Five Great Locations for Great Images

If I were to ask you to list five great locations for creating great images, what would you list? Here’s my list that might be typical:

  1. Yosemite
  2. Iceland
  3. Big Sur
  4. Japan
  5. The African Plains

These beautiful locations would almost guarantee a great image! Think of the great work done here: Yosemite and the iconic images of Ansel Adams. When I think of Iceland will I forever see the incredible iceberg images of Camile Seaman in my head. Or how about the work of Edward Weston in the Big Sur area or Michael Kenna’s incredible minimalistic work from Japan. And Africa…could anything be more definitive than the work of Nick Brandt?

But do you know what would happen if I were to visit these locations, say Yosemite for example?  I’d be looking for the spots where Ansel created those famous images so that I could recreate them for myself. And while I might be able to create a pretty nice image, it would neither be original or be as good as Ansel’s.  Remember, Ansel has already done Ansel and I’m not going to do him better!

And so it begs the question; do I need to photograph at places such as Yosemite, Big Sur or Africa in order to create great images?  Can’t great images also be found in ordinary places?  

Yes they can.  I believe that ordinary places have just as many image opportunities as the exotic places we all dream of visiting.  So let me suggest another list of locations where you can  create great images:

  1. Your neighbor’s yard
  2. Your bedroom
  3. A greenhouse
  4. A hotel
  5. In your car

They don’t sound very exciting when compared to that first list, so let’s take a look at why I’ve chosen these ordinary and even mundane locations. First, they are very accessible: no passport needed, no time off from work and no travel expenses.

But there’s another more important advantage: Ansel and Seaman and Weston and Kenna and Brandt have not photographed there and so you don’t have their images floating around in your head. You are free to see these locations in a fresh and unique way, and you are free to be the first to create great images there!

Here are some examples of my images from those very “ordinary” locations:


2004-12-20 Old Car Interior -  Final 2-27-2006 750

My neighbor’s yard.

2008-6-15 Ceiling Lamp, Mourning Dove Ranch Colorado - Final 7-29-2009 750

My bedroom.

2005-2-25 Flaming Dahlia Final 8-8-2007 750

A greenhouse.

2007-7-24 Swimming Towards the Light - Final 6-30-2009 750

A hotel.

2005-7-17 Windsurfing - Final 3-23-2007 750

In my car.


Great images do not need great locations…or perhaps better said; great images can come from everyday and ordinary great locations!

Yes, I have traveled to many exciting locations around the world and and I’ve created images there that I’m proud of, but I’m just as proud of my images from these “ordinary” locations. 

Here are a few more examples of images from ordinary locations:


2010-9-17 Dew on Feather - Final 9-27-2010 750

At my feet.

2008-7-24 Linnie No 2 - Final 8-12-2008 750

A friend.

2007-7-24 Peas in a Pod - Final 8-11-2007 750

Something my daughter made.

2007-5-25 Skull on Stove - Final 7-16-2007 750

At a flea market.

2012-4-13 Smile No 15 - Final 4-14-2012 750

Before my son’s senior prom.

2007-5-10 Poudre River Spillway - Final 5-25-2007 750

The river in my town.

2007-2-8 Two Trees in Lifting Fog - Final 12-25-2008 750

On the way to work.

2006-12-21 Two Trees in Snow - Final 12-29-2006 750

My backyard.

2006-11-13 Last Leaves - Final 12-15-2006 750

At a local tree nursery.

2006-10-28 Sunflower No 4 - Final 2-5-2008 750

On the side of the road.

2004-12-27 Socks - Final 6-18-2008 750

At a family get together.

2006-3-1 Urban Starfish - Final 9-4-2007 750

Along the railroad tracks.

2005-10-2 Plate of Leaves - Final 4-20-2007 750

At my kitchen table.

2004-12-11 Wiggles Roaring - Final 10-4-2005 750

In my office.

2004-11-1 Skeleton Final 4-24-2009 750

Along the river.


The “key” to a great image is not location, but your vision and your ability to see differently than those who have gone before you.

It’s a hard thing to do, but it is the key.

38 Responses to “Five Great Locations for Great Images”

  • Benoit Jansen-Reynaud Says:

    This is brilliant Cole, that is so true. We always think that we need to find these epic locations when sometimes they are right there in front of us…

  • Benoit Jansen-Reynaud Says:

    I’m still going to Japan in 3 weeks… wink wink…

  • Jeff Says:

    Great post! It’s good to see a post dealing with stuff around your home. Especially since I have no plans to visit Timbuktu anytime soon.

  • Eduard Crispi Says:

    Hi Cole! I read some time ago somewhere (and by the way I think it was one of your posts) something like “I prefer to be inspired in a uninspiring place than to be uninspired in a inspiring place” That is actually the most important thing, right? I think this may be a complement of this post.

    It is always great reading your stuff! All the best!

  • Jan Armor Says:

    Truer words were never written. There are pictures everywhere,,, YOUR pictures.
    PS: Love the child in the car window. And of course the three photographers!

  • Fonoto // Mike Irwin Says:

    Students of Canadian photographer and teacher Freeman Patterson are assigned to find the best photo possible in a 3-square-foot area of lawn or forest. Not in Yosemite or Japan, but at their feet in Patterson’s yard. Many of those images are amazing. You’ve begun a fine discussion on this subject, Cole. Much thanks.

  • Kris Darrington Says:

    Enjoyed reading this, you are amazing!!

  • Chris Maskell Says:

    Great images Cole, the perfect antidote to my current “miserable weather, don’t feel inspired” attitude

  • Michael Kane Says:

    A timeless post! Cole, I think you have, in your few words and small collection of beautiful images, captured the essence of the struggle many photographers have. Many feel compelled that the only way to capture a magnificent image is to travel to iconic locations. We need to be reminded, as you have done, that there are photographs waiting to be be taken wherever we are standing. We just need to learn how to see differently. Thanks for such a great post!

  • nate parker Says:

    Oh my word Mr Cole- freekin speechless.

  • Chas McNamara Says:

    Very insightful. I appreciate your message about finding your own vision, repeated over and over. It is partly about what you shoot, a dash of place, a small amount of processing style but mostly it is a challenge to explore what captures the imagination of each of us.

  • Sam Blair Says:


    Awesomsational reminder. I’ve said this before, but your work personifies the Edward Weston quote of “seeing ordinary things in extraordinary ways”.

    I’d like to think the photographic Good Life would be having it both ways; also seeing extraordinary things, but in your own unique way.

    Didn’t someone write a song about this? If you can’t be with the one you love…….

  • Mary Doherty Says:

    Excellent reminder that the best place to photograph is wherever you are.

  • Cole Thompson Says:

    Sam, Stephen Stills wrote the song but it was Billy Preston who would say:

    “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

    Great connection!

  • Robert Berryman Says:

    Touche’ Cole, I have photographers ask me all the time to take them with me to the places I find and photograph wild horses. I have to politely till them that they would love their work better if they find their own niche. It took me 40 years to find mine.

  • Sam Blair Says:

    Cole, I knew the Crosby Stills Nash connection, but not Billy Preston’s. I always thought the line was a great metaphor for life as well as photography.

    As you demonstrate, great images are everywhere, if we learn to see them. Someone wrote about Freeman Patterson, and I agree that his work, like yours, proves the point. What great fun!

  • Cole Thompson Says:

    Robert, this mistaken idea that if someone can come to your location, they can create images like yours is related to the theory that if someone knows what equipment and settings that I use, they can create images like mine.

  • Laird Says:

    This is all so true… equally important, is coming to the realization that you don’t need extraordinary equipment to achieve extraordinary images.

  • Laird Says:

    …should have added, that even knowing all the above… I’m still jealous of my photography friends in Tuscany…

  • Misha Gregory Macaw Says:

    Thought-provoking and a timely reminder for me, thanks Cole!

  • Chuck Kimmerle Says:

    Cole, you scared me. Thought your list was serious. I cried a little. Glad I kept reading through the tears, though.

    Nicely done.

  • Steven Jackson Says:

    Absolutely true and the images are wonderful.

  • Mark Matheny Says:

    Mundane images of mundane places, way to go…

    Sorry Cole I couldn’t resist. Beautiful and inspirational as always.

    Of course there’s no way to pick a favorite of your images, they all elicit an emotional response in different ways, each one just a powerful as the next. But there’s something about the one from the tree nursery that just stands out. And I’m not sure I’ve seen the sunflower before.

    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing.

  • Lizz Bartlett Says:

    I’m afraid of your office.


  • Cole Thompson Says:

    Lizz, this was at my home office!

    The title of that image is “Wiggles Roaring.”

    What Wiggles was really doing was yawning, but that didn’t sound nearly as good.

  • Mario Lourenço Says:

    Dear Cole:
    I love your blog and advice, not just technical.
    It makes us believe that the essence of photography is in black and white.

  • Greg Russell Says:

    Really wonderfully said; I have long believed that our own “backyards,” as they are, offer as many wonderful opportunities for images as the icons. It’s all about our ability to see, and I fear sometimes that the culture of landscape photography today has put blinders on photographers to the point that they cannot see past that once-a-year trip to their iconic location of choice.

    Great photographs–the best photography–comes out of a relationship with the subject, Wallace Stegner among others called this a ‘sense of place,’ and I agree completely. I’d rather have an intimate relationship with my subject than bounce from location to location and never really know a place.

    I have had a few (less eloquent) essays on this subject published on my own blog (by myself and others). You might enjoy reading them:

    Greg Russell

  • Monika Says:

    Beautiful story.
    Beautiful images.
    Beautiful reminder.

  • Jim Robertson Says:

    Amen, brother! I’ve been to Japan a few times now but treat it the same as my neighborhood. However, I think I have mentioned to you before that I need a change of scenery to recharge. Still waiting for the next opportunity. Thanks for this post, Cole. It is indeed a great reminder.

  • Kevin Brown Says:

    The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have to admit though that up until now 95% of my photography was on vacations to coll places like Yosemite. Starting to find great ideas in my own “backyard”

  • Anna Capaldi Says:

    I’m a traveler and a medical missionary – my camera and I have been to places most will never see. It took months of recovery from a knee operation to learn that photographically there are universes within universes in my own house. and those universes change at least three times a day – morning noon and night. I enjoy shooting abroad, but evn then you run the risk of missing “the good shots” unless you train your eye to see them. Home is a great and rich place to start!

  • Jeff Appel Says:

    I love it! Great points made and “finding” the images in less obvious places adds to the creative process. Thanks, as always!

  • Lynne Says:

    This post really resonates! 98% of my shooting is within about a 10 mile radius of home, on well-trodden, oft-revisited trails and paths. A return to home grounds after a trip to an iconic location (most recently, the Grand Canyon) always requires a couple of days to “recalibrate my expectations,” but then I’m back to relishing the challenge of seeing new things in old places, or seeing the same old sights in new ways.

  • Arthur Ransome Says:


    Your post is good therapy. After recently spending a week photographing in Death Valley I started to wonder if location was the missing ingredient in my own work. But, deep down I know it isnt. Most often, the missing ingredient is to discipline myself to never stop looking – even at the mundane.

  • Latest Work – “Sylvia’s Tree” Says:

    […] blog describing “Five Great Locations for Great Images.”  You can read his blog post here.  I thought I would take the opportunity to follow his advice.  This tree is, quite literally, in […]

  • Codrin Says:

    You know it already…
    ‘There are so many things on your blog, I’d love everybody to read and think about, not necessarily to do the same but to understand that there are also some other ways for doing, seeing, feeling things. Thank you for sharing Cole!’
    Take very good care of you, please!

  • Joe Says:

    I can relate- most of my favorite photos that I feel are done well are either taken around my worksite or within walking distance of my home. I have 4 kids and go to work and school full time, so shooting where I am is vital to my development as an artist. I think that is why I’m drawn to abstract or minimalist compositions- to capture the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

  • Joe Says:

    After submitting this response, I thought of another advantage of shooting in familiar territory- we have the privilege to experience our surroundings in every concieveable light and weather condition and see the effect it has on our subjects. I think of the tales of adventure photographers who hike out to remote locales and camp for days (in snowstorms and the like) just to wait for that “decisive moment’ of light. I would surely enjoy that as well, but in the interim I’ll stick with passing the seasons by here in Fairbanks.

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