The Big Game Photographer

Funny how things come together sometimes.

I’ve been a photographer all of my adult life (first 35mm camera in 1985). During that time I’ve noticed the presence of what I call Big Game Photographers (B.G.P.s for short). Like Big Game Hunters, they’re all about the trophy. In the case of guys with cameras, it’s the Big Landscape usually. Mountains. Oceans. Big skies. Mighty rivers. Towering waterfalls. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Here’s one of mine.

Nice, but it’s been done before. It doesn’t do anything new. Google Snake River and Grand Teton and you’ll see what I mean.

Think about the photographers who only do big landscapes like that one. Sunrise. Sunset. The more difficult the better. The ones who process one shot per session. The ones who relentlessly pursue the perfect position to capture a sunrise over some iconic object. In my experience they’ve all been men. Most of them are excellent photographers and good guys to hang around with, but once they’ve achieved their shot, they lose interest in a location.

Recently I witnessed this first hand during a photo workshop. There was one guy, new to photography, but ironically a former Big Game Hunter. Seriously. He has rooms full of trophy heads on the walls. In a conversation over a couple of beers, he characterized himself as a collector – going after key animals on every continent. Aside from the money involved, this is a serious endeavor and one he gave up only after having a major case of altitude sickness in the Himalayas and having to be helicoptered out.

So now he’s a photographer and from what I saw, a good one. But he’s a classic B.G.P. During our sessions he basically stayed in one or two places and concentrated on a very few images. He didn’t paddle around much and he nearly always used the tripod. Not the most flexible way to explore a cypress lake in a kayak, but he had a method.

I’m not a B.G.P. I’m an All Seeking Photographer. There is so much depth and complexity in the natural world and it all fascinates me, not just the big stuff or the glamour shots. My curiosity drives me to look at everything.

Oh sure, I usually go out with an idea in mind. A thing I want to capture. An event or a feature or some light. And often times I get it. Bag me a big one. But then I keep looking. And it’s that second look. That unplanned shot that can be just as amazing and special.

Take this for example –

I always heed the call

It’s what I came for. It was overcast, but bright and this section of Ripley Creek (you knew that, right?) had been cleared of a lot of debris that made this shot unworkable in the past. It is my Big Game Shot and if I just came away with this alone it would have been worth it.

But that’s not me. That’s not the way I work. I left the creek (yes, I actually do once in a while) and look what I found –

A female augochlora (Green metallic sweat bee)


Orange bumblebee


Unintended harvest

All because I stopped here –

Lightness entered

And spent about 45 minutes looking around. Marveling at the light. Seeing small things. Feeling the air and hearing the birds. The breeze lightly drifting through the leaves. There’s magic there, too, not just in the big landscapes and dramas. Those All Seeking Shots are just as amazing, as beautiful and as technical to achieve if that’s what blows your skirt up.

In my experience, the most common hallmark for the All Seeking Photographer is that we carry our cameras at the ready. Often mine is on the tripod, ready to go. Or hanging on a D-link on my backpack shoulder strap. Ready. For subjects, yes but, mostly for light. Like this –

With all that is implied

Granted, I am a macro photographer, too, and I’m always looking out for tiny things. The small scene. Small, but the light and the luck has to be right, too. Composition counts just as much.

Recently I watched several videos by photographers teaching composition in woodlands. All were good and said basically the same things, but most of these guys (they were all guys) put the camera in the pack when moving on to find his next composition. Only one carried the tripod with the camera on it as he worked through the woods. Granted, they were shows about landscape photography, but not one of them seemed to notice the smaller things around him. Not one of them lowered his tripod to the ground.

B.G.P.s to a man.

And so what? Where am I going with this? Only to say that I learned on my recent photo workshop, to think a little more like a B.G.P. and find that iconic image – the standout representation of a time and place. Then, once achieved, to keep my eyes open. To keep seeking. Adding to the story of the place. Only then can I feel like I’ve been there and experienced everything it has to offer. Only then do I feel like I’ve done it justice and honor.

Even if I haven’t bagged the big one.

6 thoughts on “The Big Game Photographer

Add yours

  1. I took a painting class many years ago and took away this gem from the instructor, who suggested we ask ourselves, “Does the world really need another painting(photograph) of fill-in-the-blank?” While there certainly can be new takes (or exceptional shots) on familiar scenes, so many of them are what I call “postcard shots” – perfectly adequate renderings of iconic places, but adding nothing new — just something for tourists to take or send home as a token of their visit. Like you, I like to look for the details. (Just walking around my yard, which tends to be on the wild side, can be fertile territory. One surprising gem was a carrion beetle covered in mites, which led to a web search to find out what they heck they were doing there.) I find that the roadsides, the swamps, the “unremarkable” places can be as satisfying as the BGPs — with the plus of usually being able to enjoy them without company or extended travel.

    1. I kind of think of it that way, too, Pat – does the world need another picture of this icon? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but I still take one. Collecting photos I think it’s called – you don’t add to the story of the place as much as you add it to your own story if that makes sense.

      1. Yes, that’s how I think regarding taking the obligatory icon photo — more of a journal entry in your life, but not one that you need to proliferate unless you captured it under unique or spectacular circumstances.

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