I’ll Think of a Reason Later

An un-pre-visualized shot taken from a moving boat on the Seine River.

I get tired of hearing all the pronouncements from leading photographers about how all our shots should be carefully planned and pre-visualized. While this is good advice sometimes, it is not always true. At least, not for me. I have come to see some of my best work as happening when “I’ll think of a reason later”.


I got the title from an old country & western song by Lee Ann Womack, lyrics by Tony Martin and Tim Nichols. Great lyrics, but the song has nothing to do with photography or any art. But when I heard the title, it seemed to perfectly fit what I often experience. So I decided to “repurpose” it.

You know how you sometimes hear something that sparks other ideas or seems to crystalize some ill-formed thoughts that have been gnawing at you? This was that for me. I love the image it brings to my imagination.


It is part of the accepted religion of many photographers that you never shoot a picture without a well thought out plan. Even to a firm visualization of what the final product should be. Being a matter of faith, it is unquestioned and can’t be reasoned. But I will question it. There is an old quote that says “sacred cows make the best burgers”.

Is there a time for careful planning? Yes. Of course. Otherwise the whole controversy would be foolish.

When is planning important? First, on any commercial shoot, where a certain result must be obtained, on schedule and on budget. You will not work in the industry if you can’t deliver repeatable and acceptable results to your client. Sure, you must also have a recognized style to flavor your work, but that is secondary to the results the client wants.

Second, if you are doing some type of conceptual photography, where you have to synthesize the result from materials you shoot specially for it. It all has to be coordinated so the right materials are available for constructing the final image. The parts must be consistent in lighting, focal length, position, color, etc. Most of all, they have to be complete. You don’t want to start bringing your product together and find that a key piece is missing. This process takes good planning and visualization.

A third possible one is a once in a lifetime trip to an exotic location. It would be reasonable to scout the location, plan for lighting, weather conditions, etc. I say maybe, because I probably wouldn’t do it. I might want to have some idea of what to expect, but I would be more energized by abandoning preconceived notions and reacting to what I find.


What’s missing in this very disciplined notion of planning? To me, it is spontaneity, happy accident, feelings, reactions. These are the things I thrive on. These things make my work more alive and vibrant.

The things I find, unanticipated, can captivate me. When something excites me and energizes me, I find I am generally happier with the results. The engagement is memorable and meaningful. I am drawn to the subject or the scene. The feelings I have seem to come through in my images. Dare I say it, there is love there.

Can a planned, rehearsed shot engage me? Yes, sometimes I like to really get deep into whatever I do. But that is accidental. Usually I find in those situations that my engagement has to be secondary to the planned event. For me, I don’t want it to be secondary.

I enjoy the discipline of shooting for a project. But even when I have a certain theme in mind, I do not have a fixed plan for what I will shoot. I may hypothesize what some of the images in the project might look like, but that is only a guide to spark my imagination.

I would much rather find joy in something no one else has noticed. Something that, at just that moment, is interesting, even exciting. Tomorrow it may look like junk, but right now it is something else. This is more interesting to me than getting yet another beautiful shot of an iconic scene.

I’ll think of a reason later

So, “I’ll think of a reason later” means to me that I will follow my instincts, my interest at the moment. Later, when I am working on the image on my computer, I will see if I can think of the reason it called to me. Usualy there are some good reasons.

I will be lead by my heart. Planning can be useful, but I will not be a slave to it. I have no problem abandoning a plan to shoot something more interesting.I am a fine art photographer, not a commercial shooter. This means I will follow my instincts, shoot what I like and what I am drawn to at the moment.

I will be the first to admit that this does not always lead to the best possible results. Sometimes I follow my instincts down a rat hole to a dead end. That’s OK. Better than OK. It is wonderful. It is better to me to try and fail and sometimes achieve something special than to rise to nothing more than mediocrity.

So I am amazed sometimes working on these spontaneous images on my computer, to see things I was not conscious of at the time I shot it. I see shapes and forms, color harmony, framing, patterns, and lines that work to make an interesting image. These were mostly subconscious at the time I was shooting.

I seem to be able to use all my years of training instinctively. Was I pre-visualizing my images? Probably, but it wasn’t conscious. I was not aware of it in the moment I was shooting. The measure for me is: was I excited at the time? This is I’ll Think of a Reason Later.

What works for you

I’m reacting here to intense evangelism I see from some so called authorities. The reality is, there is no “one way”. At best, they can tell you what works successfully for them. Sometimes they just want to evangelize you to their point of view.

An artist’s working style and subject matter is intensely personal. What works for one will completely trip up and block another. Do what works for you without thinking you have to follow a plan some famous photographer told you.

I don’t mean to ignore everybody. Listen, try their ideas out. Experiment. But ultimately reject what doesn’t work for you.

Today’s image

This image was taken going down the Seine River in Paris. I glanced up and instantly recognized a scene of interest to me and snapped it. It was not pre-visualized, and I was not consciously searching for a situation like this.

Sometimes happy accidents happen. I plan on it. That is, I find if I am receptive and looking around with interest, they happen. Frequently.

Window or Mirror

In a storm? Standing bravely?

It has been observed that photography can be either a window or mirror. The idea has some merit. But like most real world things, it depends.


The idea originated with John Szarkowski, at the time the head of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It was expressed in an exhibit named “Mirrors and Windows, American Photography since 1960” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1978.

Mr. Szarkowski was a huge influence on photography for many years. I don’t agree with many of his ideas, but I believe there is something to consider in the ideas behind this exhibit.

The press release for the show states that “In metaphorical terms, the
photograph is seen either as a mirror–a romantic expression of the photographer’s sensibility as it projects itself on the things and sights of this world; or as a window–through which the exterior world is explored in all its presence and reality.”

Let’s try to unpack that.

A window on the world

At the beginning of photography, it was seen as a way to quickly capture real scenes. The “writing with light” aspect was a big thing. A landscape or a portrait could be captured much more quickly than by previous artistic media. What a breakthrough! To make a portrait in a few seconds instead of having to sit for days while a painter works! And it was “real”! Indisputable. Unaltered. Exactly what the person or place looked like.

This notion that a photograph is true to reality carries on strongly today. I see photographers who refuse to alter anything in the frame for fear of being dishonest. And most viewers have a natural belief that what they see in a print is real. Unless an image obviously looks like a fantasy illustration, it must be fact.

A great many photographers follow this tradition. I started there, too. The idea that an image represented exactly what was there at the time. No illusion or tricks or modification. Many great photographers like Ansel Adams and Gary Winogrand could be placed in this group.

This could be described as the “window on the world” view. What I choose to frame in the image is bringing the viewer an exact representation of reality. It is an outward looking viewpoint. The photographer is silently in the background. It is not obvious what he was thinking or feeling. There is little clear message beyond “look at this”. And there is always the implication that you could go there and see the same scene.

A mirror reflecting the artist

Somewhere in the mid twentieth century (around 1960 according to Szarkowski), many photographer’s intent started to shift. This would describe some great artists like Paul Caponigro and Jerry Uelsmann. It was no longer sufficient to just bring reality. It was important to express my beliefs, to make a statement, to convey my feelings. And it was no longer important that the image depict the scene literally.

Now the goal became to express the scene as I perceive it. That may require extreme processing or compositing or absolutely anything as long as my intent is brought through. The final image may bear little or no resemblance to the original. That is OK, though, because it is an expression, not a capture of reality.

There was one idea in the exhibit notes that resonates strongly with me. The image that a scene projects on the artist who then internalizes it and interprets it to the viewer. This seems to me to capture a large range of what is done in art now.

A natural evolution?

I believe this movement from window to mirror was fairly natural and predictable. By the 1950’s or 1960’s people had become used to seeing images of the world. Major publications like Life and National Geographic flooded us with images of the world, both landscapes and people. Pictures were becoming commonplace.

To take landscapes, for instance, there is only room for a limited number of shots of the major sights of the world. The market was saturated. So artists started to differentiate their work by allowing their own personality to show through. The notion of a personal style became important.

The part of this that seems valid to me is that, while there are millions of photographers out there shooting everything imaginable, only I have my personal point of view and style. Therefore, my images are unique. Even if they are of the same scene many others shoot. That seems to me to be the only chance of artists to carve a niche in the crowded market.


Even Szarkowski was quick to point out that this was not intended to be a clear division of artists. It is an axis, with strong window view points on one end and strong mirror view points at the other. Most people will fall somewhere in between. And they may move back and forth on the axis with time. Although I think the movement is typically from window toward mirror. At least that was my path.

But even with that said, I do jump around. It depends on the context and what I am feeling at the time. So, for instance, when I go to a new location that excites me, I may start out taking “window” shots. To capture the locale, the scenes I am loving. Many of these are consciously for my own memories.

If I have the opportunity to spend time in the location, I move past the “window” shots and start feeling a personal view that begins to be expressed. This is now drifting toward the “mirror” end of the axis. But in the same day of shooting I will probably do both. In familiar territory where I spend a lot of time, there is a greater tendency to concentrate on mirror views, since the conventional views are well gone over.

The metaphor is useful to help us reflect on how we are seeing subjects at any time.


This idea of window vs. mirror views is just Szarkowski’s concept. That doesn’t make it right or some universal truth. I must admit, though, the model has merit. It is a valuable metaphor.

Photography started out as a window on the world. Just the fascination of being to quickly capture as “real” scene in all it’s complexity was one of the things that propelled it into popularity. And I think many new photographers still start out intending to shoot realistic scenes of nature or architecture or people. It is a great way to hone our technique.

And I believe that many who stay serious about the art move toward the mirror end of the axis. It is no longer enough to just present a scene and say “here is what it looked like”. We feel a need to express how we felt about it, or how we perceived it differently than other people.

The Catalog

Decrepit sign along old Route 66.

The catalog is the information hub of LIghtroom. There seems to be a lot of confusing folklore about it. Let’s talk about the catalog and demystify it some.

This is specific to Lightroom Classic. Other tools exist. I do not know them and can’t discuss them. I believe Lightroom is the most widely used image management tool.

A database

When I refer to Lightroom, I mean Lightroom Classic. It is the only useful version for me. So be aware I do not discuss the cloud behavior of Lightroom at all.

Lightroom is both a file management tool and a raw file editor. I’ve discussed raw editing before, so this article will just be about file management. We tend to shoot a lot of images these days. Without a way to organize all these and search for the ones we want, they become almost useless. How do you locate the right file when you need it?

We do it with Lightroom and its catalog. The catalog is a database. I know that is a scary term to some, but it just means it is a file on the computer. The catalog in Lightgroom Classic is stored locally on your computer. It has a particular structure and capabilities that let Lightroom enter information about each image and rapidly search for it.

So the Lightroom catalog holds a lot of data about our images. Some that it reads when we import our images and some that we tell it manually, like keywords and ratings and collection groupings. What the catalog does not contain is images.

None of our images are actually stored in the catalog. They stay in our computer’s file system, wherever we decide to put them, as ordinary image files. They can be on any of our disks, internal or external. The catalog only notes their location and keeps track of it so it can call up images for us in the Lightroom screen.

Where are the images?

I mentioned some of the things the catalog contains. Let’s be more specific. I said the catalog does not contain any images. As you import images into Lightroom you choose where they will be stored. LIghtroom records the location about where each images is in the file structure of your computer. For instance, taking a random file that I happened to be looking at a few minutes ago, the path and file name is:

/Volumes/LaCie-raid/Images/Images/New Mexico/Eastern I-40/Tucumcari/20231110-259.NEF

This is the image above. This is what Lightroom has in the catalog instead of the image. Why? Because the file system of your operating system does an excellent job of managing its disks reliably and speedily. Lightroom does not try to duplicate that. Also, the file above is 52.4 MBytes. Let’s say you had 100,000 images this size stored in your catalog. Over 5TBytes of storage becomes impractical and would overflow a lot of people’s hard drive. And many people’s catalogs are much larger than that. Also, leaving the individual files visible allows us to use other tools to manipulate them.

As I browse in Lightroom, when I come to where I want to look at this image, LIghtroom goes to the noted location on my disk and reads the image file and displays it. Actually, it first looks first in a special place where LIghtroom caches previews to see if there is a faster way to view it, but that is getting too deep for now.


In addition, there is what is called metadata. This is just a computer science term meaning data about data. In our case, it is information read from the camera when the file was imported and information we have added manually.

Examples of automatically gathered data are the camera used, including it’s serial number, the lens used., how the image was metered and exposed, the ISO. Also recorded is the dimensions, the data it was captured and many other details.

Information we enter can include creator name, copyright information, keywords, rating, a title, a label, a caption, location, and other things. In addition, as we edit an image, all of the edit settings are recorded, from simple things like adjusting exposure to complex masks and adjustments. Virtual files are just copies of a files’ data in the catalog with a different set of metadata, not a duplicate of the file itself. And all Collections we create are simply sets of data in the catalog. Again, no copies of the files are made to create a Collection.

The catalog holds a lot of data. It is a very important piece of Lightroom and is key to letting the whole thing work.

How many catalogs?

One of the first decisions to make when setting up Lightroom is how many catalogs to have. We could have a separate catalog for each type of content or activity. For instance, one for family photos, one for fine art, one for weddings, one for travel, etc. This initially seems logical to keep things separate and minimize the size of each catalog.

My advice is don’t do it. Resist the temptation to have multiple catalogs. It will just make it harder to organize your work and harder to locate something. It might seem like a good idea to minimize the number of images in a catalog, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter. I have over 130,000 images in my catalog. That is small compared to many other photographers. I am comfortable with throwing away images I deem worthless or exact duplicates. Other people don’t. But that is another discussion.

I put extensive metadata in, such as location information, keywords, ratings, titles, and captions. And I do most of my image editing in Lightroom. This greatly expands the amount of metadata. The point is that this number of images does not appear to cause any stress or slowdown in my Lightroom catalog. I know of photographers who have catalogs several times larger.

Don’t do this

As a “don’t do this” anecdote, I have a friend who decided he knew better than Adobe and was going to manage his data more closely. He set up a catalog for each hard drive he had. As he outgrew a disk and added another one, it was a new catalog. Consequently, he has a data nightmare. It is very difficult for him to locate something unless he can remember exactly when it was shot and consequently what disk and catalog it is on.

I strongly recommend you use 1 catalog and upgrade to larger disks as you run out of space. Yes, Lightroom can manage files across multiple disks, but you probably don’t want the bother. Disks wear out and need to be replaced anyway.

How to organize it?

How you organize your files is a personal decision. You need to figure out how you think about your data and how you “self organize”. You can see several things about my organization decisions from the example I gave of the file location data LIghtroom records. Most of my files are organized geographically. And my file naming is mostly centered on dates. It is not important to me to name images by their content. That is what Lightroom is for.

All my images are stored on 1 fairly fast RAID disk drive. My feeling is this is easy for me to know where things are and easy to organize my backup strategy. The catalog itself is on an external fast SSD. The catalog is heavily used and this made a large improvement in performance.

Be fanatical about backup! Your data is important. I use a combination of Time Machine – one of the greatest inventions in the history of computers – and a rigorous backup strategy using Carbon Copy Cloner. I do not receive any compensation from them for saying this. There are 2 external backup disks attached to my computer and another network attached RAID disk physically separate within my studio. I also backup to small hard disks that I rotate to offsite locations.

So do you have to adopt any of the organization I use? Absolutely not. Every instructor probably has their own unique recommendation that is adapted to their needs and preferences. As I said, it is a personal decision. But it is a decision you have to make. Decide on your strategy and stick with it religiously. It will pay you benefits.

Do all file operations from Lightroom

Have you ever seen a “?” in place of an image? That is because Lightroom could not find the file. This is usually because a disk drive is offline or you moved some files using your computer file manager. Lightroom can’t locate the file and the best it can do is show a preview if it has one and mark it with the “?” to indicate it needs to be located. Locating a moved image is easy, but it is easier to avoid the problem entirely.

Always do all of your file management from within Lightroom. Always! Lightroom has to know the location of each file it manages. It has very good capabilities for creating folders and moving files and folders around. It does the work of moving them on your computer file system and remembers the locations. And It is probably even faster and easier to move a large group of files from LIghtroom than it is using your computers file manager.

All the eggs in one basket?

If all your data is in the catalog, aren’t you at risk if it gets corrupted or erased? Yes. But there are many ways to mitigate this.

LIghtroom has settings to automatically backup its catalog. Use that. Second, use other backup solutions like Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner to do your own backups.

Third, you can optionally have most of your metadata also saved to files alongside your image files. These are known as sidecar files and have the extension “.xmp”. I turn on this capability. If the catalog is lost or corrupted it is possible to recover most of my data to a new catalog by importing the images and these sidecar files. This is a topic for another article.

And lastly, I have been using Lightroom full time starting with its original beta release. Adobe has done a marvelous job of reliably keeping my data in tact. This is not a guarantee of future behavior, but so far they have earned my trust.


The Lightroom Classic catalog is a database stored locally on your computer. It is well established, good technology. Not magic.

We do not see the catalog as a database, we do not have to know about databases, and we do not need to know much about searching databases. All that is wrapped in the Lightroom program. But knowing a little about how it works makes managing it easier.

All of the data about your files is stored in the catalog, but not the image files themselves. The organization of your file structure, the naming of files, and the metadata you add are all completely up to you.

Create an organization that works for you and stick with it. Lightroom will assist you by managing all the data the way you want.

The image with this article is the one I referenced to show the location information Lightroom records. You can infer from the file path that it was shot in Tucumcari NM on Nov 10, 2023. It has nothing specifically to do with catalogs, I just decided to show what that image was to make it real..

Moving Past Perfection

Intentionally imperfect. A blurred effect capturing the motion of the scene.

Photography is a rather technical art form and most photographers get caught up in the gear and techniques. This can be appropriate for some work, but not always. I have stopped worrying about the last line/mm of resolution and absolutely perfect focusing and steadiness. It can be that imperfections can make some images better. I am moving past perfection as a goal.


Sure, I love technical perfection. I think at some level most photographers do. It is a characteristic of what we can capture. We don’t want to just take a picture of a bird. We want to resolve every detail of every feather. The texture in an image should be so present that the viewer can easily imagine what it feels like. Every part of the subject must be in crisp focus and highly detailed.

Technical perfection like this is a form of craftsmanship. It shows our viewer that we know how to use our tools and that we can check the craft boxes to prove our work is worthy.

But this craftsmanship is a table stake, to use a business term. A table stake is the minimum viable offer that will be considered. For example, if you are buying a new car, you would not consider one that does not have a backup camera. It used to be a luxury but it has become an expected necessity. In the same way, digital photography has improved our product so much that there is little room for imperfection. Technical perfection, where is is required, is a necessity to be considered a salable print.

Unless it is deliberate imperfection. More on that later.

Don’t let it become the reason for the image

An overused quote (at least, I seem to overuse it, because I believe it is very insightful) is Ansel Adam’s comment that “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

I take that to mean that a good image will not be a great image solely because of its technical perfection. Instead, the technical details must serve the mood and intent of the image. Sometimes that means the technical details must be front and center, because they provide the framework that supports the resulting image. But in other cases they may actually subtract from the artist’s intent.

I keep talking about sharpness, but the same applies to any other technical details. Composition does not make an image. There has to be more there. The absolute peak time and weather conditions at a certain location may help you make a very good image, but by themselves will not guarantee it.

Who defines perfection?

But what is “perfection”? That is very difficult. Must every image be 50MPixels or more at 3000 line pairs/mm resolution? Does every picture have to be perfectly aligned with “rule of thirds” lines and points? Does the color balance of the print have to exactly replicate the color of the original scene? How about images that do not have a definite foreground/middle ground/background? And how about the ones where the histogram is just wrong, say pushed too far to the left or right?

Do these things define perfection? Can we make a great image that violates some or all of these “rules”? If you are thinking about some other articles I have written, you will know that the answer, for me, is there are no rules. There is no authority with the right to define what characteristics my image must have.

If I have defined for myself that I am doing things in an Ansel Adams style, then that puts me in a box and defines certain expectations of look and sharpness. Or if I have defined that I am doing portrait photography in the style of Richard Avedon, that sets expectations of subject matter and style and print sizes.

But notice that these are self imposed limitations. I reserve the right to define for myself the nature of perfection for my images. It may or may not include technical perfection.

How can an “imperfect” image be good?

If I set the definition of perfection for my images, then what does imperfect mean? It will only be imperfect if I fail to achieve the result I want.

Think of some of the great shots of photojournalism or street photography. Some of them are a little our of focus. They might be over or under exposed. They might be grainy. But they captured a moment, an emotion, a comment on the human condition that completely overwhelmed all technical considerations. They are great despite their imperfections. Maybe because of them.

I love (and was infuriated by) the types of comments I used to hear in camera club competitions. A judge might say “the composition would be improved if the photographer had taken 2 steps left”. I appreciate your feed back, but if I had moved left even 1 foot further I would have been over the edge of a cliff. Thank you, I will live with the composition I could get. It works, despite your sincere attempt to improve it.

Past perfection

So what do I mean by moving past perfection? For me it is the realization that perfection is not the highest goal. An image can be excellent even if there are technical flaws. Other things can and often are more important. The recording a “perfect” moment that exactly captures the nature and personality and essence of the subject can make a great image, even if there are imperfections.

Actually, I am finding a lot of my current work is intentionally “imperfect”. I often use camera motion or subject motion as a design element. Some entire projects do not have a single sharp pixel in them. That is what I want, so I am pleased with it.

A different take on craftsmanship is being able to use your medium to achieve your goals. Would you rather follow your own goals and create work that pleases you or struggle to achieve someone else’s ideal of perfection?

Judge by your expectations

No one except you can judge the perfection of your work. The definition of perfection is yours and yours only. They might say they would like it better if it was sharper or more/less colorful, or more/less saturated, of brighter/darker, or composed differently, or if the mid tone contrast was enhanced/reduced. And they may be “right”, in the sense that, after you think about it you decide yes, if I were shooting it again I would change it somewhat.

But it is you changing your expectations that causes the difference in evaluation. No one else is in a position of judging your work unless you allow them to.

Today’s image

This is a horribly imperfect image. And it is just what I wanted. 🙂 It was shot out of a fast train in France. I wanted to represent the sense of speed and motion and changing terrain whipping by. There is not a single sharp pixel in the frame. The focus may not be right, I can’t tell. But this was one of the best of many, many tries, and to me, it captures what I was perceiving.

Packaged Experience

Do you create your own photo experiences and adventures or do you rely on packaged experiences? I hope to encourage you to have the confidence to create your own most of the time.

Packaged experience

What is a packaged experience? It is any situation where you purchase a ready made happening from a vendor. Someone who offers you a ready to go vacation or adventure you can just step into and passively enjoy.

A classic example of a packaged experience is a Disney World vacation. Space Mountain and Epcot may be fun and maybe somewhat magical seeming for the kids, but not much for an artist. Another example is a typical vacation cruise. New scenery, good food, but it seldom qualifies as an adventure or a unique experience.

In both cases, everything is wrapped up in a neat package, all the sharp edges are protected, and a manufactured packaged experience is provided to you. These are exactly the reasons I recommend you avoid them.

It’s not really an adventure

An adventure is “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity”. Packaged experiences are seldom unusual, since you are buying the same product sold to a million other people before and after you. A simulated rocket ride or a roller coaster may seem exciting for a few minutes, because they shake you around and it seems dangerous. But the reality is they are carefully controlled and not at all dangerous, unless you have a serious heart condition. They are a simulation of adventure. Once you reach an age where you realize the Pirates of the Caribbean are not going to stab you, no matter what you do, it should cease to hold much excitement. Unless you step into a Westworld situation, but that is unlikely.

The packaged experience is in no way unique or dangerous. It’s effects are short lived. There is no long term benefit or learning from it. And even worse from an artistic point of view, it gives you little chance for creativity or exploration of new ideas.

Maybe the worst part, from my point of view, is that in a packaged experience you did not have to put any of yourself in it. You are a passive spectator.

Roll your own

I guess it can seem intimidating if you’re not used to being responsible for your own adventures. And if you are taking the family maybe you want to be extra careful for the kids. But even for them – especially for them – wouldn’t it be wonderful to give them a legacy of being able to amuse and entertain themselves in strange places?

What does it take? Just a good attitude and the willingness to try it. No special training is required. You have to be open to accepting things as they come and learning to like them. It is almost all your attitude that determines what benefits you will receive.

Let me give an example of a pattern of things that formed some of my belief in this. Way back, when timeshares were a good thing and not yet ruined by greedy developers, we bought one. Kind of on the spur of the moment. No real planning or investigation. Well, the real utility for us was that we always traded for other locations in some part of the world. So we had a week tied to some location we had never been to. Initially we would get somewhere, explore the area a day or 2, then ask ourselves what we are going to do now? But we were stuck there. Sometimes these places were way out in the middle of nowhere.

We were forced to amuse ourselves. We would start to explore the vicinity more slowly and carefully. It amazed us what kind of interesting (and photogenic) things we discovered. Looking back on it, I can see what should have been obvious then. Almost every place has interesting things to find, quirky and interesting people, local things they pride themselves on, unique history, local food specialties to try, and just things you have never seen.

Trust your ability

We’re just not used to slowing down and looking at what is right in front of us. Instead, we’re looking for the tourist attractions with bright neon signs. The places listed on the tour brochures as welcoming busses of tourists (and having a big gift shop).

The time share experience taught me to settle in and look around to see what I can find. I can’t remember how many time share trades we did, I would guess at least 20. In all of those, even when we were initially disappointed with an area, there was not one where we went away at the end of a week saying we will never come back there. I remember the very first one we went to was in Palm Desert CA – in August – it was 120F every day. And we loved it. I found fascinating places and sights I had never imagined. We would definitely like to go back, but maybe at a somewhat cooler time.

I labeled this section trust your ability, but really, little ability is required. The biggest factor is attitude. Keep open and receptive to what is there. This is a learned skill more than any innate ability. I always had a bent toward traveling this way, but the time share experience taught me to recognize and develop it. Now I trust that this is the best way for me to travel.

Don’t go overboard

To keep it balanced, let me tell you about a friend I have who is a wilderness photographer. He goes on solo treks in the Rockies all the time, all seasons and weather. He has probably climbed all the peaks around here over 10,000 ft. Many in the winter. Wildlife encounters are not too rare. He builds and stays in snow caves. Blizzards and storms do not dissuade him. I think he is a little crazy. But that is his thing. He gets unique pictures of places and times few other people have seen.

However, this is not what I am suggesting. It is not at all necessary to go to that kind of extreme to create unique adventures. Just go somewhere new and be open to what is there.

Try it

I encourage you to give it a try. It may take several outings before it becomes comfortable. That’s OK. Being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. Sometimes that just means you are learning something new and exercising a new skill.

To get started, take some short trip, maybe one night. Head out someplace you haven’t been before, but not more than a few hours drive. Stay overnight – I recommend a nice local motel, not a big chain. It will be a little more adventurous and without the sterile industrial feel. Besides, small communities need your money. Then home. During the entire outing, give yourself a mission to stop and see and take pictures of anything even remotely interesting. An overlook, some nice trees, a classic old rusty car, a silly local tourist trap – whatever piques your interest. Let yourself go. Tell yourself you’re not in a hurry and you have permission to stop whenever you like. One of the purposes is to learn to find interests on your own.

Photo Tours

Many people I know host photo tours, so I want to address those. Different tours have a variety of goals. For this, let me divide them into 2 groups: tours that take you to famous sites and promise you to make the same well known pictures, vs tours that provide stimulation, discussion, and training while also taking you to interesting locations you have never been. I would call the first kind a packaged experience and advise you to avoid it. The second type, however, would be an enjoyable growth and learning experience. The sights and actual images you get are secondary to the adventure and new experiences. That is the kind of experience I would appreciate.

Do it

I know this isn’t for everbody. Some of you are such hard core Type A personalities that you can’t go to the hardware store with out written goals and a definite plan. So the idea of heading off anywhere without a well researched plan would be horrifying.

But for the majority of us, I encourage you to give it a try. And persist long enough to get over the discomfort and have a fair test to see if you like it. When you learn to see like this, every outing becomes an adventure. Walks in your town become new and filled with sights you never noticed. Trips where you actually get away are more exciting, because you are constantly discovering new things that are not on the tourist brochures. Things that are special to you, that become “yours”. It can revolutionize your life.

Today’s image

An interesting road sign found on a tiny back road in Devon, England. We were staying at a time share miles out in the middle of nothing. Wandering around, we found many terrific discoveries. It was a lovely area that is a special place for us still. No tourist map or guide book would have taken you here.