Finding your niche in landscape photography

In the arts world there are two kinds of people. Leaders and followers. And in the business world and pretty much every human endeavor, leaders and followers.

I learned ages ago that it was easier to execute someone else’s great idea than it was to come up with my own. You see, in photography, execution is usually easier than creativity.

When it comes down to it, landscape shooting can be formulaic. I shoot with a basic formula in mind. I have a rough idea of what elements are important in the creation of my landscapes. Study any popular artist, be it music, painting, writing or photography and if you are familiar enough with that persons work you can probably recognize it as theirs without being told.

When you’re first learning photography and shooting landscapes, I recommend to everyone to find photos that they like and copy that style. Get the light, weather and composition as close to the original creators as possible. That’s a great way to learn anything. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery and I think that’s true. Visit most any of the popular outdoor photo forums and you’ll see what I mean. Mixed among the very bad photos by those who are just learning the craft are the ones who are a bit more advanced. Their technical execution is better. Their ability to see light and compose is better.

One thing is missing. Most or many of the landscapes look too similar. What I call the Pacific Northwest look is in vogue on those forums. It can be the American southwest, the Cascades or the Oregon coast. Too many of those photos look like they’ve been taken by the same photographer.

That’s where finding your niche comes in. I love shooting the mountain parks as much as the next person. What I don’t want to create is another, I’ve seen this a thousand times before look of Bow Lake or whatever landmark is popular. When you visit one of these places, do your darnedest to make it yours.

In one hundred years, the national parks will still be there. They’re probably not going to look much different from how they look now.

What will look vastly different is where you live. In only a few short years of shooting landscapes around my hometown, I’ve seen old farm buildings suddenly vanish. They are forever lost.

The prairie landscape where I live won’t look the same in fifty years let alone one hundred. That’s just where I am, what about where you live.

Any place on this planet can be captured in an artist, creative and unique way. Each of us has within us the ability to create. Get out where you are and stop being a follower. Be a leader. Give me created instead of copied any day.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on December 7, 2010.

6 Responses to “Finding your niche in landscape photography”

  1. I first saw this on flickr… and knew it was your work.. it is a question…it also proves your comment…makes me wish I had no work today… thanks for your thoughts Dan

  2. Really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  3. As a Pacific Northwest guy, I’ve found myself wanting to emulate that look in a lot of what I do. I see those mountain streams and coastal landscapes done on Flickr and I want to do them too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it’s one way I can grow as a photographer.

    My artistic vision, though, has been “Inland Northwest guy”, and it’s just been until recently that I’ve been able to articulate that. 250 miles from the coast, we still have waterfalls, mountain streams, etc… but there are fewer of them and they look different than on the west side. And that’s not to mention our rich agricultural history with some of those old places still standing. For how much longer is anybody’s guess. Those are the images I hope to capture in what I do.

  4. In looking at your photographs I can see that you have taken some time to develop a unique style and way of seeing. You are making some fine work and good points here in your essay as well. My father landscape photographer Philip Hyde was one of the first to photograph the West in color in the mid-1900s with his own style that combined with a few other styles now is “the style” for capturing these landscapes. Many of the who’s who of photography working today incorporated composition techniques or locations of Dad’s into their own work. As you point out, this is how art is meant to evolve. In the film era it took a good deal of skill just to adequately copy the work of the pioneers. Today nearly anyone can do it. The problem is that some people get a camera in their hand and they want to rush out and see if they can photograph Half Dome, Death Valley or other icons as well as the masters before them. This process and line of thinking is becoming all the time more obvious and more common. My father encouraged young photographers to learn how to see, which is a different process than snapping off photos. Learning how to see has little to do with location, but when the same locations are seen well, it results in unique photographs.

  5. @ David, thank you for the kind words.

    I have long admired your fathers photographs. When I was first interested in photography his work was among those who I tried to emulate.

    I think one of the best ways to develop your style is by trying to shoot like someone else. That gets you pointed in a direction and from there you borrow and innovate to ultimately create something unique to you.

    Thank you for visiting,

  6. This photograph stopped me in my tracks. I so feel the stillness, cold and quiet air of this scene. Simply beautiful. And as someone who shoots mainly portraiture and events but is getting into landscape (the outdoors is so therapeutic) this was a great post to read. Thank you.

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