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See The Obvious…..Seek The Unique !

Updated: Oct 26, 2019

Several years ago I belonged to a photography club at Lake Tahoe. Among the members were 4 professionals, generous with their experience and advice. One man, I don’t remember his name, passed on the phrase “See the obvious, Seek the unique”.

His explanation was that when out shooting photos, you will come across frequently photographed scenes, shot by many photographers. They take the photos from the same spot, from the same perspective, same time of day, etc. Photos of southern Utah are a good example. At some sites, you can just set up your tripod in the three “tripod holes “worn into the rock, focus, and push the shutter. You will end up with the same photo thousands of people have in their portfolios.


This is the obvious, most common photo of Mobius Arch framing Mt. Whitney. It is located in the Alabama Hills near Lone Tree Ca. The arch itself sits up on top of a large rock. To take this photo, you walk behind the rock and scramble up the backside of the rock .

When I arrived at the arch in the twilight before dawn, I walked around the side of the rock and saw this scene as I looked up to my right. I did not intend to cause the star effect to the slim crescent moon but I liked the effect it added to this different, unique, photo of Mobius Arch.


It takes effort to learn to look at a scene and see the uniqueness in it. It is a learned behavior for most of us, although some people just naturally look at things a little differently. I wrote the phrase “See the obvious, Seek the unique “on the cover of a notebook I always carry with me when out shooting. Eventually, the phrase became a mantra in my head when trying to set up a shot.

Seeing the unique, often means looking at things from a different perspective; shooting from ground level or from a high point. This explains the current interest in drone photography. Photographing scenes from an overhead position gives a strikingly different effect and results in some very unique photos.


This is the obvious view of a string of wooden boats at a show in Sandpoint, Idaho. I took this photo then started looking for unique views or shots I could take.


This is an overhead shot from a bridge over the marina area., similar to what a drone overheat shot might look like.

Sometimes focusing in on a particular detail can demonstrate uniqueness in a photo. I don't if the owner of this boat fancied himself to be Captain Nemo or if he referenced the 2003 movie , Finding Nemo. When I saw the boat's name, I immediately thought " found him "

It may entail using back light, or side light to create an effect. It could involve capturing an unexpected reflection. It sometimes means focusing in on just a portion of an object; an example is framing in on part of a car or boat such as the dashboard instruments.

I always look at a photograph I have taken and decide if it would be more interesting in black and white, or monochrome. Occasionally, a photo is more striking, or more powerful in monochrome. I do this evaluation at the time I shoot it, or later, in processing. Your monochrome photo is a unique version of the colored scene that everyone else sees as they pass by it.


This foggy meadow is near Carson Pass, southwest of Lake Tahoe. This is the obvious scene that people see as they drive by.

Same foggy meadow in monochrome. It is more striking and dramatic in my opinion. The people driving by see the obvious colored normal version; the monochrome version shows the unique view.

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