I was first drawn to landscape photography as a child. My parents are both artists by hobby, and Dad would take me to visit art fairs every summer. Our perennial favorite was the Bellevue Arts Fair, where I always wanted to stop and look at the many gorgeous landscape photography booths.
I never bought anything. A hundred dollar print is out of your price range when your allowance is 50 cents a week and you’re saving up for American Girl doll clothes. But staring at these vibrant images made an impact on me. Spending time looking at those beautiful prints must have contributed to the sort of eye and style I’ve developed.
As I’ve transitioned from being a nine year old with a disposable film camera, to a tween with a reloadable film camera, to a high schooler with a (3.1 megapixel) digital point and shoot camera, to a college graduate with a compact dSLR to now a full frame dSLR, I have learned so incredibly much. The following are three specific traits I think I can accurately credit to my obsession with photography.
The more I shoot the more I've come to find that landscape photography is much more complicated than just being in the right place and then pointing and shooting. The more I do it the more I appreciate the effort. It's easy to get a few lucky shots when you're in the right place at the right time, and I definitely do. Everyone will. As my husband likes to quote, “A camera in the hand is worth two in the pack.” This is definitely true in many cases.
Consistently getting great shots time and time again, however, is another story. I don't necessarily get a winner every trip. So much goes into scouting and waiting for the right light, the right clouds, and the right season.
By nature I’m not an incredibly patient person. My husband politely describes me as “efficient” and by this he means I don’t put much effort into something unless I think it’s necessary. So basically I get things done very quickly and only to quality level I deem necessary. You should see the difference between how we pack our backpacks. He’s so methodical and diligent. I sort of throw stuff in there.
With photography, especially fine art photography, mere efficiency really can't make the cut. Especially with my printed art, I am constantly looking for ways to make it better, whether by better materials, a different medium, a different printer, a more creative presentation, the list goes on. The art forces me to slow down and get lost in it.
Respect for People
I've watched photographers nearly get into fights. I'm not kidding. At Rialto Beach, Darin and I were sitting on some rocks, waiting for good sunset light, and across the rocks on the beach a photographer had set up to shoot the silhouette of one of the seastacks. Along came another photographer who planted himself directly between the first photographer and his subject. The waves drowned out the conversation, but judging by their body language it was an altercation. We were wondering when they would start throwing punches. Thankfully the second guy moved on.
I'm slightly ashamed to admit (if you know me personally I rarely raise my voice) that at Mesa Arch in Utah I raised my voice at a tourist who was shoving their iPad in front of my lens and in the process knocked my tripod over. My camera probably would have broken had I not caught it as I fell.
There definitely are vibes certain photographers send out, sometimes quite overtly, that they are ticked off that so many other photographers are around. I understand this. We have this goal of getting “the best” shot of something and it annoys us when we are copied or won't have the only shot of something.
Landscape photography is a ridiculously competitive field for those of us that market our work, so we’re always looking for something beautiful and unique. Sometimes I find an incredible spot, post a picture, and then get several messages from people with a profile picture of themselves behind a camera asking me where exactly it was. I figure they’d want the GPS coordinates if I had them. I will give the trail or area out of respect and trying to not appear stingy, but exploring is part of the challenge and part of the art. I get annoyed when people set up right next to me to copy my shot on a large beach where I’m sure there are other angles. I’m not perfect.
But I try to keep in mind when I’m getting frustrated with people the words of astrophotographer Brad Goldpaint when we ran into him in Arches National Park, “Life is too short for that.” Ultimately treating them as people and not just as an annoyance is the healthy, mature, professional, respectful way to go.
Respect For Nature
Nature is powerful and should be respected as such. Nature is fragile and should be respected as such. Nature is my favorite subject, whether a mountain, river, wildflower or waterfall. Growing up, most of the family vacations we took were to national parks, with my parents being very intentional about developing in my brother and I an appreciation for nature. We did Disneyland once to say we did it. My fondest memories however are of seeing a moose in the Tetons, watching a nursing bison calf in Yellowstone, going for a horseback ride in Glacier National Park, and waking up before the rest of my family just outside Zion National Park to step outside and see massive sunlit red cliffs. We had arrived at our motel in the dark and had no idea how majestic a cathedral we had just slept in.
Too often when we are out hiking we find evidence that nature has been disrespected. Often, photographers are to blame. Earlier this year a high profile outdoor equipment company published an image by a professional photographer featuring a campsite pitched directly on alpine wildflowers. They glorified it because it looked awesome. Yes, it looked awesome. It looked awesome because up to that point no one had camped there. Up until that point visitors had respected the fragility of those plants and hadn’t trashed them. It broke my heart knowing thousands of people were seeing this and I worried some would be inspired to repeat that mistake just to get a shot like that.
Nature is powerful. For the same reason that I refuse to take portraits on railroad tracks, there are some nature shots I will not try to get. I love thunderstorms, but I do go to unsafe places to shoot them. Many shots I see look to be taken from viewpoints on hills, probably on a metal tripod. I just won’t do that.
I will not approach wildlife. Coming down off Ingalls Peak last year my husband and I spotted a mountain goat herd near popular Lake Ingalls being encircled by several vulture hikers and photographers. They had their phones and cameras out at and were within arms reach of these poor goats. Goats can, have, and will kill people. The hiking trail is not a zoo. I did get a goat shot further down the trail. The goat was at a distance and I used a zoom lens.
I have (and do) have dry, discouraging months where I don't sell a single print. But then the next month I’ll sell several. I don’t live solely off photography (not even close) but I love it enough that during those dry months I still enjoy shooting. I think this comes from the inherited artist side of me. There’s so much satisfaction in creating and sharing that it gets me through the frustrations of not being able to afford better equipment or software.