The dreaded rut. That feeling of being exhausted of your precious creative juice. How to break out? For me, a change my scenery — specifically an amazing location for your photo or video shoot– has always been the closest thing to a magic bullet that I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes this means shooting in a different studio, at an abandoned building, a trip to the mountains or, gasp, even that blown-out building on other side of the tracks you’ve heard so much about. Even then however, it’s quite possible that even more drastic measures need to be taken.
I call it “Destination Inspiration.” Sometimes getting out of your everyday physical location is the shot in the arm that you need. This has saved me numerous times. If these following locations below don’t get your creative mind revving, then I can’t help you. Several of these spots I’ve been to before and drool over, others are on my must hit-list. Check them out, pack a bag, and get inspired. And before you wince about the cost of going to these places…skip your 4 dollar coffees at the coffee shop for 3 months and drink drip, cancel your cable TV subscription and look for a deal on airfare. The cost of taking a trip for your next shoot to revive your creative juices is much cheaper than the alternative – NO creative mojo. So here we go….
1) New Zealand. In all my world travel, few places compare in beauty to wait awaits the New Zealand visitor. Those of you who pay attention to what it is that we do know that I have a THING for NZ. In fact, I have stated it is my favorite place to shoot (although my recent trip to Iceland, see below, has me questioning that). From waterfalls and snow fields, to jungle and wild river beds – N-Zed is hard to beat. The people are some of the most adventurous and welcoming on the planet and shoots are consequently easy to produce. Its a haul – but worth the day in a plane.
2) Iceland. I recently returned from a shoot in Iceland and I can now say with authority that the country is straight up magical. I called it the “land of endless light” for the 18 hours of it we got every day. I’m talking the kind of light we photographers dream about at night. We spent the majority of our time tooling around the southern shore + hitting some super photogenic locations (thanks to hosts/guides Marteinn Ibsen and Arnaldur Halldórsson and local production company Profilm.). You’ll likely fly into Reykjavik, and if you rent a car hitting up Route 1 is a good bet to access some of the wilder beauty found here — it’s also called the Ringroad as it encircles the island. Wherever you go, be on the lookout for elves. The majority of natives believe they are real. I’d say snapping a shot would earn you some notoriety.
3) Antelope Canyon. Rather find somewhere in the States? Fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix (both are about the same driving distance) and head out to Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo lands near Paige, Arizona. The canyon is actually two slot canyons (separated into “the crack” and “the corkscrew”, or “upper” and “lower” canyons), and both are amazing to walk through. If you’re looking for photos, get ready for a challenge. In addition to waiting your turn (Antelope Canyon is one of the most extensively photographed canyons in the US), taking the actual pics is tough, since the wide exposure range creates some problems as light is reflected off the canyon walls. Roll into town in May or April, when the temp is still bearable, and you still get a lot of daylight.
4) Hang Son Doong in Vietnam. Hang Son Doong sits near the Laos/Vietnam border. Its collection of about 150 caves boasts the biggest in the world, twice as big as Deer Cave in Malaysia. Check out the pic below by Dan Cunningham, and click the link to see more of his stuff. If the cave itself isn’t enough for you, there’s also a mini-jungle and a fast flowing river running through it. Plenty of natural wonder to spark some creativity. More than enough to fill some memory cards. Tours have just recently opened up, so check out some info here. And good news, if you want to stay awhile, Vietnam is crazy cheap-a 4 bedroom rental house can go for as low as $400 a month, and usually the most expensive beers available are a buck, with home-brews as low as ten cents a glass.If you aren’t careful, you’ll come for the cave, and stay for…ever.
5) Belize. If you’re looking for somewhere a bit more tropical, check out Belize. I was there recently, and it was beyond incredible. For my friends in the states, Belize is a lot closer than you think. About 5 hours or less from everywhere in the US (besides HI+AK), so it’s a relatively short jump to crystal blue waters and white-sand beaches. Plane tickets aren’t too hard on the wallet, and the lodgings are pretty reasonable as well. Check out last month’s post here for a comprehensive guide on the what, where, when, and how.
6) Red Beach in Panjin, China. Feel like heading East? Take a train from Beijing (about 3 ½ hours for the fast trains, around 5-6 for the slower trains) to Red Beach. Weeds that are green during the summer turn a flaming red in autumn, giving you a view that you can’t find anywhere else. Go in September when the weather is chill and the Red Beach is the brightest. When you’re done checking out the beach, get your national geographic on and grab some shots of the 236 varieties of birds found there. Check out my play-by-play trip on the South China Sea from Shanghai to Hong Kong here.
7) Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki, Japan. If you’re looking for some color, there are few places better than Hitachi Seaside Park. This place is covered in seasonal flower gardens, and if you time your trip right, it’s like the flower version of the 4th of July. You’ve got narcissus and tulips in spring , nemophila and roses in early summer, zinnias in summer and kochias and cosmos in autumn. If you’re not up on your flower names, just trust me that this all boils down to some of the most vibrant, spectacular colors you’ve ever seen, no matter when you visit. If you get tired of the flowers, Seaside Park’s got a BMX course, a cycling road, an amusement park and areas set aside to grill.
Arashiyama bamboo forest outside Kyoto, Japan. While you’re already in the area (well, the country at least) don’t skip this opportunity. Take the JR Sagano Line from Kyoto station (15 minutes, 230 yen), then take a 5-10 minute walk to central Arashiyama, then cruise through the towering forest. Get peaceful, get clear-headed, get centered. A walk through here is gonna chill you out, guaranteed. Rent a bike to get the full experience, and check out the cherry blossoms and small temples along the way from the station.
9) Mount Roraima, Venezuela (but also Brazil + Guyana). Ready for some exercise? Make sure you’re serious. Next up is Mount Roraima, the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateau in South America. This is a backpackers dream. Most people make their attempt from the Venezuelan side, and hire local Pemon Indian guides from the nearby village of Paraitepui, which is reached by dirt road from the main Gran Sabana road between kilometer 88 and Santa Elena de Uairen. The path to reach the plateau is widely traveled and well marked, but once you get to the top of the mountain, it’s easy to get lost, due to a ton of trails and pretty consistent cloud cover. Paraitepui can be reached easily if you have a ride with four-wheel-drive, or you can hoof it in about a day. Do not try this with your Honda Civic. Once you hit Paraitepui, most hikers take two days to reach the base of the mountain, and then another day to follow “La Rampa,” the natural staircase path to the top. Spend a night or two at the top and check out a view of the stars like you’ve never seen, but make sure to plan for an another 2 days to get back.
10) Mendenhall Galcier, Alaska. I’ve saved one of the best (and most dangerous) for last. Fly into Juneau, Alaska and take a hike on the Mendenhall Glacier. Get up early to beat the crowd (try arriving at about 9am latest if you want some solitude), and hike up the western side (about three hours) to get to a point that overlooks the entire glacier. This hike is no joke, and you need to game-plan it hard. Even experienced backpackers are respectful of this glacier, especially if you are trying to see the ice caves beneath. These are unbelievably beautiful, but dangerous as hell since the ice is always shifting. Get yourself a guide, wear some layers, and get ready for a hardcore day of hiking and amazing views. Get a hold of “Above and Beyond Tours” for more info.