Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Need For a Photography Park



My wife and I went on a weekend trip with another couple to Carters Lake, in the North Georgia mountains. As always, the place we pick is a compromise. The girls want to shop. I want to take photographs. My friend wants to fish. Carters Lake is near Ellijay and looked like fun for everyone.

Carters Lake is a pretty place. It's an Army Corp of Engineers project. That made the encroachment of private homes somewhat surprising to me. Trophy houses in the mountains ceased to surprise me a long time ago. What did surprise me was how close they were to a Federal facility. The approach roads to the various picnic areas, fishing docks and boat ramps were littered with expensive homes. And they were, of course, visible from all over the lake.



I'll never accept the stupidity and arrogance of trophy houses. No one comes to the mountains to enjoy the view marred by trophy houses on the hills. Yet everyone wants to own (or rent) a house they know will ruin the view of others. And they'll keep building them until they have spoiled the very beauty of the place that attracted people to the area in the first place. Oh well. Let's get back to the subject at hand.

After arriving the first afternoon (check in time was 3 PM), I'm stuck with the typical photographer's dilemma: I need to find a place for the rapidly-approaching sunset and find a place for the sunrise. You have to think about the details. After sunset it's dark. To get to a place before sunrise, you have to be able to find it in the dark. There's nothing like getting up two hours before sunrise, driving (or walking) to an unfamiliar place, stumbling around in the dark, waiting for many minutes in the cold, and then finding out you've chosen a horrible place for a sunrise picture. Another detail that escapes non-photographers is that the Sun "moves". It doesn't set at 270º West and 90º East all year. Currently (around here) it rises at 115º and sets at 244º. (The U.S. Naval Observatory will calculate it for your location.) I carry a compass with me wherever I go so I can make an educated guess as to what might make a good sunrise/sunset location.

The trail from our rental cabin to the lake is about a 10 minute hike. Not a problem. My buddy and I take the short walk to the lake. The "big" view is to the north (with the trophy houses on the mountains) and a more limited view to the southeast. What are you going to do? By the time we unpack, grab our gear and walk to the lake, it's too late to get anywhere else for the sunset. I'll make the best of it and maybe it will work out for the sunrise. My friend fishes until the sunset and we both enjoy the view as the streetlights start coming on in the dusk. Nothing reveals the beauty of nature quite like a mercury-vapor lamp. (Or sodium vapor if you prefer.)



Sunrise was a little better than sunset. One thing you can say about a "little" view; there's less room for trophy houses.

The next day, we did a little scouting for better fishing/photography places. "Scouting" is an ugly process. You waste an awful lot of time and gas. I guess that keeps the guides (both fishing and photography) employed. (I'm pretty sure you could find a fishing guide for Carters Lake. Not so sure about a photography guide.) To make a long story short, neither Doll Mountain Recreation Area nor Harris Branch Recreation Area provided a place that was promising (that was also open.)

Once again, we were out of time so we just drove blindly down the road to whatever was next around the lake and run into this sign.



In case you were wondering, sunrise was at 7:18 (42 minutes before the park opens) and sunset was at 5:30 (30 minutes after it closes.) It was a nice sunset but there wasn't even a place to pull over off the road from which to photograph it. We drove home in the dusk dejected -- fishless and photoless.

I hope the need for a photography park is obvious from this little story. I also hope it's obvious that the needs of photographers can coexist with other park users. You can fish in a lake designed for photography. You can picnic in a park designed for photography. As a matter of fact, these things would only enhance a photography park. Sailboats are photogenic. People playing in a park are a favorite subject of some photographers. Kites look spectacular in photographs. People riding horses? Yes please.

But all parks are not conducive to photography. As a matter of fact, many seem designed to prevent decent photographs. Wether it's utility wires strung willy-nilly, trophy houses littering the view, blindingly-white boat buoys visible from two miles away on the lake, day-glow yellow trash cans, reflective trail markers or sickly-green street lights....there are hundreds of fixable things that would make a park more photogenic. But that wasn't the most important lesson I learned this weekend.

I didn't get a great photograph. My friend didn't catch a single fish. But the weekend was deemed a resounding success. Our wives found tons of junk to buy. If I have to make a photography park commercially viable, I'll have to work trophy houses and an outlet mall into the master plan.

Don Brown
November 26, 2013

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