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Protecting A Photographer’s “Trade Secrets” – Those Special Photo Locations

Different things motivate and excite me when it comes to things photographic. Nothing gets my blood running more than the planning and anticipation of a major photo trip to an exciting photo destination. In 2005, I planned such a trip with my good friend, to Vermont during Fall Foliage. I lived in Vermont for a number of years as a younger person, often taking for granted that magically photogenic state, and its pervasive fall splendor. But I often found myself bragging to him that no place on earth was equal to the brilliant fall color show that the hardwood forests of New England puts on. So, we decided to put it to the test.

Suddenly, I had to find us some “sure win” photo locations. Now, I just may enjoy the research as much as the actual trip, as I “Google”™ my topic and comb Amazon.com™ for books mapping, illustrating and narrating the subject matter. I found the usual Travel Books and Explorer Guides, and a great book by Professional Photographer and Vermont resident, David Middleton (The Photographer’s Guide To Vermont).

Photo “guide” books so often give general information, illustrated by the author’s own photos (and who can blame them?), but seldom give the detailed, intimate information on how to actually find the photo. Indeed, this is a matter that can, in some views, be controversial.

There has always been a school of thought that these great photo locations should be kept secret to all but a few persons.

One rationale for this is to protect the scene from overuse and abuse by insensitive visitors who do not give it its proper respect. I appreciate that view. However, I do not subscribe to the school that wants to keep a good photo opportunity or location to myself. I favor sharing the location with other photographers. I do make exceptions to my own “rule.” If I have been entrusted by someone else with a location they ask me not to disclose, I will most certainly keep that confidence!

Researching the Vermont Trip, my “googling” eventually turned up a “book” by a Massachusetts Photographer and workshop presenter named Arnold John Kaplan, called “How To Find (and photograph) The Photo-Scenics In Vermont.” I was directed to a rather unassuming website which illustrated the Yellow-covered Paperback Pamphlet. At a cost of $16.95, this one is a best buy. Ironically, it is not illustrated with the author’s prize photographs. Instead, it contains detailed information, including driving directions, best times of day to be at each location, where to park, and technical information about photographing the scene. Know as the “Yellow Book,” this guide became invaluable to both of my trips to photograph Vermont Fall color in 2005 and again in 2006. Another “guide” series that deserved mention is the Photo Traveler Pamphlets, which were discontinued in 2008. Another excellent reference guide is Robert Hitchman’s Photograph America Newsletter, which can be purchased at his site.

To my disappointment, some of the scenes had changed over the nearly 30 years since Arnold first published the guide. I was so impressed with the format and information, that I began to keep detailed notes on my own travels and produced what I felt was an up to date PDF guide, illustrated by thumbnail photos, containing information on Kaplan’s and other locations. I owe a debt of gratitude to Arnold and give him full credit in my own PDF guide, which can be downloaded from my LightCentric Photography Website at no charge. I have spent enough time in another wonderful photo location to warrant a second Guide to photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over time, who knows what other guides I may author.

While I strongly believe in sharing with other photographers, I feel just as strongly, that

we as photographers have a duty

to maintain the pristine beauty nature brings them and not to abuse the trust we have been given.

In the meantime, I recently got in touch with Arnold John Kaplan. To my delight, he is not only alive and vital, but is still traveling to Vermont and still photographing. I write as a co-blogger on a Site hosted by Foliage Vermont, called Scenes of Vermont Blog. My June blog was a tribute to Arnold John Kaplan. He has since joined the forums and will be posting one of his “iconic” Vermont images, monthly. Arnold tells me he still works out every day at the gym. He is active in a camera club and presents slide show seminars on his work, including the Vermont “how to” subject. He still travels to Vermont and other destinations to photograph. Arnold is 93 years old! And he is still sharing with us. Now there is something that ought to motivate anyone!

How about you? Do you share location information or keep it a secret? I would be interested in your views.

10 Responses

  1. I agree.. I have almost as much fun planning a trip as I do the trip itself. The sources of detailed information are so much more numerous and easy to find now than even a few years ago, thanks to the wonders of the internet and also people like you who love to share their knowledge and experiences. Some of the places I like the best are the largest in area and most remote in the country, so having some foreknowledge of the roads, weather and exact locations is invaluable in order not to waste a lot of time and energy. I especially love to use Google Earth to study access roads, programming geo-coordinates into my GPS in the car, looking at other visitors snapshots to get an idea of what to expect, noting sunrise/sunset times, terrain.. you name it. An awesome resource.Another favorite, my first time to an area, is Robert Hitchman's "Photograph America" newsletter. He has spent a lifetime shooting the best locations all over the U.S. and sells back issues through his website that are chock-full of practical logistic information from a photographer's perspective. Another great timesaver.(I'll be heading out for trip to the canyon wonderlands of NE Arizona/SE Utah in a few weeks, so am in-progress on all the fun planning stuff right now.)Being a native New Englander, at one time I would have agreed that the fall foliage there is unbeatable, but having moved west and experienced the fall scenery in some locations out here, I would now have to dispute that:) I might be back in New England to visit family this fall, so will absolutely check out your PDF guide and Vermont blog.. thanks!And may we all be still outdoors and making pictures at age 93:)

  2. Thanks for the always insightful comments, Mark.My LightCentricPhotography.com website has galleries for both New Mexico and Vermont. All I can say it that they both are spectacular and I would have great difficulty "choosing" one over the other as being "better." Clearly very different, though. To me the older, Eastern Mountains have an intimacy to them, while the Western Mountains are just damn grandiose! I'll take either place in October.I meant to mention Hitchman's newsletter. It is very good. All I could remember was the PhotoTraveler stuff when writing the Blog and I got them confused (sorry Robert!). He has not only a "New England" newsletter but a separate one, specific to Vermont, if I recall.DO check out the SOV Forums before your trip in the fall lots of local insight and up to date information there!

  3. Vermont is definitely on my places to go list Andy – will have to look at your guide when I eventually make it there. Looks like it will be quite helpful.With regards to sharing – it depends with me. Depends on the sensitivity of the area, subject, etc. I wish everyone took faith in what you state about not abusing trust. But unfortunately there are some people that simply abuse location information, are not sensitive to their impacts, or worse, end up destroying the very subject that was disclosed. Since I have seen this happen, I suppose it leaves me a bit gunshy.

  4. Hey Mark. When you do finally get that Vermont trip on your itinerary, we should talk!I appreciate your thoughts — enough so that I was prompted to go back and edit this blog! I noted that there are exceptions to my own "rule" of openness. On occasion, I have had someone share with me a private location on the promise that I not disclose it. I have (and will always) most certainly respected that confidence. There may also be instances where there is private property involved, and those locations would not be disclosed unless the owner gave express permission.There certainly is a tension between disclosing to all a location and keeping it private (or at least among a small group). While I am not advocating that either approach is a "right" or "wrong" one, I lean toward disclosure. I have concluded that I am not the one who should be making the judgment about who should and who shouldn't know about a location. I WILL continue to IMPLORE all who visit to be sensitive toward nature, and toward the private property rights of others.As always, I especially appreciate your views, Mark and count it a privilege to have you comment here. Thanks so much

  5. FOOTNOTE: After reading Mark's comment, I thought in the spirit of completeness and openness, I would add Robert Hitchman's newsletter with a link. Good site and good information.

  6. I think, though it may seem contrary, the more artists and photographers share with each other, the better. I don't hesitate to tell people about techniques I use in my paintings if they ask. There are so many variables and factors in play when we capture an image that duplication — even dilution — seems very unlikely. I think it displays a lack of confidence in the work when someone is secretive.

  7. Hey Peter: Good to see you here! Thanks for your comment. I couldn't have articulated my feelings any better. And you have actually touched on the subject of a blog in the near future.

  8. Hey Andy — great topic. Not speaking so much of secret places — but just photos themselves. I have had the opportunity to see some work that another photographer 'copied' and then was passing off as their own. The concept, subject matter, and composition was identical to another's work. After seeing this first hand it has made me think about sharing so much about what I am working on. I have some interesting concepts and I have heard another photographer say they wanted to take photos like them. That did bug me since it was something I thought of on my own and have been working on to build a nice little portfolio.The consolation is that the photographer/artist who becomes known as one who copies rather than conceives will always have someone question the originality of their work. I always welcome more photographers and artists — but I hope that they all come with their own creativity. I also gladly tell others about great spots where I like to shoot — I feel that if we all approach a spot with our own vision — it can only help art.

  9. Hi Donna: I know the whole "IP" area is one which you have strong views on. My use of the term, "trade secret" here was more of a tongue-in-cheek–but it is probably nonetheless, apt. In my view, your comment speaks more of the copyright/trade name/trademark side of IP. Not exactly on topic :-), but good, here, as it really leads into my next planned blog. Stay tuned . . . .

  10. I will look forward to the next blog. 🙂 I don't care about sharing spots with people — I just like all of us to have our own vision. What I find interesting and, even, refreshing is to visit a spot with a number of photographers — then get together a couple weeks later to review our photos and see how each of us 'did our own thing' with the same bit of subject matter.keep up the good work!

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