How many times can you photograph the exact same thing, over and over again?
I’ve asked myself that question too many times, in regards to a certain local monument, the historic, majestic pier that greets visitors to the small Los Angeles beach community I live in.
Manhattan Beach, California is anchored by the historic, 101-year-old Pier at land’s end.
And people really love it. I can do the most amazing portrait, unusual street photography assignment, a celebrity, you name it. Nothing gets the response that a shot of the Pier does. And most people don’t realize I’ve taken the same shot (or similar) over and over.
But in fact, I haven’t. Because while the building is the same, the surroundings aren’t. They change daily, depending upon the time of the year, right?
I assume other photographers have the same odd relationship with local monuments, bridges, and the like. Our challenge, is how to keep it interesting for us? Because it’s not like we’re going to stop photographing them.
Here’s how I look at it.
1. Every day is different
Not exactly, but what the Pier looks like in December is way different from July and the heart of the summer. It’s not like we get snow out here, but we do see different colors to the skies, with richer blues in July and clouds in the winter. These differences are huge and make the continual chronicling worth it.
The great thing about a sunset is that no setting of the sun and post-color show are ever the same. Thus a 2019 sunset just won’t look the same as a 2021 edition. Sunset season here begins in November and won’t let up until February. So that’s over 100 more attempts to get the perfect shot.
3. Fire and rain.
In Southern California, fire season tends to hit in late summer, early fall, and the smoke from the ashes adds moody colors to our skies. Rain gives us awesome next-day reflections. We might even get a rainbow.
4. Time of the day.
The Pier with the sun beating down on it midday is rich in color, while winter mornings give it a cool glow.
5. Modern technology
I have an advantage many of you don’t have in that the city fathers this year went out and bought new lamps for the pier that change colors via an app. This week I photographed the Pier with a purple hue. For Valentine’s, I got the pink look.
6. There’s always another angle.
I’ve photographed the pier from the left, right, under, and over. I’ve stood in front of it, by its side and directly on it. Every angle adds a little something different. And now that we have amazing drones, we can get new shots in a way we never dreamed of a few years ago.
7. It’s how you look at it.
Are the waves crashing larger than usual today? Is there a cool reflection from low tide? These are things I look for every day when I’m down at the beach with my camera.
Every time I think I have the perfect shot, I look at the Pier and I see something new calling to me. Even after years of living and photographing here.
And thanks to digital, it doesn’t cost me a dime to keep trying. So I guess I’ll never give up.
About the Author
Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles writer-photographer, the host of the Photowalks travel photography series, which just began its second season on YouTube. A former tech columnist for USA TODAY, Graham is an instructor for Kelbyone.com, and can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Flipboard, and Facebook.