The Element of Surprise

Nothing in the world is more exciting than a moment of sudden discovery or invention, and many more people are capable of experiencing such moments than is sometimes thought.

~Bertrand Russell

I’m delighted to see various “influencers” promoting the idea of not revealing location information. Recently, even a local tourism board (in Jackson Hole, WY) decided to create a campaign asking photographers to refrain from tagging locations. It’s a viewpoint I’ve been promoting for many years, and that at times elicited some heated responses. I don’t wish to rehash the same arguments again, but I do wish to point out the irrationality of one of the more commonly-mentioned counterpoints. Upon discovering some places, I had them to myself, not just to photograph but to experience and to be in. Some believe that my reluctance to make their location public is selfish. I suspect that those who hold such opinions may never have experienced the thrill of discovery; or if they did, they failed to consider it in their argument.

The experience of arriving at a known scenic location, and the experience of discovering such a location unexpectedly, are worlds apart. One would have to be emotionally numb to consider them as even similar, let alone interchangeable.

By not publicizing such locations, I am making it possible for others to also discover them as I did, to experience the same thrill as I have when first encountering them, to have these places to themselves as I have, to find them as pristine and as wild as I have. If I was to make such a place public and popular, none of these things will ever again be possible, for anyone. It is also likely that such popularity may have a detrimental effect to the ecosystems existing in such places. Which is the more selfish position?

There is no shortage of known locations where capturing spectacular, if uncreative, photographs is almost guaranteed. The same can’t be said about locations that are still wild and unknown.

I am fortunate to have had the experience of discovering several such places; and the memories of sudden awe when coming upon them are imprinted in my mind as vividly as those of my most cherished times. I may not know whether anyone before me has experienced the same surprise and amazement in the same places; but if someone has, I am grateful to that that person for leaving them as found—and as anonymous. I hope that if ever there is a next person to discover these places without expectation, that person will be similarly grateful for not knowing about them in advance.

You cannot plan an adventure any more than you can plan a surprise party for yourself. Adventure is the result of encountering something exciting and unexpected (and not always in good ways)—of discovering something new about the world, or about yourself, or about both.

Don’t spoil the surprise.

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5 thoughts on “The Element of Surprise

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  1. Bravo, Guy!

    A minor variation of this theme is to travel to scenic well-known destinations and then to search the area for photography subjects overlooked by others. This may work as an alternative for today’s sorely time-constrained photographers. While this approach may require some extra effort, it can still provide worthwhile opportunities for discovery.

  2. Popularity has become detrimental to the protection and preservation of natural treasures and landscapes. It’s become rampant and destructive. It’s what I refer to as the “camera club mentality” to nature and landscape photography. You make an excellent point against the argument that holding such views is “selfish.” It’s not. It’s honoring the space, the location, the experience, for in such experiences will photographers break free from the limits of imitation. Unfortunately so many desire nothing more than stay within those limitations. This also supports the reason why photographers need to value what’s outside their own backdoors and down their own streets, no matter where that may be, and develop their artistic vision in places so easily overlooked.

  3. Taking your approach will also benefit those who complain about it …. if they want to become serious landscape photographers. They will learn to look and see themselves and not just rely on you or others to have done the leg-work in finding the location.

    In Scotland there is less space to find the unknown, but certainly they are there for the person who looks and sees.

  4. Thank goodness nobody knows about those two weeks in February at the Horsetail falls in Yosemite, right? LOL, the situation there has gotten so out of hand that apparently they now have an “event zone” you have to pre-book to get into. Wow. The thrill of discovery…

    Joking aside, from a slightly different perspective…it’s a little soul withering as a photographer when I am doing a show, and the “landscape” photographers are all showing their version of that shot, or the long shot of “Scripps Henge”, and the buying public fawns over the photographer for their Ah-maaaazing Shot, Dude. Sigh. Whadda they know? They’ve never seen Piliferous Poppy or Ponderosa in Blue…

  5. We have a Nature Park in our city which I discovered about five years ago. I can’t believe the pressure/abuse this park is under and it is evidence to me that the philosophy of this blog is a valid one. Even my own many return trips to this park for photography are damaging in some manner.

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