1. Get out of bed and get out there
You can’t witness, let alone photograph a great sunrise while you’re asleep in bed. Get up and get out there, and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing light and spectacular sunrises. Beautiful scenes occur every day that many people miss because they were asleep, tucked up under their doona.
I'm a big fan of the Nike slogan "Just do it". It holds true across so many aspects of life. When it comes to landscape photography you just have to get out there. There's no point sitting at home on your digital device lamenting great photographers and their amazing photographs. The reason they have such great photographs is because they are out there photographing, not at home glued to their screens.
“if it were easy, everybody would do it”
2. Don't worry about what camera or equipment you use
It’s easy to fall victim to marketing hype and feel unhappy with the camera you have, as something better is always being released or just around the corner. It doesn't matter - use what you have. Cameras record what YOU choose to put in front of them. It's the getting out there in the first place and then the skills of YOU the photographer in choosing composition, lighting and capturing an emotion that makes a good photograph. Get those things correct and it doesn't matter what camera you're using.
3. Be committed
I don’t think you can achieve the success many landscape photographers desire without a high degree of commitment. This covers many aspects, but ultimately comes down to personal drive and motivation. Just like many businesses, it’s a constant learning process so don’t give up. I’ve had lots of things not work and learnt some very hard and expensive lessons along way with some marketing efforts that were financial disasters. I could have easily given in a few times, so stick with it when things don’t go right. Sit back, assess, de-brief, ask advice, learn from others and then re attack. A strong commitment to what you want to achieve in the long run will keep you focused.
Commitment also means ‘going the extra mile’. The committed landscape photographer will venture farther, look more closely, and experiment more readily. Commitment, combined with an innate sense of curiosity causes you to find out how a location might appear from a different perspective, during a different time of day, or in a different season. When I am outdoors or post processing my files, this commitment to pushing myself further leads me to try different techniques and to ponder my stylistic decisions.
4. Have courage, tempered with common sense
Landscape photographers often find themselves in remote wilderness areas with no modern luxuries, in extreme weather, on the edges of cliffs perched precariously in sub zero temperatures with little to no visibility, or any combination or variation of these situations at once. The dangers of working outdoors are many, making it necessary to exercise caution and good sense, but when those requirements are met find the courage to push your personal comfort zones and proceed. Equally, it can require great bravery to make creative decisions that are risky, to experiment with new ideas and locations, and to release the results to the world at large.
5. Respect the planet and use your photography for good
The natural world is under ever greater pressure from man’s impact. The more I travel it’s hard to miss the impact of mankind on the state of the environment and the pressures that an ever growing population place on our natural world. Use your landscape photography to promote the beauty of the natural world, but don’t trash the environment in the process. With nature as our subject, landscape photographers have a special duty to respect it. Common sense dictates that we should protect whatever is essential to our own goals, but respecting nature goes beyond conservation and advocacy, as important as they are. Respecting nature means viewing it as a partner rather than as a trophy or a realm to be conquered, and achieving this level of respect allows us to see and to understand nature in ways that not only lead to great personal experiences but ultimately benefit the creative process as well. With a deep empathy for the natural world, use your landscape to convey in part what you no doubt already feel very strongly about: that we need to preserve the few wild, untouched places remaining in the world and protect our precious wildlife and natural resources.
“leave only footprints, take only photographs”
6. Be prepared
Like most photographers, many of my photos are often the result of much planning and preparation, and often involve braving the elements too. Photographing many of my winter images is a good example. I researched many of these photographs well beforehand - during summer in fact. For many of my photos in the alpine regions I visit the area in Summer when there is no snow around. I look for scenes and subjects that I know will look great in Winter. It’s much easier to hike around and find subjects to shoot when there's not two metres of snow around! That way, come winter I know where I want to go and how to get there. In those back country areas during winter when you're away from any tracks and facilities and the inclement weather comes in you really need to know your stuff and have some good local area knowledge and familiarity.
In this sense there’s often a lot of pre-visualisation and prior planning, but equally some photos are the result of me being in a location and the weather conditions and thus light being just right. Either way, you have to be prepared and out there when it happens. The famous Scout’s motto of ‘be prepared’ applied to landscape photography means that you are always ready to do what is necessary as situations evolve or present themselves, from dealing with inclement weather to spectacular rainbow after a heavy storm has just drenched you to the core. It also means you are ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary in any situation that comes along. It also means that as someone who is spending time outdoors, you are prepared to live a full and worthwhile life, being a physically fit, honorable citizen of strong character.
When I was in the Air Force we used to have a saying along the lines of 'Flexibility is the key to airpower'. It reflected the notion that you need to be flexible, adaptable and agile - qualities that were essential to fight and win. The same is true in landscape photography. Nature is like warfare, the only constant is change. If you are willing to adjust to conditions and make the most of whatever nature gives you, then the world is your oyster. Being too fixated on a specific outcome can cause you to miss opportunities, so while it is extremely helpful to pre-visualise the potential of a location and a set of conditions, you should also be prepared to adapt or even abandon those ideas as other opportunities present themselves.
8. Have patience, but act quickly
Sometimes simply watching and waiting allows opportunities and ideas to come together in fruitful ways. It can be very rewarding to remain in one place for a while and see what surprises fast-moving weather might bring, what changes may take place between sets of waves, or how a mountain peak might transform as fog closes on or light moves over it. While the temptation may be to run around shooting as many compositions as possible, that approach often results in a lot of images that are missing something—missing that special confluence of time and place that results from letting the magic come to you and being ready for it when it does.
Despite my suggestion to be patient, you need to respond quickly to opportunities and to think on your feet. After waiting patiently for a marvel of nature, you may find it finally arriving rather suddenly and, all too often, in a situation that requires a mad dash, a quick lens change, a host of revisions to camera settings, or all of the above. Being able to respond quickly can often make the difference between a great photograph and a great memory. Equally when a business opportunity arises, sometimes you need to move just a quickly as you do when watching an amazing sunset evolve before your camera lens.
9. Visit new places
Being intrigued by our surroundings and our own ideas is what leads to exploration, discovery, experimentation, and creative growth. Whenever I visit a place for the first time, I'm like a kid in a lollie shop. I love that wow factor that you get when you see something spectacular for the first time, and while I still have that emotion it's great to be able to try and capture that. When you return to a place multiple times, you lose some of that and some of the creativity you had when you first arrived because you weren't bound by what you've since found out works or not in terms of composition. I think some of best shots are therefore taken on my first visit or trip to a location. That doesn't mean I don't return to spots many times over waiting for the right light, it just means that that first time you are there you are more creative and free in how you see a scene before you.
10. Understand business
I don’t come from a photography background at all, so maybe I’m biased, but I strongly believe that if you don’t understand business and then bring to that your passion for photography it will be a much harder road. It’s been said plenty of times before, but you could be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t understand and have a good business, then it will be a struggle. Conversely there is plenty of photographers out there who aren’t necessarily great photographers but they excel at business and they are doing really well. The key difference is around the ‘business’ aspects. Obviously the best option is to combine the best of photography with the best of business.
11. Enjoy the moment
Most landscape photographers I know, similarly to me, are into landscape photography because of their love of travel and the outdoors first with photography then second. I think sometimes it can be easy to let the photography and business aspects take over and fail to enjoy the outdoor experience. When I catch that happening with me, I try and pause and just take in the scenery where I am and enjoy the moment. For me, landscape photography is a bit like fishing is to many others. It’s got more to do with simply being out there, enjoying the outdoors and the relaxing experience. It’s important to have patience and relax while you wait for the light and enjoy your surroundings. Don’t get so caught up in the photography that you miss experiencing a great location and the scene before you.
So there you have it, a collection of 11 tips on becoming a landscape photographer. I hope you find these useful on your own photography journey.