As I was setting up this site and selecting photos for it, I ran across something really irritating: I didn’t have a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge that I considered good enough to put up.
Oh sure, I had dozens of shots in my archive. Wide shots, close shots, shots with people. Concept shots, night shots, shots with cars. But I did not have THE shot.
And I have been in SF how many times? And taken photos of that %$*^& bridge HOW many times? And somehow I still didn’t have the postcard-style glory photo of one of the most iconic pieces of civil engineering of the 20th century.
So the next time I had time off work, I set out with a plan to fix this absurd oversight on my part. The weather cooperated (I somehow seem to have that luck in San Francisco, knock wood). I had done my homework ahead, looking around on the map and Google Street View to find the best spots on the South side of the bridge where I’d get more frontal lighting. The lighting wasn’t as soft as I’d have liked (fog in the evening, plus Telegraph, Russian, and Nob Hills in the way of morning sunlight) but the photo fairy hooked me up anyhow and I got something I considered of sufficient quality to post.
Side note: the photo fairy is real, and properly diligent prayers and offerings will increase your odds of success in addition to the normal research, patience, and practice. It’s akin to praying to St. Anthony when you misplace your car keys – it sounds strange, but it gets results. The parking fairy is another you should pray to as well (unmetered spot in North Beach on a Saturday night a block from the pub?!?!?!?).
Side note 2: The Photographer’s Ephermis is a handy app / online tool for calculating sun and moon angles on a Google Map overlay. Saves a lot of time cross-referencing NOAA tables and USGS maps. I am a big fan and recommend it highly.
So after all that work, though, I found myself only mildly satisfied. I got the photo I wanted, for the reason I wanted. And confirmed and practiced my own ability to do proper research and planning beforehand. But I did not fundamentally learn anything new; it was, rather, just a reiteration of what I already knew that resulted in this photograph.
And that, in the end, seems to always be the point of the “stereotype” shot for me. It serves as excellent practice, and looks great and can be used to impress, but it doesn’t generally push boundaries at least from the artistic side of things, though logistics can be an issue for stuff that’s a long way from home.
I suppose my final thought would be, yes, chase that postcard! But don’t let that chase define you as an artist. Use it rather as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Whether that means using it as practice or for something catchy on your site or Facebook, or selling postcard prints to pay the bills and finance your real vision doesn’t matter – use it as a means, not an end unto itself.