One way to grow as a photographer is by stretching your comfort zone and not getting “stuck” in a certain style. We need to get past the idea that “I only shoot landscapes or flowers or puppies” or whatever. You can love or be compelled to create a certain type of photography, but trying other things will help you improve and hone those core passions.

I’ve recently made a conscious effort to to do this. Part of the inspiration came from friends like Mike Pillows, and Pat Worley who are willing to try anything photographically. This year I started photographing old and abandoned buildings, people, and taking on some commercial photographic assignments. One was for a trucking company where I even got to drive a big rig for a short distance. One of a photographer’s little perks.

Recently, I returned to my core passion when I loaded up my gear and hiked a 9 mile series of trails in Harriman State Park in New York. It was my first serious photographic hike in a while. As much as I love what I’ve been photographing recently, it felt great to be back on the trail again with camera gear, and some new perspectives in tow. There is beauty and solitude in hiking through the landscape and photographing a wilderness that is only available to those who desire to make the effort to get there.

West Mountain

The panorama below was taken from the top of West Mountain. It is one of my favorite views in the park. Although I’ve been here before, it felt like I was looking at it for the first time. A whole new set of visual cues and flows that I never noticed before revealed themselves to me.

View of the Timp from West Mountain in Harriman State Park

View of the Timp from West Mountain by Richard Lewis 2014

Bald Mountain

The photograph below was taken from the top of Bald Mountain. I love the simplicity of the Hudson Valley landscape. It has a settled, comfortable beauty that is very different from the drama and severity of areas with high mountains. I was lucky to be hiking here when the soft spring colors in the valley were showing.

Spring at Bear Mountain State Park

Spring at Bear Mountain State Park by Richard Lewis 2014

In the photograph below, the hiking trail opens up along a small rocky ridge that creates a “hole” in the forest. For years I’ve admired this quiet little spot but never saw a photograph. Since my trip to the Smoky Mountains, I’ve been much more sensitive to flowering trees and how branches can add flow to a composition. Looking at this scene with a fresh perspective allowed me to noticed how the lone dogwood plays against Bald Mountain in the background.

A Dogwood in the Shadow of Bald Mountain in Harriman State Park

A Dogwood in the shadow of Bald Mountain by Richard Lewis 2014

By stretching your comfort zone, you learn to see better as an artist. Then, when you return to the work you love most, it will be with a new and expanded vision and comfort zone. Heck, you might even find a new love along the way.