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  • Writer's pictureJustin Key

Top 10 Favorite Places to Shoot

The best thing about artists is we all see the world differently. Half the fun of shooting with another photographer is seeing how they compose their images. I've been on photo walks before where the other photographer and I shot back to back most of the day just because our eyes led us in different directions. My eye loves details, lines, and textures whereas others may love a wider crop to show the grand scene. Over the years of traveling, there are specific places that personally stand out for their photographic inspiration. Here are my 10 favorite places to photograph.

10. New Places

I know, cop-out! I love traveling to new places and as a photographer, I try to approach them with fresh eyes. It's so easy to research new locations and enter with unconscious inspiration. I prefer to enter a new location as blind as possible and let my eye guide me. After an initial visit, the temptation to recreate a shot is always there and the depth of observation is reduced having seen it once before. There is simply nothing better than exploring a new place for the first time.

9. Tuscany

Sun rays shoot through the clouds on a row of cypress trees in Tuscany.

The hills of Tuscany are an artist's paradise. The roads that wind through the countryside are seemingly endless. The landscape is clean, the patterns consistent. The rolling palette of greens glowing warmly in the setting sun. Perfectly spaced cypress trees lining the hilltops in front of mountainous white clouds. New paintings are made as the colors change while the Earth rotates. Photographing is effortless as inspiration abounds. It's just as easy to explore all day as it is to absorb a single scene with a bottle of wine. Life slows down in Tuscany. As a photographer it's nirvana, as a human being it's heaven.

8. White Sands National Park

A pastel pink and purple sky over the white dunes of New Mexico

Wandering through an endless sea of white only seems possible in the arctic right? Deep in the nothingness of New Mexico is a deposit of gypsum that stretches for eternity. The blinding white particles create mesmerizing patterns with the wind. the gypsum particles are denser than standard sand dunes which make for cleaner lines and exploring less strenuous. Once the sun sets, the blinding landscape dulls down to pastel tones and the textured mounds smooth out into dreamlike wisps. My love for sand dunes makes this a no brainer for the list and the unique white dunes land White Sands at number eight.

7. Driftwood Beach

The skeletons of trees poking through Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island in Georgia

Rising tides of saltwater have slowly been suffocating a forest on the banks of Jekyll Island in Georgia. The result is a graveyard of trees lining the beach. The weather has stripped the skeletons of their bark and small branches. Some remain stubborn and upright while the years of wind and waves have taken the majority horizontal where they are slowly buried in the sand. The scene is haunting. As a lover of the forms of dead trees though I find it beautiful and make a point to visit every time I'm in Georgia. It's always fascinating to see what time has swallowed up since my last visit.

6. Lake Abamasagi

Minimalist photograph of still evening lake in Ontario Canada with the full moon reflecting on the blue water.

This random lake in Ontario has always had a special place in my heart for reasons far beyond photography. In all honesty, this isn't a location where I've taken too many photos. My travels to Lake Abamasagi revolve around fishing but photographic inspiration is created throughout the week. I've never been anywhere that I've been able to capture the emotion of the location better than Lake Abamasagi. It's a tranquil body of water deep in the woods of Ontario without access other than floatplane. For seven days the only item on the agenda is fishing. All-day every day it's cast and retrieve while the boat bounces in the water. As I fish, the details associated with the peaceful location begin to paint themselves into compositions. Those compositions materialize at some point during the week and that serenity is forever captured. The reason Lake Abamasagi comes in at number six isn't for the endless inspiration, it's the magnitude of the few photos I do take.

5. Hawaii

The sun sets behind a rock along the coast of Kauai as the foam of a wave crashes over it.

While small, Hawaii is a much broader location than the majority on this list. Where most of the locations on this list have a few natural features, Hawaii has everything including waterfalls, mountains, beaches, volcanoes, canyons, rain forests, and don't forget the constant rainbows. Each island is unique in the landscapes it offers but there is no shortage on any of them. I've been to Kauai, Maui, and Oahu and while I would easily go back to any of them I really want to see what the other islands have in store.

4. Pacific Northwest

The moss covered forest of Olympic National Park in Washington.

Even broader than Hawaii is my fourth favorite location to shoot, the entire Pacific Northwest. I finally got to Washington last spring and I refuse to pick a favorite between it and Oregon. Put enough batteries and memory cards in my pack and I would Forrest Gump my way through the region. Moss grows on everything that water isn't flowing over and the coastline is so raw and rugged it's hard to set the camera down. The old-growth forests consume the ego and the rushing waterfalls transcend technology. Getting lost in the ferns and moss of the Pacific Northwest is the perfect way to find out exactly where you are.

3. Upper Peninsula

Michigan rocks covered in ice under a grey cloud sky

Da U.P. is where I developed my passion for photography. The shores of Lake Superior became a playground during my four years of college in Marquette. The beauty of the wilderness occurs year round even when the bitter winter winds whip off the lake. Those days only enhance the scenery with stacks of icicles covering the shoreline. The summers make for a world of quiet forests and placid lakes where long days end in beach bonfires and northern lights. Astrophotography was key in my creative development with the camera. The endless sea of stars was easy to drown in just a few miles outside of the quiet Michigan college town. There's a reason I drove 2,500 miles last year through snow and ice to photograph the elegant landscape again.

2. Crested Butte

A glowing mountain of gold aspens in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Want to get away? Colorado is overflowing with people and in the fall those people turn into leaf peepers that migrate into the mountains for the bright gold aspen leaves. Crested Butte features some of the most breathtaking scenes in the state, especially during the fall, and yet the trails are vacant. Endless forests of white-barked aspens are yours to explore in peace while gentle breezes send a cascade of golden leaves cackling to the fern-covered earth. The majority of my aspen fall photos were taken in Crested Butte because I can't help but go back every year for the show.

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

A panorama of Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado with the snow capped peaks towering over the dune field.

Of course, the number one spot goes to Great Sand Dunes National Park. It should come as no surprise that the location that inspired an entire photography series is my favorite place to shoot. The only drawback is the eight hours of driving for a day trip. The drive has never been a big issue, the real problem is there's never enough time at the dunes. Multi-day trips are becoming more enticing the more I visit. A full day to explore and wander deep into the dunes is what I need. With no plans to leave Colorado anytime soon you can expect the "Sands Study" to grow over the coming years.

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