Landscape Photography is about Disappointment!

A sweeping and challenging title, but it is true – if you are a landscape photographer you know all about disappointment, but people do think it is easy and “you must have a good camera”.

When non-photographers look at landscape photographs, they often say, “you must have a good camera”; “what a lovely scene”; “nice”; “lovely place” or similar.

Now it is good for people to like your photographs, but nearly everyone misses the key point about landscape photography. For every one of those “wow, nice” photographs, there is a pile of pain and disappointment!

After talking to many non-photographers, I have found that 90% or more of them think landscape photography is easy; get into a beautiful location and take a photograph – even to the point that if they went there they would be able to “snap” that photograph. I think this is why lots of people are interested in the actual location it was taken, so they can go and gettheir version of that photograph.

I remember being in a gallery looking at some excellent local landscape work when I overheard a small group admiring one photograph; when one of them said to another “I’m not paying that, ask where it was taken and you can go and take one for me”.

It is this sort of thinking that has devalued landscape photographs; the non-photographers think it is easy and therefore ithas had little artistic/technical investment by the photographer – therefore why should they pay for something they feel they can do it themselves.

Well, they are welcome to go and try, as long as they too are willing to suffer the disappointment that a landscape photographer goes through to get one of those “easy” photographs.

So what does a landscape photographer go through to get one of these photographs: –

  1. First, he (or she) has to do the research and find the location
  2. Then he has to work out the best time of the day and the year to be there. This step is usually done out on location, so involve lots of miles travelling, walking and looking.
  3. Then he has to study the weather forecasts and tide tables (if it’s a coastal shot)
  4. Once the weather is looking promising he needs to travel to the location. Rarely the location he wants is on the doorstep, so time is required to get there and may even involve sleeping in the car/tent/hotel to be there for the right time of day.
  5. When he arrives at the location he needs to find a composition – often working in the dark if he is there for sunrise – and then set the camera up.
  6. Then he waits for the light and conditions he wants. For example: how the shadows are falling across the scene; how the sunset is lighting up the clouds; the position of the clouds above the mountains; and many other variations.
  7. Very often (i.e., nearly always), after waiting for a few hours he decides the light and conditions are just not going to happen (or didn’t happen if there for sunrise/sunset) and he packs up and goes home. Then it is back to repeating steps 3 to 6 until he does get the light and conditions that are needed for the photograph he wants. He can be doing this many, many times until luck helps and it all comes together.

Then when he has captured that photograph (or I should call it an image, as it is not yet a finished photograph), he needs to develop and process the image in the “darkroom”.

Again, non-photographers appreciate the darkroom; someone working in a dark room with chemicals and lots of “magic”to produce a photographic print. This has value to them. But today, the use of the computer has “made this all too easy”; anyone with the right software can do it now, can’t they! Again no perceived artistic/technical value, so not worth paying that price that is being asked.

But for the photographer, after spending a few hours (or more) in the computer “darkroom” developing and shaping the image to his artistic vision, it is not always a successful conclusion and the results are disappointing.

Even though he has completed steps 1 to 6 above, the captured image isn’t exactly what he wanted to produce; maybe the light or conditions didn’t come together how he thought they should, or he made a mistake with the composition or didn’t notice the discarded crisp packet in the scene.

Then it is back to step 3 and repeat it all again, and again, and again…

Piles of disappointment, piles of self-questioning about why he bothers, piles of questioning his choice of location – loads of pain. Yes, lots of enjoyment at being out in the landscape enjoying the open spaces and scenery, but still driving home he is thinking “if only…”

But sometimes it comes together, it could be after the 15th visit, but it does come together. Out of that computer “darkroom” comes a photograph that he is proud of. One that communicates what he wanted it to and shows the scenehow he saw and felt it. A work of art!

Then he has to print it after choosing the right paper to print it on and then frame it; again after choosing the right frame to use.

So, those non-photographers are welcome to go and snap the photograph for themselves and they may be pleased with the result. But it will not be as good as the one produced by the person that has gone through all the pain and disappointments to get the photograph they wanted – and who has then experienced the joy of producing a work of art that someone wants to go and try to copy; good luck to them!

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