[Editorial note: This is the fourth part of Infinite Possibilities, a series which started Tuesday, refuting the belief that “it’s all been done”/”there’s nothing new under the sun” in photography. This series was originally written in early August 2006, then expanded and published on my old website in late October of 2009, and now expanded again as I republish it mid December 2010.]
Part 4: The Difficult
Photographers leave a lot on the table. There are constant great-photo opportunities which we know about, and choose not to take. Why? Because they’re too much trouble. They’re too difficult.
Anybody can find the unphotographed, thousands of feet down in the ocean, atop inaccessible mountain peaks, inside of superheated hot springs, in the deepest and narrowest caves, in the frigid underwater realm beneath the polar ice, in the densest jungle undergrowth, inside the rims of volcanoes – in all the places that are extraordinarily dangerous, difficult, and/or expensive to go.
But one doesn’t need to travel to the ends of the Earth to find rich opportunities, left untaken, because they’re too much trouble. They’re all around us, all the time. Photographers choose to take pictures from eye level, rather than climb to the top of a tall pine tree, or scale a sheer cliff, and shoot from there. We choose to take pictures from the shore, rather than stand neck deep in icy water. We choose to take pictures from the cleared path, rather than bushwhack through miles of poison oak or devil’s club. We avoid mosquitoes, bees, wasps, leeches, stinging nettle, early morning hours, horrible stenches, steep and slippery paths, exposed cliffs, long hikes with heavy equipment, and many other minor unpleasantries. If a photo opportunity is likely to be risky, or exhausting, or straining, or leave one stung, bitten, chilled, overheated, bruised, scratched, or scraped, then the number of people who will venture forth and get the shot drops considerably – often down to zero.
As an example of this, my friend Ron and I went into the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park, this past July. The Arches staff set up some obstacles for those who want to enter the Fiery Furnace. (They don’t want you to go there, unless you go with a guided group.) You have to get a special permit, pay a fee, receive a lecture, and watch a video, before they will let you proceed on your own. They repeatedly and strongly discourage you from proceeding. They do this because the area is difficult, dangerous, and fragile. Inside there, it’s an endless wonderland of multicolored sandstone fins, arches, spires, and slot canyons; but it’s also a big, unmapped labyrinth with high temperatures and dessicatingly arid air in Summer, and no reliable water sources. An honest-to-goodness maze. Moving through it is slow and difficult; many parts of it required some scrambling or climbing, squeezing through slots so narrow that I had to take off my camera pack to fit through, and shimmying on my belly through long, narrow holes. To get out, you have to remember your wending path back out of the maze. And, if you get hurt in there, you can’t rely on being found and rescued.
It’s difficult enough that the majority of this magical landscape is still not well explored, not thoroughly photographed; and there’s still a lot of speculation as to what lives in there. To drive this point home, see the picture at the top of this post. It’s a picture of a Mexican spadefoot toad (Spea multiplicata), one of a series I made, inside the Fiery Furnace. It’s not a particularly good picture, obviously; I was not well prepared, when Ron and I stumbled across these tiny creatures. What makes it notable, is that these pictures (and those that Ron took), are the first pictures of this species ever to be taken inside of Arches National Park. It’s been speculated that Mexican spadefoot toads probably live in the park and surrounding area, but it was just unconfirmed speculation – until right now.
This gives you an idea of how unexplored the Fiery Furnace is, and how rich the photo opportunities are – that Ron and I can stumble upon something never before seen, there, on our first little stroll. I doubt that Ron and I saw one percent of the Fiery Furnace on our amble, and we did our best to play it safe (relatively speaking).
The world is full of such places, and thereby, full of the new photo opportunities which go with them. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities to photograph what has never been done, before, in the areas that are difficult, dangerous, expensive, inconvenient, and/or uncomfortable.
The obstacles which daunt some are trivial to others. For example, some people react quite badly to poison oak, and must avoid going where poison oak grows, at all costs, while others have no reaction to it at all. There’s always someone who can go where others, before, could not. Further, better technology and more evolved techniques open up places that were previously far less accessible. Improved climbing gear and techniques open up climbing and caving possibilities. Planes, or even kite aerial photography techniques, open up the possibilities for photos from the air. And so on. Even besides the advantages of improved technique and gear for dealing with obstacles and dangers: with just a little bit of increased willingness to endure some discomfort – just a tiny bit more than others – almost anybody can unlock the realms of the unphotographed, almost anywhere.
Go see for yourself.
Thanks for reading this.
Mexican Spadefoot Toad (Spea multiplicata), Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.