I’ve had the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge on my “list” of places I want to shoot at for some time now. It was first put on my mental map as the result of images shot there by friend, and one hell of a photographer, Jim Salge. I was recently pushed over the edge in the motivation department by several photographs of this beautiful natural area made by Jerry Monkman. As soon as I saw these images, I knew I needed to visit the Refuge myself and see if I could do justice to this wonderful natural area.
The day I chose to drive up the weather was not supposed to coöperate, but after checking the forecast and looking at the satellite maps, I made a gamble. I knew that if the weather to the west cleared early enough, I would have the perfect conditions for an image I had envisioned. I was banking on the clouds to the west to open up and there to still be clouds over the Presidential Range in the White Mountain National Forest. Well, I got part of what I wanted, with the weather clearing up quicker than anticipated. It cleared up so much, that the dramatic cloud backdrop I was hoping for never quite materialized. However, the late afternoon light on the snow-covered slopes of Mt Washington and the rest of the Presidentials made the trip well worth the two plus hour drive and two-mile hike in.
This is about being inspired by the work of others, while not outright copying it, and one of the hardest aspects of composing my photographs that day was to avoid recreating the photographs I had recently seen made at this beautiful place. In fact, I did everything I possibly could to avoid such photographic plagiarism. In the image above, the stream leading into the frame makes a great foreground element as well as providing a nice leading line towards the mountains in the distance. However, I always had the photographs that inspired me to make the journey to Pondicherry in the back of my mind to keep me honest, and prevent me from copying it. While setting up my shot, using the same stream as a prominent element in my photograph, and I was keenly aware of where Jerry had shot his image from, having passed what I assumed were his footprints in the snow off the side of the trail. As I made all of my photographs that day I made a considered effort to scan the areas I was about to set up my tripod in for any signs of other recent traffic. A task made easier by the two feet of snow on the ground.
I am constantly looking at other photographs to find inspiration for my own. The trick is to be inspired by others, while not trying to duplicate other people’s work. Should I find myself at the place they made their photographs at, I will always avoid composing my photographs the same way. While some locations may have limited vantage points that result is almost all photographs of the subject or location looking very similar, I still do my best to make it my own. If all the photographs I see are shot from eye level, I’ll get as low as I can get. If every image is shot from the right, if possible I will shoot it from the left, and so on. Even as my skill as a photographer progresses, I will still look to the work of others for inspiration. I just won’t copy it.