Seriously… do you want to become a better photographer?
I often get messages through my website asking me where to go for the best photos and how those that live far away want to visit because the scenery is so incredible. The hard reality is that without exception, thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people often drive right by where I take photos and never stop. And why should they? Where I live is the most boring, flat and monotonous landscape in all of Canada, Saskatchewan excluded. LOL
This small collection of landscapes from my website also have another thing that they share, unusual light and weather. I’ve blogged many times before how it isn’t where you shoot but WHEN. When doesn’t mean a particular time of day or of the year. When means shooting when the light and weather both combine to create an unusual feeling, mood, atmosphere or whatever you want to call it.
A few years back when I got back into shooting landscapes I hadn’t ever considered where I live as a place to find interesting scenes and the first few times I ventured out, I was right. My early landscapes were nothing to be happy about. The prairies consist of two things in a photo. Everything above a usually flat and level horizon and everything below. The trees aren’t trees like in Europe, they’re more brush with the occasional poplar standing by itself.
I learned very quickly that the best times for me to shoot was when the light was low to the horizon. More and more I prefer when the sun is actually below the horizon. That does a couple of things. It reveals and it hides. Shadows are important because they give shape and depth to something that would be lost without detail or any sort. These shadows often provide leading lines into the composition.
Not every day is a day that will lend itself to great photos. It takes more than just the sun to be low or below the horizon. It might be called a landscape but it’s as much the land as it is the sky. The last thing I want to see is an unbroken wash of blue above the horizon. That might work for an exceptional instance but generally, I want clouds. I want Goldilocks clouds. Not too much and not too little. Not every sunrise or sunset is a keeper.
How do you learn all of this? It’s so very easy. You get out as often as you can. In the beginning most trips will seem to be a bust. You might not bring home a keeper but what you’ll gain is the experience of being outside and recognizing what conditions DON’T make for a good landscape.
I’m very lucky in having attracted a clientele that doesn’t want a middle of the day, white puffy sky landscape. I think they buy my images because they don’t represent a place so much as an idea. For me the term landscape is misleading because I’m not really looking for landscapes, I am looking for places in time that have a unique feeling or atmosphere.
Here’s why I think photo workshops are the biggest crock. There isn’t anything that the “pro” you take the workshop from will tell you that you can’t easily find on the internet. Secret places? Remember what I said about weather and light? That applies to workshops. If you’re unfortunate enough to be on a workshop or photo tour and the conditions are just average, you’ve thrown away a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.
You’ve gotta remember the REAL reason that photographers offer workshops and photo tours. I doubt that it’s because they’re altruistic or being generous with their valuable time, it’s because it’s extremely difficult to make a living from JUST taking photos. You might come back with pictures of a pretty place but are they GOOD pictures? It’s too easy to be overwhelmed in an incredible place and NOT see what you’re actually getting.
The best photographers out there aren’t conducting workshops and tours, the best photographers are actually taking pictures.
Nobody can teach you to be a great musician or an incredible chef or brilliant cinematographer. People can teach you the basics but it’s up to you to actually get up off your butt, get outside as often as you can and learn from shooting. You don’t need anybody to hold your hand and take you to their secret spot. Great photography isn’t a paint by numbers kit that you can follow dumbly.
Get out there.