Photographing the Icons

There is a debate within the landscape photography community that stems from the amount of people that flood the areas around "the icons". The icons are the postcard photos, especially within National Parks, the photos that every tourist lines up to shoot. The locations that have been photographed by millions of people from every possible angle in every possible weather with every possible light. Some photographer are resolved to never shoot those locations where you can hop out of a car to get the best angle. While other photographers are less stringent and believe that the crowds are just part of the overall experience. 


One of my most memorable experiences at one of the icons was back in 2011 at Maroon Lake near Aspen, Colorado. I had just returned from Grand Teton National Park where I was shooting with one of my best friends, Josh Dayton. Josh lived in Breckenridge at the time and I had dropped him off there, then met up with another one of my closest friends, Chase Shipley, and we drove through the night to Maroon Lake to get there by sunrise. Sunrise at Maroon Lake is the stuff that dreams are made of, the majestic Maroon Bells mountains at the other end of the lake, and at sunrise the mountains just glow vibrant red. This was Oct. 1st, and there had been a small storm that had left a few inches of snow on the peak. The fall foliage had just reached its peak as well, so it was kind of a perfect storm of conditions. Word got out too! Long before sunrise there were at least 200 photographers lined up on the shore of Maroon Lake, eager to get "that shot". Chase and I were shivering yet having to fight for space as the crowd essentially was shoulder to shoulder. 

That doesn't sound like a very fun experience does it? After that experience, I swore I wouldn't go back to Maroon Lake unless it was in the winter when the access road is closed. I have been back since, I was there briefly in 2012 while in Aspen helping a friend train for the Mountain Marathon. He is from Indiana and he really wanted to see Maroon Lake and see what all the hype was about. 

So, photographing a landscape scene with 200 other photographers isn't much fun. Should we go the complete and opposite direction and seek to get away as far away from civilization as possible? There is certainly no problem in that, and the further you get from a road the fewer people you are likely to see. 

I'm in the camp that the icons are icons for a reason and should be cherished. If a photographer wants to go and shoot those famous locations, then he/she should do so to the best of their abilities because as many people as there were at Maroon Lake, it sure is beautiful! This is why I have gone to the famous Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park quite a few times, it is truly a gorgeous scene and I have sold a number of prints of that scene. 

I mean, who doesn't want to shoot this photo? Click to purchase a print. 

I mean, who doesn't want to shoot this photo? Click to purchase a print. 

I have been to Grand Teton National Park four times now and each time I have visited Mormon Row, each under different conditions and each with different results. While I haven't been back since I took the above photo, next time I'm in the area I will visit Mormon Row for sure. 

The whole debate on whether or not to photograph the icons is at best, silly. When it comes to areas in national parks (Mormon Row, Mesa Arch, Inspiration Point, Tunnel View), yes there may be a lot of people there but we should have an appreciation for the landscapes we get to take in. There are so many icons I have yet to photograph and I cannot wait to go to Yosemite in the future, I want to go back to Glacier National Park, I want to visit Crater Lake, White Sands, Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, and more because I want to be able to share the beauty of our beautiful world. There are a lot of areas that are very remote that I want to photograph as well, but for the same reason. I want to show people the beauty of our created world with people who many not be able to get to those places. 

Let's put aside this debate and appreciate the incredible and awe-inspiring scenes we landscape photographer get the opportunity to photograph.