. Enjoyment of nature seems secondary to getting the shot. They are the ones who get stressed if the sunrise fizzles or if the bear doesn’t cooperate by looking into the camera with a bouquet of dandelions hanging from its mouth. In short getting a trophy is job one.

The hardest part of being a photo leader is balancing the two approaches so that both types of photographer get the most out of their trip. I know the Canadian Rockies so well that I can almost always get people to great places in stunning light. It really is not that difficult of a job once you have a basic understanding of light and local climate and geography. Getting people into classic mountain scenery in prime light is what I get paid for and what is expected. For example here are three ‘trophies’ from the Spring 2009 photo tour.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

 

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

 

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Everyone whether amateur and semi-pro are happy when the drama of nature unfolds in a such a theatrical way. Who wouldn’t be with such obvious beauty? But part of a the reason to take a photo tour is to be exposed to new sites and ideas. A good photographer can pull out fine images from more subtle subjects; subjects that have inherent beauty but on a less grand scale.
In most locations, I try to give photographers at least two hours to shoot. The first 45 minutes is usually needed to record the obvious stuff, the mountain lake and reflection, the golden light on the peaks, the plunging waterfall. The remaining time is used to force people to really ‘see’, to find stuff that is easily missed but worth shooting.
The amateurs, although less practiced at seeing, really get into the picture taking process in the second hour on location. Often they get so immersed in shooting that they wish they had 3 or 4 hours in one spot! I have a hard time pulling them away to move on to the next location. The semi-pros on the other hand are often done within an hour and are itching to move on to the next wall hanger. To them, they either miss the subtle images, or they think those photos are unworthy of their effort.
©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

 

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

So as a photo leader, I need to balance the wants of the trophy hunters with the needs of the amateurs (immersion) and therefore I have settled on 2 hours per location as the best compromise.

In May of this year,  I was fortunate to get a group filled entirely with amateurs, there was nary a trophy hunter in sight. And what a difference it made to the experience! Of course we went out to the best places in the best light and got some nice iconic photos, but we also went to places where good photos were harder to find but were more satisfying to capture. And the group was thrilled with every opportunity we had. It was joy to be immersed in our own little worlds and not be worried or rushing to capture the next big trophy.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

I totally understand the trophy hunter mentality especially if you are trying to capture saleable images, I used to be a trophy shooter myself! But more and more I appreciate the amateur approach, the almost childlike immersion and joyful experimentation. The pure joy of living in the moment and not judging if what you are doing will sell, or impress, or resonate is liberating.  Doing just for the sake of doing! By sitting and putting the camera down and smelling, and feeling, the experience is richer. I think to make fine images, one needs to move beyond the trophy and out of yourself. This is why I love shooting with amateurs, they photograph for the joy of it and not for some outward recognition. I now consider myself an amateur in every sense of the word and my photography is better for it.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

10 Responses to “Beyond the Trophy”

  1. Great article.

    I think those of us who are trophy hunters can really benefit from looking through the lens with “amateur” eyes. I know that in the past, I’ve become very frustrated when I don’t get “the shot” and feel like I’ve just wasted 3 hours for “nothing.”

    I finally realized that you can’t force a great picture…you just need to look with those “amateur” eyes. It also make shooting those nature shots much more enjoyable.

  2. I think I would fall into the group of trophy hunters. I always plan out my photo shoots according to the weather conditions and lighting. I try to get something dramatic, different, and better than what I already have. Dealing with mother nature is tough. Many times, the dramatic weather conditions I thought was hoping for clears up by the time the lighting is right. I just say to myself “Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose.”, but at least I got out into the wilderness for a while. Better luck next time.

  3. I forgot to mention that these images from the photo tour are great as always, but the third one of the mountains is one of those photos that knocks me out of my chair.

  4. […] the original:  Beyond the Trophy « Darwin Wiggett This entry was written by Julianna, posted on June 12, 2009 at 9:18 am, filed under general and […]

  5. Nice article Darwin I enjoyed that. I’ve had times where I was in ‘trophy hunter’ mode and was always looking for that perfect shot. I think it happens easy out here in the Canadian Rockies because there are so many amazing shots, one tends to think maybe there is a better one elsewhere that you may be missing. I don’t really think there is anything wrong with that but I do agree that it’s really about being out in nature and enjoying it. I will be in these mountains a long time, whats the rush?For me, I am making the images for myself and not to supplement my income so it makes it a little easier I guess, all part of the reason I’m not all that interested in being a ‘pro’.

    Again, sweet post. I like your ‘amateur’ shots and the tour sounds like good times.

  6. Yep.. that’s why I love sunny days – means I can’t be tempted by potential trophies, giving me an excuse to really get creative. When the sweet light appears, it’s so hard to resist catching that trophy, but it’s the ‘amateur’ shots (with a professional finish) that to me really indicate a photographers eye, heart, and passion, and where I have the most fulfilling fun. That 4th shot of yours is really sweet! I like the 3rd up from the last as well – the B&W. Keep up the creativity Darwin!

    – Floris

  7. I am so in the trophy hunter category! To me the thrill of getting that ‘wow’ shot is what keeps me going for more. The fact that I’ve only been into photography for less than 2 years probably explains that. Maybe when I get so many trophy shots like you I will get bored of it and look for other types of shots.

    It also makes sense that as a tour leader, the ‘amateur’ types of photographers are better to be with. It’s less rushed, their expectations are easier to meet, and seeing as you know the area so well you are bound to have many trophy shots yourself. So you’re bound to have a more relaxed and enjoyable time.

    But, would you feel the same if you were in a foreign country (or even town) which you may never visit again (or at least not in the near future)? Wouldn’t the excitement of being in a new place get you back into that trophy hunter mindset again, if only temporarily? Or would you still be content to miss that killer shot of and focus on the less dramatic scenes?

    • Chris,

      More and more as I go about shooting whether it is in new places or in in ones I have been to before, I am less interested in the icon, the big drama, the crazy rush of getting as many locations nailed in as short a time possible. I prefer to concentrate on a smaller area and really get to know the place, to see and feel the nuances, to dig deeper and stay longer, to get past the obvious and the cliche. I find that much more rewarding than chasing a trophy and in the end I feel my photogrphy is the better for the richer experience and slower approach. I think this is a common evolution of mature (“old geezers” maybe) artists.

      Darwin

  8. Royce Howland Says:

    Darwin, having been out with you both on the (exceptional!) organized tours and on the photographic equivalent of a pickup game 🙂 I can appreciate this insight. I’ve gone through these phases myself, and the past year has forced me to confront some of my own notions of what, why and how I photograph. And I don’t mean the technique.

    I’m definitely trying to be conscious of the inspiration I can find in the world… rather than only focusing on my own initial preconceptions, and then going out to project those onto the world around me. The latter can be rewarding but also equally frustrating when my ideas or hopes don’t jive with reality. Whereas when I’m really open to opportunity, I have to say I am very, very rarely disappointed… even when I don’t get “the shot” I will still experience something that’s worth it.

    I think you’re right that it’s an evolutionary kind of thing, for people who stick with the pursuit and peel back the layers. As you say elsewhere, art is about interpretation, and there’s a lot more to interpretation than simply “bagging” the location. While I understand that approach and go for the obvious, grand or iconic shots a lot too, I also try to sink a bit deeper into the sense of place and my responses to it. I make my wife crazy sometimes by not venturing that far, at least in terms of square footage covered. 🙂

    To me it is a great feeling to find a place that I can keep mining for different perspectives…

  9. Stephan Dietrich Says:

    Darwin: Your “Beyond the Trophy” is a great short explanation of the real picture as we mature as being both a photographer and artist. I was a professional wedding photographer for nearly 25 years and finally came back home and ventured to be a landscape photographer – something I have always had a passion for. Being an “amateur” or considered a “professional (or semi-pro)” – sometimes the only difference is payment, especially when I often see better images from “amateurs (those that are not being paid)” than from those that are making a living (the professionals – those that are getting paid -or- need payment).

    To see and to have visions beyond seeing – that is when you really see. The amateurs you describe within your memorable workshops appear to have the “eager child” attitude where everything is new, everything is fresh, everything is exciting, etc., etc., and there is the desire to try-it-out, experiment and the all important “no fear” attitude, especially not worrying about failing and/or accept critique and/or to try something new.

    For some of the professionals and semi-pros you describe, when photography becomes a job, where time is money and/or needing to deliver a quota for an agency and/or absolutely need to have that “trophy image every time” … then, you become the punch card employee who pays more attention to the clock rather than the beauty in front of their eyes. The one who forgot the simple rule to wait and turn around after the sun sets and patiently await for the possible glow. The one who is not upset when the moment did not happen.

    For other professionals and semi-pros, there is the mentality to know where you are, who you are, how to get the job done, to be able to look back and simply still appreciate the moment and capture an image -and- know that there are other images and that there will be another time. Why do we head back to a place when we have already been there and captured so many images? Simply answer: Because we can. Other answer: Because it brings peace, comfort and joy. Other answer: To improve upon, see something new and walk away knowing that much more.

    Whether an image is a trophy or not, that typically is within the eye of the beholder. Having the mentality of “checking a location off of your list (the been-there-done-that mentality)” and not wanting to return, those are the individuals who are missing out – missing the BIG picture.

    So, as you state, I think that finding (discovering) a happy medium between a Professional (semi-pro) and Amateur is where is best – especially to have the consciousness (awareness) to respect the wilderness (take only pictures and only leave footprints where they belong) so that other generations will discover the pleasures that you have found.

    You have an excellent site, amazing images and even though I have not been on one of your workshops, “Thank you!” for sharing your visions, amazing images, words, wisdoms and teaching others.

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