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10 Ways I Rediscovered My Love Of Landscape Photography
Ever since deciding to really learn how to use my camera properly, landscape photography has been something I absolutely love. But a few weeks ago I realised that I just didn't feel quite as motivated as usual. There's no point in "going through the motions" and taking pictures for the sake of it.
So I did a few things to help get the creative juices flowing again. Since they worked so well, I thought it would be worth sharing with people who might find themselves in the same boat:
1. I went walking without my camera
If you don't have a desire to photograph the natural world, there's no point in doing it. So just put your camera down for a while, and head out into the landscape on some walks without it. After doing this for a little while, I soon found myself incredibly frustrated to be unable to shoot the things around me.
Ultimately, the lesson I've taken from this is to spend less time thinking about "taking pictures" and more about the landscape. If I come home from a shoot having barely pressed the shutter, that's fine, there was nothing worth capturing that day.
2. Evaluated my kit.
Like it or not (and doubtless your girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband doesn't like it), much of photography is about equipment - and it ain't cheap. On reviewing my equipment recently I realised a couple of things were holding me back: 1) the central column of my tripod did not fold out of the way, making it tough to get very close to the ground. 2) I needed a more powerful ND filter for increasing exposure times in bright conditions.
My new tripod and ND filter have immediately given me a whole load more options. Think about what you could be missing. Are you using a good quality lens with sufficiently wide angle (e.g. under 35mm, taking into account the crop factor of your camera)? Have you invested in a tripod yet, to enable you to shoot at dawn and sunset? Do you use a remote release device to increase sharpness?
This guide to essential photography gear might help you think about what important items you are missing.
3. I looked at websites of local landscape photographers.
This was a really great exercise. There are some very good landscape photographers around here, and viewing their online galleries was valuable for several reasons:
1) I was able to draw up a target list of new locations to shoot at.
2) I got some nice ideas for how to approach certain locations.
3) I felt motivated by the challenge of trying to match the quality of their work.
4. I revisited montone photography
There's just something about black and white landscape photography that is special. Shooting in b/w, or any kind of monotone, seems to lend a feeling of grandeur and drama to the landscape. I switched to montone only for 3 shoots and it was a refreshing change. Aim to produce images with: strong contrasts, a good spread of tones, excellent clarity/sharpness, a neat composition.
5. Watched a high quality natural history documentary.
This might seem a bit unusual, but it's really inspiring for any keen landscape photographer. The images that modern natural history filmaking prouduces are truly startling. A production such as the BBC's "Living Planet" (see vid below) will leave you desperate to explore the world, and to emulate the wonderful photography it features.
It's quite fun to watch these kinds of documentaries with your photographer's hat on, and think about which moments in the film you reckon would be good still photographs. This is such a good exercise that I've written a whole article on it: My Crazy But Cool Landscape Photography Tip.
6. I started using "The Photographer's Ephemeris" software
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a brilliant application (for Windows and Mac users) that enables you to check the position of the sun at any time, at any location in the world. Plus, it's completely free and can be used on either desktop or mobile devices. In short, it's a total must-have for landscape photographers.
Once upon a time I would barely plan my landscape shoots at all. A cursory glance at the national weather forecast and that would do! It's always important to have a clear idea of what the conditions will be, and what the angle of the light will be. This helps you to plan your shoot more carefully, and think about what position you will take relative to the sun. It's much better to do this in advance, especially if you're shooting at 5.30am! TPE also indicates elevation in terrain, which is very useful as differences in gradient impact the time when the sun dis/appears.
7. I started making a shoot more of an "event"
I reached the stage where I felt my shoots were a bit rushed; scrambling up before dawn, driving to the location, firing off some shots and rushing back to get the post-processing done. But the great thing about landscape photography is that it gets you out in the natural world.
So I've decided to relish that aspect of it more. I now usually take a long walk after a shoot, invite friends along and have a meal in a local restaurant afterwards. It's much more fun and I've been enjoying the process a whole lot more.
8. Introduced wildlife into images more often
I've realised how much more compelling some landscape photos can become when they feature wildlife. It just produces a more complete sense of the natural world - including both landscape and the animals for whom it is home.
In addition, animals can provide bright colours or dynamic action. Birds in the sky are a great way to liven up a shot with movement, and also help to spread the interest right throughout an image. There are several well known photographers whose work is a mixture of landscape/wildlife. Take a look at Nick Brandt's work as a great example.
9. Started producing images for a 12 month calendar
This is one of those things I've always planned on doing but never got round to. It's quite cool flipping over the months and seeing your own shots of the local landscape you are so familiar with. Plus, it's really useful to know what physical object your photos will end up as. It gives you some added direction in terms of what to shoot and how to approach it. For calendars it's often good to have one main landscape image, plus a couple of smaller, perhaps close-up, shots that represent a given time of year.
10. I experimented with abstract landscapes
I'm not a fan of "abstract" photography on the whole. But since I felt that my usual approach had become a little jaded, I thought I'd try something totally different. Instead of capturing a scene as sharply as possible, I selected a slow shutter speed (around 1/5th to 1/30th) and moved the camera quickly along a horizontal axis during exposure. The results were actually pretty cool and it's a technique I continue to play around with from time to time.
I hope this list gives you some ideas for how to motivate yourself. What do you do when your landscape shooting is a getting a bit jaded? Let us know in the comments...