The Emotional Strain Of Getting Noticed In Landscape Photography

Todays blog post is short... very short.

Quite a few people have asked me lately if I have "made it" as a photographer yet. This onset of inquiries got me thinking, and I came up with what I believe is an adequate answer to a complex question. I believe I have "made it" as a photographer, however I would be remiss if I didn't say that I also still have a very long way to go as my photographic journey continues. Meaning? There will always be a photographer out there who is more successful, more well known. However, they will never be me, and in my own space in this infinite universe, I have crafted my vision and used my skills to create lasting pieces of art. Success is a sliding scale and I believe I am somewhere in the middle. As long as I am continuing to inspire my audience and perfect my skill, I will stay successful. This brings me to my next point, which is directed to the younger generation and those new to the industry. 

In today's world it is easy to feel lost in the crowd as a landscape photographer. Advancements in technology, the never ending slew of social media posts, and the number of people taking images can easily overwhelm a photographer and make them feel inadequate. It is important as a photographer new to the industry to shut it all out and focus on one thing: Your vision. It is the one aspect of photography that no other individual can recreate. It is unique to you and you alone. And that is what will make you successful as you progress. Keep making your images and get the world to see them your way. 

  Storm on Shuksan                                                                                      ©Andrew Lockwood 2017

Storm on Shuksan                                                                                     ©Andrew Lockwood 2017

In the above image, I wanted to craft an image at this location unlike any I had seen. There are hundreds of photos from this location with perfect weather and pristine conditions. All showing a gorgeous lake with abundant wildflowers and a majestic peak in the background. While these images are stunning and very good images, they can sometimes seem overdone. I took on the challenge of attempting to photograph the same area during a storm that was battering the mountain. For those of us who spend time in the mountains, we know all to well how quickly weather can become adverse. Showing the mountain scene in these conditions helps portray as realistically as possible, a truth that many overlook. Nature is wild and deserves to be respected accordingly. That was my vision, and so I set out and created the image above.

Do you think I achieved my vision?

Let me know in the comment section below.

Capture vs. Create

In today's world a landscape photographer must do more than capture a beautiful image. He must create a story from the stone, she must tell the tale of the sea and they must capture your imagination. It is the photographs that take us on a journey that resonate most deeply. 

When you begin to create images instead of just capturing your surroundings, you grow drastically as a photographer. You begin to find your voice and style. In essence you become unique. It is the unfortunate reality that anyone can pick up a camera these days and take a good photograph. But this shouldn't dishearten us as photographers,  if anything it should spark a fire deep within us that fights against the tide to create truly unique imagery.

In this post I will use some of my own images to compare the idea "Capture vs. Create",  and you can see for yourself the difference.

 

 

 Captured

Captured

 Created

Created

You may think that these are 2 totally different images, but while I was focusing on capturing the scene on a grand scale, I noticed some magic happening to the left of my viewfinder. Low hanging clouds were racing over the mountaintops exposing only part of the scene at a time. I decided to focus in on a specific area of the scene and in doing so created a distinct subject that was shrouded in mystery,  it's true form hidden underneath the blanket of clouds. The second image tells a stronger story; one that allows the viewer to integrate their own dialect,  while the first has no distinct subject and is truly just a pretty place. By making a quick, creative decision to select only a part of the scene in front of me I was able to create a stronger subject in my image, thereby enhancing its story.

 Captured

Captured

 Created

Created

When I came upon the above scene after 3 miles of hiking through the dunes, the landscape in front of me wasn't as I envisioned it. The light was dull and the rocky mountain behind was partially engulfed in the clouds. I wanted more dramatic lighting and the sharp rugged peaks in the background unobscured. Had I simply wished to capture an image, I would have probably settled for the first image, as it is still rather beautiful, but I had a sketch in my mind of what I wanted my final image to look and feel like. And so I waited for the right timing, when the sun got lower on the horizon and when, for a few brief moments the clouds receded behind the prominent peaks. By sketching my image in advance (physically or mentally), I was able to create a better finished image with much more appeal. By doing this you can strengthen your creative process and thus your final creative work as well. 

 Captured

Captured

 Created

Created

These images were part of a donation for Utah State Parks. The image on the left lacked a clear story. There were tire tracks, but from what? They left enough impact on the landscape to warrant the question. In my imagination I envisioned a dune buggy sitting proudly atop this pristine dune after a day of riding. The left image is pretty, the other tells a story, perhaps a battle of two giants. Outdoor recreation and conservation go head to head trying to find a balance between increasing outdoor interest and a need to preserve the finite resources of our planet. I ask you, which image is heavier, which has a stronger story? In this instance I believe it is fairly obvious.

Next time you are out taking photos, ask yourself what you want the image to say? Why are you taking the photo, and how will others read the "story"? Taking the time to visualize a final image before ever clicking the shutter will make you a better photographer, and a better story teller.

Are you capturing? Or are you CREATING?

Finding Your Way Through The Storm

"If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm"

- Frank Lane

 

As a landscape photographer I learned early that becoming successful was not going to be easy. Patience and perseverance was going to be key. I knew there would be storm clouds as well as sunny days along the way, and that how I handled them would define me as a professional. I can honestly say I am still learning and there is a lot I still don't understand, but as the quote above says, on the other side of the storm there is always sunshine. Storms come in a multitude of ways, physical, tangible storms and those that are less obvious, the emotional ones. I am going to touch on both of these in this post.

So, lets talk about weathering the storm. For me personally, every Fall I have about one month of pure photo bliss where I am running around capturing great images left and right. Some days it seems almost too easy. Then all of a sudden Fall gives way to Winter and the landscape becomes harsh and unforgiving. My creativity, which was cranked to eleven for 30+ days seems to come screeching to a halt for a few weeks, and I find I don't even pick up my camera sometimes. This creative fallout is normal and enters a realm of psychology I don't fully understand, but I have learned one thing. When this creative fallout happens to you, simply embrace the storm. 

I find the best way to get out of the dark and back to the sunlight is by creating a personal project, something that will get you searching again for that perfect photograph. If you are like me and don't have access to winter snow for more than maybe 3 days of the winter, perhaps it is a good time to focus on shooting the intimate landscape around you. Focus in on the details. Your project could be: photographing patterns in the ice at a nearby lake, the way frost lays on the trees in the morning, forest images enveloped in fog, the possibilities are endless. Its up to you to come up with one that suits you. 

This past Winter I was in Ohio, a state with little in the way of diverse landscapes and no mountains. There are however many lakes and hidden places that make it special. Knowing this I gave myself the challenge of photographing old tree stumps during the morning fog. I had to get the weather perfectly right, as well as get up extremely early. Winter fog can disappear quick, so being in the right place at the right time takes planning. These are the two beautiful images that came from this personal project.

IMG_8658 copy.jpg
IMG_8656.jpg

Halfway through the winter last year my wife and I picked up and traveled to Salt Lake City. The landscape there is much different during the winter, and I found my creative blocks lessened dramatically. I still had personal projects I created that I wanted to work on and one specific one came directly from my Ohio project. I noticed the way morning light reflects off of ice. Something I really just took for granted in an image before, became the focus of my photography for a while. I was next to the Great Salt Lake which was the perfect opportunity to capture the image I envisioned. So over the next couple months I took multiple trips to different parts of the Salt Lake to try and get the image I wanted. A great thing happened, I got out. By doing so I created many images I was happy with, all while searching for the one image for my project.

There was still a few weeks of winter left when I finally found the image I was looking for and it turned out to be one of the most spectacular mornings of my photography career. The entire world around me turned an orangish pink for about 15 minutes. 

IMG_9326.jpg

While I was searching for the perfect image to complete my ice project, I came up with a small project I called Isolation. This project was in no way a new or unique concept, but it was still something I decided I wanted to pursue. I wanted to isolate a single element of a greater landscape and make it the focus of the image.

IMG_8949.jpg
IMG_1444.jpg

This has become an ongoing project. One that I find myself working on, on a regular basis.

Now that I've touched on creative storms and a way to get back to creative bliss, lets talk about the more literal take on Frank Lane's quote. 

While out shooting, you will inevitably run into storms along the way. Mother Nature loves to throw wrenches in our plans for perfect sunrises and sunsets. I like to think that she is testing our willpower to persevere. And if we pass the test we are awarded with some simply magnificent, stop you in your tracks, lighting conditions. While you are waiting for the storm to pass, don't do it from the confines of a vehicle or building, embrace the conditions and photograph through them (exceptions apply). Some of my best photographs have been taken while waiting for the storm to pass. Here are a few short stories from my personal experiences while weathering the storm.

Kure Beach, North Carolina

IMG_5345.jpg
IMG_5609.jpg

All the weather looked perfect for the morning I arose to take the photo on the right. However Mother Nature had other plans. I stood on the beach alone in the cold, getting absolutely dumped on. I was soaked to the bone from being pounded by the surf, but I was determined to get an image from the experience. I had driven through the night expecting to find the storm just barely out at sea when I arrived. That was not the case, but I had made up my mind, I wasn’t going home empty handed. I photographed the image on the left thirty minutes before sunrise and tried to tell my story through the image. I had taken precautions to protect the camera, but let the elements control the image. It was impossible to keep the tripod steady, so I didn't try to. Water was splashing around everywhere, so if it hit the uv filter I had on the camera, I left it there. The light was non existent and the color was almost completely monotone, so the image is in black and white. Understanding that the weather was going to settle on the area for the day, I got my image and continued trying to find new compositions. I took a few more images that I enjoyed, but this one was the strongest.

The weather never got better that day and for the next 3 days the storm lingered along the coast.  The third day I casually glanced at Meteo Earth on my phone and saw that a similar weather pattern was arising for the following morning. So my wife and I left the night before and headed back to the same location as the first image. We camped overnight to the sound of heavy thunder and the dense, almost unbearable humidity that forms when a storm settles on the coastline. In the morning we arose before the sun came up and headed to the beach. I was worried we would run into the same situation as a few days before as a light drizzle was still coming down. However as we waited, we realized that the storm had moved out to sea, which was exactly what I wanted a few days before. The second image was taken a few feet left of the first image and is one of the greatest sunrises I've witnessed on the coast. 

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

IMG_0444-Pano.jpg
IMG_0486-HDR-2.jpg

As hordes of people (many photographers included) were scrambling to return to their vehicle in an attempt to get away from the approaching storm, I calmly removed my rain gear from my camera bag.  I put on my camera and camera bag protection first, then put my rain jacket and pants on. I continued to prepare for the approaching storm, added a remote trigger, and lowered my composition, getting my tripod low to the ground and in a safe spot so as not to get blown from cliff. As I waited there with my wife, (the only other person left in the area) I captured the image on the left. This image is one of a kind. No one else can claim an image similar. The storm blew through fast and within a half hour had passed. A few photographers started coming back to the cliff in hopes of still capturing a sunset image. The image on the right I captured 5 minutes before the sun went down when it created a beautiful star burst between two passing clouds. I was walking past a well known photographers gallery a few weeks later and thought I saw my image in his window. It turns out he had come back from his vehicle and captured his image 100 feet to the left about 15 seconds from when I took mine. I love both images I captured that day, but when asked which one I think is the better I strongly believe the first one. It is my own and no one can claim a similar one. Had I not battened down the hatch for the storm I would have left the location with only one image, an image that another photographer had also taken, rendering it less unique. Yet another reason to weather the storm.

Longs Peak, Colorado

IMG_7236.jpg
IMG_7316.jpg

Recently I was in Rocky Mountain National Park during an early season cold snap. Temperatures plummeted to well below freezing and many of the tourists stayed in town and didn't venture into the mountains. I headed up the popular trail to Nymph Lake, which was eerily deserted on this particular day, to capture an image of Longs Peak with the new fallen snow. It was a few hours before sunset when I took the image on the left, and I could have thrown in the towel then and gone back to the warmth of civilization. However the top of the peak wasn't visible and I felt like the image needed it. So, I hung around in the cold for another 3 hours with my wife, waiting for the peak to show itself. During the last possible minutes I had to photograph the peak, it showed itself before disappearing completely along with the remaining light. I took my photograph and was extremely happy I had stayed. Had I left while the winter storm was still hitting the mountain, I would have felt an emptiness every time I looked at the image, wondering if I had taken the best possible one. That feeling can really tear you apart as a photographer, and it is a feeling I try to avoid at all cost. Partially frozen and definitely wind burnt I returned to the warmth of my hotel, content that I had taken the best image I could have. 

Storms are inevitable. It's how you manage them that will define you, not only as a photographer but in life as well.

Until next time.... 

 

Upcoming Post: The emotional strain of being seen in landscape photography

 

Landscape Photography With Less Than Favorable Light

"If The Sky Is Blue, There Is No Need For You To Be Too."

Many photographers know that it can seem like the weather is constantly against you while you are traveling. You've seen great images of the same place you are heading but the weather just doesn't want you to capture that perfect image. Well, guess what? You can be in control of even the most adverse of weather conditions. Here how.

So you're traveling through an area on a family vacation? You don't have the time to hang about for the perfect light but you feel compelled deep down to take a photograph of some of the places you'll pass. You wish for Mother Nature to grace you with beautiful clouds and pray to the photo gods for epic light, but when you arrive you are treated to perfectly blue skies with not a cloud to be seen. You're family is ecstatic, but you can't help but feel upset. Don't let the blues keep you down! Whip that camera out, put on your telephoto lens and look for some patterns and shapes.

By focusing on details of your location you can create a sense of place, and help the viewer feel what it was like to be where you were standing.  The sky may not have come to play ball, but you did. These images can become some of the strongest in your portfolio, and really help to develop your photography skills. 

 Nepali Coast  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Nepali Coast

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

If you find yourself still wishing to capture the grand landscape in front of you, remember to keep the blue sky to a minimum. Use the elements in front of you to create a unique composition that keeps your eyes from wandering off into the blue. Here are some examples:

IMG_0393.jpg

Use the blue sky to create a frame around your image. By doing this, the subject is trapped within the image and the viewers eye sees the subject as an important element...

IMG_1043.jpg

Use strong foreground elements close to the cameras lens to create drama and draw the viewers attention...

IMG_1762.jpg

Integrate the human element to create movement into your image...

IMG_2004.jpg

Utilize a sun burst to break up the solid sky and add interest...

IMG_3726.jpg
IMG_3731.jpg

Or shoot in black and white. Don't forget to get low to add some interest.

Oh, Mother Nature didn't throw blue skies at you, she decided you needed a shower and brought the rain storm of all rain storms down upon you? If your traveling, I hope you brought your rain jacket(A good rain jacket is one item other than my camera that I do not leave the house without). Despite the fact that you are standing out in the rain getting soaked while your family is inside the condo playing board games, this is actually a great time to get images that differ greatly from the competitions. Everybody has taken the image of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, but have they taken it during a thunderstorm (use common sense and stay safe)? Odds are only a handful have, so shooting in bad weather can really help you as a photographer. Here are a few images for inspiration from when the weather was just chucking it down.

 Bonneville Badlands  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Bonneville Badlands

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Sometimes it is the storm clouds that make the image. If you have the time, don't forget to wait out the storm, because when it passes you can capture a totally different type of image. It may even look like you were there multiple days. Check out these images that were photographed within an hour of one another!

 

An added bonus is that you get to come back to the family and show them the amazing sight they missed! Maybe next time they will join you out into the rain.

 Horseshoe Bend Storm  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Horseshoe Bend Storm

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

 Horseshoe Bend Sunset  © Andrew Lockwood2017

Horseshoe Bend Sunset

© Andrew Lockwood2017

Every once in a while while you are on vacation the bad weather get worse and you feel that there is absolutely no way to even justify getting the camera out. Heavy snowfall is one time when it becomes hard to get the camera out. We all enjoy romping around after a new fallen snow, but surprisingly many photographers don't go out into the snow storm to capture great images. Had I not decided to brave the single digit temperatures and pounding snow I may never have taken one of my favorite images. While I was in Salt Lake City we received an early snowstorm that dumped about 2 feet of snow on the surrounding area within a few hours. I packed up and braced for the weather. I had decided on a location an hour from our place where I believed I could get an image of a buffalo in the storm. It took two hours to get to my destination due to the storm, and when I arrived the last of the snow was falling. I was able to capture a simple but beautiful image, one I would not have gotten had I stayed in the comfort of the condo. A lone buffalo standing defiantly against the new fallen snow. Engulfed in white its dark coat stands out in the snow.

 Lone Buffalo  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Lone Buffalo

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

 Wind and Snow  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Wind and Snow

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

 Frozen Sunrise  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Frozen Sunrise

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

There are many instances when cold and wind can cause us to question why we do what we do, but it is sunrises like this, howling winds and all, that make our early mornings worth the effort.

 Old Saltair  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Old Saltair

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Next time you are on vacation with the family, don't be afraid to get out even if the weather doesn't seem promising. Some of the best images come from those brief moments of light in otherwise horrible conditions. If you have the time, stay out and I guarantee you will make a great image happen. I will leave you with one final image that I took after sitting in the rain and and fog for 3 hours with temperatures in the low 30's. This image is the best representation I have to express why it is so important to hold out for the perfect moment.  

 Storms On Mount Shuksan  © Andrew Lockwood 2017

Storms On Mount Shuksan

© Andrew Lockwood 2017

Until next time, safe travels...

Chasing Fall Continued... Part 3

"If you open your mind to possibility, your options become as numerous as the changing leaves." 

As fall charges full speed ahead it can feel like you are being left in the dust. Every opportunity you get should be met with camera in hand. On one of my recent excursions I decided to photograph a location in South Carolina I had only seen a few photos of. Jocassee Gorges is considered one of the last wild places in the United States, and delivers amazing opportunities to create unique images. I spent 2 days here and had perfect conditions for what I wanted to capture.

The approach to my first location is only accessible by a 9.3 mile 4-wheel drive road. It had been raining in the area and I wasn't sure if our all wheel drive CRV would be able to make the trek. It took a long time to get to my destination, but I made it with about an hour of light left before sunset. I had driven above some clouds and was worried that my view would be blocked and shrouded in clouds. As I hiked out to my chosen location, I realized my fears were correct, and a large cloud bank had settled over what was supposed to be my composition.

IMG_8588.jpg

Despite the conditions lower in the valley, the clouds above were beautiful, so I waited, (catching a theme?) hoping the low clouds would move out. After a short time, I noticed the clouds beginning to thin and move off to the east, revealing an absolutely stunning scene before me. I was able to capture a myriad of different images as the sun slowly set on the horizon and believe them to be some of my strongest photos this Fall. 

IMG_8601-2.jpg
IMG_8713-HDR.jpg

As the last bit of sun faded, so did the remaining clouds over the lake, and the full scale of the area came into view. I quickly understood why it was considered one of the last great wild places. The wilderness seemed endless.

As day faded to night I returned to my car smiling and enjoyed the slow drive back down the mountain. I stopped about halfway at a campsite pullout, and set myself up for a night of car camping. I prefer tent camping, but on this occasion I had plans to use my tent on a longer outing in a few day and the night's weather was calling for serious rain. So I squished myself into the back, popped the sunroof, and laid the tent footprint over the chairs to provide some privacy. It definitely rained hard that night and the next morning I was enveloped in a thick fog. I had hoped these conditions would present themselves and had plans to hike to a gorgeous waterfall that is not often photographed. With the night's rain creating a stronger flow mixed together with the fog and fall color I was ready to capture a great image. I anxiously arose at 5:00 am and put on my rain gear from head to toe, then hiked out into the fog. I hadn't seen another person for 18 hours, and being engulfed in the thick fog was mildly unsettling. I continued on however and reached my location around 6:15am. The fog had lifted slightly but there was still a lot of atmosphere around the falls. I crossed the creek downstream and rock hopped my way back to my composition. The strength of the current was perfect! I took a few images from different angles to really document the area, and again headed back to my vehicle smiling, feeling very accomplished for it being only 8:00am.

IMG_8748.jpg
IMG_8740.jpg
IMG_8735.jpg

I returned to civilization and made my way to another waterfall I had passed on the way in the day before and was excited to see it flowing well. The rain had picked up a good deal so I had to protect my camera with a waterproof cover. I recently found that using a waterproof dry sack around the lens works as a great water barrier for the camera body and lens. I explored the area confident that my gear would remain safe and dry, and found two wonderful compositions for the cascade.

IMG_8551.jpg
IMG_8557.jpg

Tired and damp I returned home to process the images I had taken.

Next week I head to Great Smoky Mountain National Park in search of ONE image. Check back Monday to see if I captured my elusive image.