My Top Five Favorite Places

People are always asking me where my favorite place is to shoot. I usually have no idea how to answer this, so I just say “Wherever I’m shooting now!”. But I’ve actually thought about this a bit, and today I’m going to give you a real answer. And I won’t just give you one answer – I’ll give you my top five places to shoot!

As you might guess, in a world as amazing as ours this is not an easy question to answer. One major reason for hesitation is that I haven’t been to that many places, and there are so many incredible places on my list that I have not yet visited that I suspect I haven’t yet been to what will ultimately be my favorite place. But even so, this afternoon I sat down at my favorite coffee shop, Issaquah Coffee Company, and really thought about it while scrolling through my images and sipping a strawberry smoothie. (It’s way too hot for coffee in the afternoon this week!) So now that this highly scientific process is complete, here they are, my top five locations for photo shoots.

5.) France

Mooring rings are spaced along the retaining wall of the Quai d'Anjou, on the edge of the Seine River in Paris, France.

Mooring Rings Along the Quai d’Anjou, Paris, France

How can you not love shooting in France? Whether it’s urban landscapes in the City of Light, village and rural landscapes in Provence, maritime scenes on the Mediterranean, or mountain scenery in the Alps, France has it all when it comes to photography. I’ve only done one photo trip to France, but I can’t wait to go back.

Back in 2010 I signed up for a workshop timed to photograph Provence when the lavender would hopefully be at its peak. I was happy to have the guidance and transportation through this unfamiliar area, but I wasn’t about to miss a chance to photograph Paris on my own first. So I spent a few days trying to photograph everything except the over-served Eiffel Tower, and had a great time doing it. I find Paris easy to navigate, even for a non-French speaker, and there’s no shortage of subjects. The image above was taken along the edge of the Seine River early one morning. You know you’re out early when you have stand outside to wait for the subway station gate to open so you can catch your train!

4.) Iceland

Icy Stare, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

An Icelandic Horse stares down the camera, in West Iceland.

I originally went to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis. Growing up in New Orleans and then living in cloudy Seattle, I had never seen it. Truth be told, I knew that Art Wolfe had a trip planned to Iceland for the same reason, so I planned my trip to coincide with his. Hey, why not learn from the best, right?

But I also realized that Iceland has its challenges as well. Located where it is between the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea, it tends to get a warm flow from the Atlantic that creates a cloud cover that can ruin the best planned Northern Lights adventure. So I had a backup plan, and that was to photograph the Icelandic Horses. (They might be short, but they are not ponies. Do not call them ponies unless you want to piss off the Vikings.) And I knew there would be plenty of interesting landscapes to photograph as well.

After playing in Reykjavik for a couple of days, I headed to the western side of Iceland where few tourists wander even during tourist season, which the last week of October is decidedly not. I found plenty of Icelandic Horses and lots of great scenery, but no tourists and no Aurora Borealis. The horse above I spotted on my last day before returning to Reykjavik, when a micro-blizzard covered the horse in a coat of ice that shows just how hardy this breed really is.

3.) Mount Rainier National Park

Milky Way over Rainier, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

The Milky Way swings behind Mount Rainier in this image from the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mount Rainier National Park is my home park. It takes me an hour and a half to reach the park entrance from my home in Issaquah, and the only reason it takes that long is that there is no direct route, and the route I do take passes through some small towns. But once I reach the park, there is a world of photographic opportunities to be had. Depending on the season, you will find wintry landscapes, wildflowers, and a variety of critters, including black bears. The park even has its own temperate rain forest, which can be visited year-round. And nighttime in the park is magical.

To get the image above with the Milky Way above Mount Rainier, I drove to the Sunrise Visitors’ Center and hiked about an hour to a spot where I had a good view of the mountain looking south where the Milky Way would be. Once I was done I hiked back to the car, drove home about 3 AM, and actually went to work the next morning!

2.) Arizona

Saguaro on the Apache Trail, Tonto National Forest, Arizona

A saguaro cactus stands tall over the valley along the Apache Trail, in Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

Arizona has so much diverse beauty it’s hard to describe. It’s the only state I know of that has a world-class magazine devoted to travel and photography within the state, Arizona Highways Magazine. Arizona has the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, slot canyons like Antelope Canyon, ancient cliff dwellings, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and Monument Valley. But drive along just about any highway in the state and you will likely be surrounded by incredible scenery. I’ve been on two photo shoots in Arizona so far, and I’ve only scratched the surface. There’s plenty more to be seen, and I can’t wait to go back. Well, it’s almost July, and we’re talking about the Desert Southwest. I can wait a bit.

1.) The Enchantments

Prusik Peak Reflection at Sunset, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Prusik Peak is reflected in Gnome Tarn at sunset in The Enchantments, an area regarded as one of the most spectacular locations in the Cascade Range, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington.

Ah, The Enchantments. They call it that for a reason. My Number 1 favorite place to shoot is in The Enchantments, a section of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness not too far from Leavenworth, Washington, but it may as well be on a different planet.

To get to The Enchantments in any way other than a day hike, which is not practical, you need to first apply for a permit early in the year. You then have to be lucky enough to win the lottery for a permit, which defines when you can go, how many you can take, and where in the area you are allowed. Trying to beat the system will just get you nailed by a Forest Service ranger.

But once you or one of your friends wins the lottery, you’re in for a treat. OK, you’re in for an expedition, since it takes normal humans two days to get into the heart of The Enchantments where the true beauty lies. If you’re like me and my friends, you’ll have your camping gear, a week’s worth of food, and a lot of heavy camera gear, but once you haul all of that to your campsite, you’ll be glad you brought it. Photographic opportunities abound, from gorgeous mountain peaks to colorful larch trees, clear mountain streams and lakes to families of mountain goats. It is a truly magical place, and I can’t wait to win that lottery and go back again!

So that’s it, my Top Five list of places to photograph in my limited experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to add places like New Zealand or Antarctica to that list soon!

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