A couple of weeks ago, I flew out to Colorado to tour the amazing landscapes there during early fall. In fact, we decided to take the trip for my moms birthday. To this point, all of my photography trips have been solo affairs where I am completely focused on shooting. That involves staying as close as possible to the sights and tailoring my entire schedule to capturing the location with every available moment I have. This time, it was a more compromised approach to capture photos where possible, but also do the normal touring and vacationing non photographers do! Given this there was less of a focus on photography overall during this quick 3 night trip, but I must say I was pretty impressed with the flexibility my mom showed! It’s hard to follow a photographer when he is less focused on the quality of accommodations and food and more focused on finding amazing sights.
Overall we had a great time! We visited places such as the Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Crested Butte. I had the most time to capture images at Great Sand Dunes National Park, where I took the morning to explore the playground of the towering sand stacks. Other than that, we had a great time driving through the amazing mountains and just-turning leaves of the aspens of Colorado.
Through this post, I also want to describe something that has been on my mind regarding the way I am producing images as of this moment.
In my journey as a landscape photographer, I started with the inspiration that feeds so many other photographers like me. I was amazed by the gargantuan scenes with whopping color and shape that some of the most prominent photographers captured. I only dreamed of capturing the same types of images. In looking at the way they captured their shots, often times they went for extreme sharpness and resolution, exploiting every single capability of the most modern cameras and lenses. I followed suit as much as possible, learning techniques such as HDR, focus stacking, etc. and searching for wide and dramatic scenes.
This approach has worked for me, as I have become technically more proficient in using the tools we photographers have available. But over time, a couple of things have happened.
For one, I’ve spent more time closer to home (for various reasons), and have developed a style that dramatizes smaller landscapes. I haven’t been able to visit those grandiose sights I’ve dreamed of. Think Canadian Rockies, Patagonia, Iceland, and all of the other hotspots. This has made me spend more time refining my compositions to isolate the most interesting pieces of what I see. I’ve developed a style that integrates lines and shapes, however large or small. I have gone less wide angle and more zoom, often times forgoing the sky and sunsets/sunrise color in the clouds that so many photographers chase. I think this is a good thing, as it’s refined my eye in a way that has been, frankly, very difficult. I think I can apply this method back to the large scenes when I encounter them again.
Also, I’ve adopted a more fine art approach to my images as a result of working closer with the art community. I have had the good fortune of collaborating with fine art consultants in the Washington DC area and have taken note on what they find appealing. It’s rarely the super saturated sunset or sunrise that so many landscape photographers chase. It’s more subtle with color, as to perhaps be more realistic, but conversely more liberal with exposure, which adds an additional creative element that is missed in traditional landscape photography. Some themes that fine art buyers go for contradict landscape photography rules: center compositions, intentional motion blur that reduces sharpness, vignetting, under exposure and black and white. I find that this type of imagery is much harder to make well, but more fulfilling when achieved.
I’ve seen the effects of these two factors on my images. They are closer comps, more moody, and sometimes fly in the face of “good” landscape photography. Now, when I’m in the field, I may decide to handhold, open up, forgo a tripod, try a motion or zoom blur, pump the ISO where I wouldn’t before. I also am very enthusiastic about “poor” shooting conditions that so many photographers lament – blue skies, rain, fog, cloudiness. In fact, the last two trips I made were under completely blue skies and rainy conditions. I view these conditions to provide unique opportunities that are available if you stretch yourself.
My mom captured me shooting during the weekend! As you can see, lots of handheld shooting! BLASPHEMY!
There is certainly a risk in this approach as I could and have sacrificed potentially nice traditional landscape photography opportunities for something more artistic. But, I have decided that, if I am truly an artist, its of the utmost importance that I find and cultivate a unique perspective. I will always try my best to originate images and offer new takes on existing sights. I’m not the guy to hike 100miles in the barren desert to find a scene never captured. But I am a guy to challenge myself to capture that scene in ways never seen before.
It’s an ongoing process and, sometimes, a struggle that provides a meaningful challenge and motivation to continue shooting. I hope that some of you can identify with my process or results and try, yourself, to create something new. I draw much of my inspiration from artists who push the limits. I hope that over time, I can do the same.