Over the River and Through the Woods
While some great photos can indeed be taken from the scenic overlook at the roadside pull off, most can take a bit more work to get to. Thankfully, roads don't go everywhere. At least not yet.
Only the most expensive of road projects can outsmart the constraints of topography and gravity. There are some impressively scenic roads that rise to dizzying heights such as the final leg to Artist Point at the end of the Mount Baker Highway here in the Pacific Northwest, or the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. No doubt you have your own favorites if you travel much. But most roads are confined to territory of a less challenging nature where more people congregate. Where people can easily congregate without falling down a deep ravine.
Unless you limit your photography to places you can drive to, sooner or later you'll find yourself parking and setting out on foot. I'm not going to get into how far you or I may or may not be willing to walk, or for that matter how best to do so safely and comfortably. But I am interested in how we approach the act of walking to our final destination. That time spent walking matters. While you're hiking along, how do you approach the task? Mentally, are your already at the lake you're planning to shoot at, eager to get there and wishing it weren't so far away? Are you mulling over your itinerary for tomorrow or what awaits you in the office next week when you get back home? Or are you paying attention to the sights alongside the trail as you walk?
Speaking for myself, no matter how much I may wish I had always been "in the moment" and curious about the photographic possibilities of what I found as I hiked along, I know that hasn't always been entirely true. Even as I leave my car behind and head out at a trailhead, I can't always leave my life behind so easily. In large measure, it depends on what's on my mind that day.
But another way of looking at this point is to consider what should be on one's mind. Just as you lock your car and walk away from it, relatively sure that it will be just fine when you later return to it, the truth is that your life will be there when you get back too. Putting things on hold for a weekend shouldn't be a deal breaker or it probably wasn't wise to go out with your camera in the first place. There's no telling what you may find as you hike down the trail to that lake, but you are less likely to find much of anything if your thoughts are elsewhere. The time to pay attention doesn't or shouldn't begin only once you get there.
It's tempting here to fall back on the cliché that the journey is the destination, but that doesn't really get at the heart of my meaning. Hopefully, there's at least a reasonable likelihood of getting good images once you reach your destination, otherwise you wouldn't be hiking there in the first place. You would have picked something else as a destination if you thought it would be a better use of your time. So the destination had better at least be a large part of the destination. But the journey to get there does exist and shouldn't be ignored. So long as you are walking down the trail to the lake, it would probably be a good idea to pay attention as you go. Not just what is required to avoid getting lost, but enough to possibly find additional possibilities along the way. You just might be surprised at what you find.
I can remember one time I was hiking to Sol Duc Falls in the Olympic National Park for some later afternoon directional light on the falls. The trail crosses over a small tributary that I've stopped at numerous times before. Time spent shooting long exposures of water flowing around the moss covered rocks can always be enjoyable. On this day though, I wanted to get to Sol Duc before the sun dipped any lower and the entire scene was cast in shadows. But as I crossed over the foot bridge at those mossy rocks I couldn't help making at least a quick stop. As it turned out, I found myself having such a good time I never did make it all the way to Sol Duc. So be it. That too will still be there the next time I'm back. The time was well spent.
Roads will at least attempt to go where people want to go, whether that's to a new housing development or to the photographic vistas of America's National Parks. But if you go out walking when you get there, whether you park at that National Park or in your own driveway at home, make the most of your time. Enjoy your travels.