You’ll photograph lots of subjects and reel off tens or even hundreds of thousands of images before you lay down your camera for the last time. Some of those pictures will be memorable; a few will serve as milestones in your life. One or two might even change it.
Here are twelve subjects we think you should photograph before you die.
1. A Perfect Portrait
There are few photographers who don’t, at some point, find themselves pointing their camera at the face of someone they love, admire or just find interesting. Capturing an expression is simple enough but creating a portrait that captures an entire life’s story is a whole other challenge.
You can practice portraiture every day but you might only get the right face in the right light at the right time once. It’s worth looking out for.
2. A Complete Story
Photography: Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration
An image of a face can capture a life but photojournalists have to capture moments that describe stories that might have taken years to develop. This picture by Dorothea Lange of a 32-year-old mother of seven in California summed up the Depression. You don’t have to find poverty to create a picture like this; just a moment that says more.
3. Northern Lights
Photography: Joshua Strang/ USAF
A telling moment can happen anywhere at anytime. The Northern Lights can only be found in the northern latitudes. They’re a must-see for anyone but especially for any artist whose medium is light. While the Southern Polar Lights are just as impressive, the Aurora Borealis is easier to reach. They’re the reason to bone up on your long-exposure night photography… and buy a pair of longjohns too.
4. A Blue Iceberg
Photography: Marc Shandro
And you can get a second use out of those when you take a picture of an iceberg. All icebergs are spectacular but blue icebergs are special. They often come from the bottom of a glacier and may be 80,000 years old when they hit the sea. Ice filters out all colors except blue so because these icebergs are completely clear, they look exceptionally beautiful through a lens.
5. A Rainforest
The amazing color of a blue iceberg is one reason to shoot one before you die; another reason is that if global warming theorists are right, there might be a sudden burst of them and then no more. The same is true of rainforests. If you like photographing any sort of flora or fauna, you won’t find a better variety of choices than along the Amazon or in the wilds of Sarawak.
6. Migrating Wildebeest
And whether you like photographing animals or not, every photographer should get a chance to shoot the annual wildebeest migration. It might be a wildlife photography cliché, but the sight of 1.5 million animals spreading across the plains, crossing rivers and feeding lions makes for some spectacular photos.
7. A Sand Dune
Photography: Luca Galuzzi
A photo of the wildebeest migration is likely to be all action and rapid movement. Sand dunes move too but at a much slower rate. That gives you plenty of time to set up your camera and capture an image of rich blue, golden yellow and curving shadow. Try it once.
8. New York
There are plenty of cities that look good through a lens. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has St. Paul’s and Shanghai has the Bund. But only New York has that skyline, those sky-less streets, yellow taxis, steaming grilles and more characters than a Tolstoy novel. There’s a reason it’s one of the most photographed cities in the world — and plenty of reasons why at least one of those photos should be yours.
Christopher Hitchens based the title of a book on the principle that life is incomplete unless it has experienced love, poverty and war. Fortunately, of those three, love is the easiest to find. At least one of the images you take before you die should summarize that most wonderful of emotions.
10. … and War
And another photo should still include war. You don’t have to dig out a helmet and buy a ticket to Iraq to do that. “War” can mean an argument between two battling neighbors, a face-off at a rap concert or two football players lining up. It’s a vital part of life and it should be in your portfolio of images.
11. A Picture that’s Sold
Photography: Matt Pagel
Selling a photo is never just about the money. It’s about the recognition that you’ve created something so valuable that someone is prepared to pay for it. It doesn’t matter how much or what they do with it. It just matters that they pay.
12. An Image that Makes a Difference
Image courtesy of Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.