Making memories: Remembering to shoot for yourself, and not just the public.

by Shannon Polugar

The road before us breaks from the towering conifers and red Manzanita, and we are greeted with an open expanse made devoid of trees a decade prior before we meander towards the left and down through a stone tunnel to see the wonder upon wonders: the towering stone walls, ferocious waterfalls, and the granite monoliths in the distance. It is the entrance to Yosemite Valley.

One of my favorite activities is taking friends who have never been into the national park for the first time. There is an inevitably a collective gasp in awe. It never really stops while we are in the valley either. By the time your eye leaves one natural wonder it has spotted the next. I show my friends photographs of the park before we go by the photographs synonymous with the park: Carleton Watkins, George Fiske, and of course Ansel Adams. 

 The Big-Oak Flat Road (now Hwy 120) entrance into Yosemite Valley, circa 1880. The view hasn’t changed much in 130+ years

The Big-Oak Flat Road (now Hwy 120) entrance into Yosemite Valley, circa 1880. The view hasn’t changed much in 130+ years


I remind them that as wonderful as these photographs are, it is nothing compared to being there in person. And then they ask me where MY photographs of Yosemite are. So about that… 

As students of photography we are told that for our professional work that we should have our own style, not to copy others, and certainly while we should shoot for the stars (figuratively and literally) remind ourselves that we are not one of these photographers and to be ourselves. 

Much of the time that means that when we are walking through someplace as famous as Yosemite, we see every view and vista as something that has already been done before. Many, many, times before. 

 Some of the many recreations of the same scene by different photographers. Can you spot which one is Ansel Adams? Don’t worry, only one here is his, but he did shoot this scene about a dozen times in different light and seasons.

Some of the many recreations of the same scene by different photographers. Can you spot which one is Ansel Adams? Don’t worry, only one here is his, but he did shoot this scene about a dozen times in different light and seasons.

So the camera stays in the camera bag. Or just hangs around the neck while the strap gets dusty, sweaty, and leaves the inevitable white streak while the rest of us gets sunburned. There isn’t anything new under the sun here, so why bother?

Because you’re going to burn out if you don’t still keep taking the snapshots that are your personal memories. It is those photos that also help to lead us to new ideas. It is important to remember we don’t always have to shoot for the gallery wall, or the magazine, or our website. We can’t forget to shoot for ourselves too.

Remember you are there to enjoy yourself. So when in doubt, just take the shot, even the ones shot thousands of times before by every other traveler. It is still your photo, and your memory, even if you don’t share it with the world