© Rob Sheppard
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When I was editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine, it amazed me how often folks would write in with suggestions for articles about places far away from their homes. And as I have done online photo classes at BetterPhoto.com, I am still surprised at how often people say that they don’t live in areas where there are good opportunities for nature photography. I have also found that in workshops, a lot of people want to know where is the best place to go.
I know this may seem a little flip, but it is the truth: my favorite place to photograph is wherever I am. I have been to locations in nearly every state and a few foreign locations, too. I have yet to find any place where there is not some sort of interesting and good opportunities for nature photography.
The accompanying photo is from Castro Crest in the Santa Monica Mountains. This is less than an hour away from me. Now lest you think I am in some amazing location, I live in the Los Angeles area and nearly half of the time to get to this location is through LA freeways. In addition, this location is within 10 miles of millions of people. Yet whenever I have been to this spot, I have never seen another photographer other than friends who came with me.
I suppose that the old saying, "The grass is greener on the other side of the fence", didn’t become popular because people always appreciated where they were. A dear friend of mine has some wonderful opportunities to photograph stunning scenes of nature near his house, yet he is always searching for another place to photograph far away from home. Now there are wonderful places that are worth the travel. I am glad I get to go to a lot of interesting places around the country. But I can’t do that all the time. Yet nature and photography are too important to me to wait until my next "big trip."
There are so many locations around LA that I enjoy visiting for nature photography. But one thing that has become very important to me is a personal project - photographing the chaparral of Southern California, especially in the Santa Monica Mountains (which, it seems, is not well known anywhere, even in LA - "Santa Monica has mountains" - no, they don’t, but there are mountains to the north and west that have this name).
I have mentioned a bit about this before. The chaparral is a wonderful ecosystem once you get to know it. It is a very important part of the natural history of Southern California, covering nearly 15% of the non-built land.
This region is not so dramatic as Yosemite, it doesn’t have the big trees of Sequoia, it has no bold waterfalls or big rivers. But it is close (it is throughout Southern California), interesting and worth getting to know. Admittedly, the Santa Monica Mountains do have mountains (up to about 3,000 feet), but without tall trees and not a lot of water, these soft-green mountains are often ignored by photographers.
Everywhere there are areas like this, areas that you can “adopt” as your own. As you really get to know that area, you will learn more about your camera technique, you will discover cool things about the nature of your region, you can photograph throughout the year, and you can even build up a body of significant work that you cannot get in any other way.
For me, the chaparral project started as a way to better know and understand a natural system in my state. Now it has truly become a love affair. That is a big deal, actually, because I grew up in the East and Midwest where thick forests were the native ecosystems that I loved most. Not that I will ever forget the forests, but I do love the chaparral now, too. As Stephen Stills wrote in a song popularized by the Rolling Stones, "And if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with."
Rob Sheppard teaches a number of outstanding online photo courses, including Creating Storytelling Photos, Successful Publication Photography, and Composition Boot Camp. In addition, the BetterPhoto digital photography school offers many more online photography workshops.
To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.