One of the biggest differences from one nature photographer to the next is the amount of planning and research we are doing before going to a location.
What type are you? Are you looking up all the information you can find about a location, including all the photos other people may have taken there before? Or do you want to experience a place unspoiled by how others may have seen and photographed it?
There is no wrong or right answer. I believe this question ultimately comes down to personality. For me, I always like to be prepared, because I have found the better I am prepared, the higher the chances of success.
How to find unique images on location: allow yourself to ditch "the plan"
Yet, at the same time, a skill I have trained myself in over the years is to allow myself to be open to throwing my best intentions overboard and responding to a scene I find that speaks to me, no matter if it fits into “the plan” or not. In fact, many of my favorite images have come not from extraordinary amounts of planning but rather by stumbling upon an extraordinary scene by chance.
What you have to understand, though: When I say stumbling, I really mean being in a constantly alert state, constantly looking for new photographs. I don’t need to have the camera in front of my face to see the world through a viewfinder. I walk through life seeing images everywhere, all the time, mentally putting the four corners of a frame around a scene. The act of photography itself becomes an exercise of collection and curation at that point.
What does all of that have to do with fishing?, you probably rightfully ask at this point.
Well… Recently, I heard one of my favorite photographers use a metaphor that really stuck with me, even though I am no fisherman myself.
Talking about planning before going to a location and pre-visualizing the results of a photoshoot, he used this analogy: When a fisher(wo)man goes out to fish, they go to an area because they know that’s where they have a high chance of success to catch bass, or snappers, or **insert your favorite fish here**. But on many days, the fisher(wo)man ends up catching another fish than what they thought they would catch — and the day is just as successful. They go to a spot because they know there’s a good chance they’ll catch something.
How to get in a mindset of being open to surprises
Now, if I hadn’t told you before that I am no fisherman, you probably would have been able to tell by now because of my lack of sophistication when talking about fishing. My only — albeit very cherished — fishing memory is of my brother, my dad and I catching our dinner on a lake in Northern Norway on a summer vacation when I was six years old.
I may not be a fisherman, but I do find myself going out to photograph one thing and coming back with photographs of something else altogether all the time.
That’s the skill I’d like you to work on, because your ability to see will greatly benefit from it: Get in a mindset of allowing yourself to be surprised on location. Don’t think just because you came here to photograph one thing that your shoot won’t be a success until you did photograph it — especially if something else on location speaks to you more loudly.
Put another way: There’s plenty of fish in the sea (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)