Last summer I quite randomly noticed a sweet little waterfall hidden in the trees across a field in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire. I generally feel uncomfortable wandering into private property, but I had to check this out. The waterfall was a lovely surprise as it cascaded into Catsbane Brook, and I knew that this little treasure would be exciting to explore in various seasons. I came away happy with the images, but uneasy about using them, or publishing the specific location, without permission from the owner. A couple of weeks ago I delivered a different framed photograph to folks living in the house across the road from the field and was able to discover that the field belonged to the people who lived in the next house down the street. They told me that the owner did not mind visitors to the falls, so, after our Thanksgiving snowstorm, I decided to return.
I geared up with my snow pants and my waterproof NEOS Overshoe Boots and trudged across the field. The waterfall was magical, with the cascades framed by snow encrusted trees. As it does in the winter, the late afternoon light was fading fast leaving a lovely blue tone. I was thrilled with the results and anxious to get home to work on the images, but then I got a bonus to complete the experience. As I followed my tracks back to the car, I noticed that the apparent owner of the property was down the road on a tractor moving snow away from his driveway. It was the perfect opportunity stop and chat. Rick could not have been more friendly. He reminded me that our kids had gone to school together and told me that he had bought the field expressly to protect the brook and waterfall from development. He generously invited me to come by anytime to photograph and I promised to send any pictures that came out well.
The experience reminded me that, no matter how great the image, it is always more fulfilling when I drive away having met and chatted with the owner of whatever property I had been shooting. When I started getting serious about my photography I had a fear of approaching landowners, but years of happy experience have taught me that the vast majority of these folks are excited and flattered by my interest. It is amazing how many times people have invited me to come back any time to photograph and they will often suggest that I go to other parts of the property to get a nicer angle. It happens all the time and is one of the greatest joys of photography in New England.
Just a few examples.
Working the Scene
|Sheridan and Monadnock|
A few years ago I was photographing a horse in front of a barn in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. To get a better angle, I had crept a short
way down the driveway when an elderly woman came out of the house. I was certain that I was about to shooed away, but instead the lovely lady ask me if the horse was in a good location for my photograph. Our conversation included the history of the house and the name of the horse. It all ended with her using a carrot to lure Sheridan into the best position, aligning him with the barn and Mt Monadnock in the distance. I have since been back frequently for pictures and chats and to give my friend, and her charming sister, one of my favorite prints of this classic location.
Whenever I settle in to shoot a location, I try not to shoot and run, but consciously dawdle a bit in hopes of meeting the locals. I scan for people outside or peaking through a window to whom I can offer a friendly wave, but often there is no one in sight. Unless I hope to move more deeply into the property, I don't generally ring the doorbell, and that often leaves me with no information on the owner. Sometimes that can be a problem. Several years ago I was photographing in the New Castle area along the coast of New Hampshire and caught an image of a classic house sitting on the edge of a lovely cove. A nice 'fine art" image, but when Red Lobster wanted to use the picture to decorate their restaurants, I suddenly needed to contact the owner. A property release is always necessary when I will be selling an image for commercial use. I told the design company to hold on the image, I made a matted print of the picture and went to knock on the door in New Castle. The owner was happy to get the print and to sign the release and he appreciated that I had the courtesy of asking permission. It turned out he had worked as a photographer in the past and understood the importance of releases. I was in business, but it is always easier when I get the chance to meet the landowners at the time of the shoot. Even if I don't get a formal release at the time, the contact information makes getting a permission much easier if I need it in the future.
This autumn, I was shooting the foliage along the road to Guilford, Vermont. I found a lovely scene with a tractor in a field, backed by
The ideal situation is when initial contacts lead to long term
Simple Rules, Should Be Obvious
Obviously be friendly, human and appreciative.
Seek, don't hide, from the opportunity get to know the landowners. Make sure they know how beautiful there property is and how lucky you feel they are to be there.
Don't wander deep into private property without permission. Be patient. A single violation may spoil the chance for a valuable long term relationship.
|On call to capture the prize cow.|
Stonewall Farm, Keene, NH
Give out your card and give back. A business card can establish your professional status, and a print or even a link to pictures on-line can do wonders for future interactions. If a picture ends up in my calendar, I try to get a copy to the landowner. Of course it doesn't hurt that this often leads to more sales.
Record your interactions. My memory being what it is, I always try to get all the contact information, including any personal details, into the image's meta data as soon as I get home. "Remembering" the name of the family cat can do wonders toward cementing a strong relationship.
And finally I will say again, don't fear interactions with landowners. In the vast majority of cases you will come away from the shoot not only with great images, but also with a burgeoning friendship that will open up future opportunities and provide a fuller appreciation of the location.