I’m starting off the post by going against all of the rules of building things up and developing intrigue and all that. I’m gonna tell you the not-so-hidden secret to getting epic landscape photos right now. Ready?
The Secret: Move to the location that you want to get epic photos of. It’s that simple 🙂
I know I put a smiley face in there, but there’s a lot of truth to it. I’ve always thought that people that lived somewhere beautiful have a huge advantage in landscape photography. And I think it’s true. The best photos I’ve seen of Moab are from photographers who live out there. The best waterfall shots I’ve seen of the Columbia River Gorge area (near Portland, OR) are from photographers that live out there. The best photos I’ve seen of Mt. Rainier (where I was a few weeks ago), are people that live out that way.
Why? Because they learn each time they go back, and can improve and finesse their photography and location choices each time they’re there. For me, I guarantee you I can take one heck-of-a photo of the beach areas where I live. I say this in as humble a way as I can, that my photos of certain locations near where I live are some of the best I’ve seen of those areas. It’s not because I’m a better photographer than anyone else who’s photographed those areas. It’s because I live here. I can go out and shoot it any day. I can watch the weather patterns, the clouds, and it barely costs me a thing to go see if I can make something happen. If I do, great! If I don’t, no sweat, because it barely cost me a thing (or much time) to do it.
My point here is to accept it. My trip to Mt. Rainier the other week solidified this for me. While I was happy with my photos, I had pretty much bald-clear skies the entire time. It was my first time at Mt. Rainier and I only had a few days to be there. I had to make a great landscape photography class, so I couldn’t really push the location choices much, because I had to get to shooting for the video cameras. And, regardless of how many locations I went to, I can tell you the conditions weren’t possible for me to walk away with some of the epic photos I’ve seen of that place.
Accept it. I did. I’m happy with what I got there. By no means do I think they’re bad. I like the photos. I think other people like the photos, and I’m thrilled to put my name on them. But they weren’t what I’d hoped.
And that’s okay. It usually never is right? That leads me to my next point…
Another Thing Nobody Has Told You
I’m hoping I’m not the only one this has happened to. I mean, how many times have you gone somewhere to shoot with all of these high expectations? You were probably really excited to go there because you’ve seen photos online, on a wall, or in a gallery somewhere. Then you get there and, for some reason, you never feel like your photos live up to what you saw (please tell me I’m not the only one).
I think it’s natural, but I have to tell ya’ that I’ve never heard anyone say it. But once you’ve been there, the place loses a certain allure, mystery and mythical-ness (probably not a word) that it had before you went there. Even though your photos could be every bit as good as what you saw, it’s hard for us to see that location in the same way again. I know for me, at that point, I look at my photos and think maybe I missed something. Maybe the ones I saw online were better. But then I go back and look at the others I saw before, and realize, they really weren’t. Sometimes they had better/different skies, sometimes not. Sometimes the photo I saw was just a little better, and sometimes it wasn’t. But regardless, the location just looks different to me now.
Time Actually Helps Too
One thing I’ve found helps out a lot is time and distance. It happened to me on my trip to Norway last year. I was happy enough with the photos after I returned. But now that I go back and look at them, I realize it’s probably some of the best work I’ve done. Not only did I get to photograph some amazing locations, but I was lucky enough to get some great weather while doing it. Clouds and weather conditions that many people visiting for just 7 days won’t see.
Put some time and distance between the shoot, and you start to see it in a different way. I’ll often go back and look at photos from a place and find new ones that I really like. Photos that didn’t seem like much to me at the time, but take on a different meaning once I’ve had some time to step away.
Give it a try this week if you can. Look back at some photos from a year or two (or longer) ago. I bet you’ll find something there that you didn’t catch the first time around. And if not, no biggie. Because now you know the secret to getting some epic photos of those locations you may have shot before. Just move there. Or take 6 months off work and live there for a while. No sweat right? 😉
Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!
PS: No, you’re not crazy if you noticed a blog theme change. I have a problem where I feel I must change themes every 60 days. I’m seeking help for it 😉 Seriously though, I did change. While I loved the last theme and the way it showed off images, it had some performance problems and wasn’t great for SEO so I had to bail on it.
Matt, you must have been reading “my mail.” This post hit so close to home with me, you wouldn’t believe it. You said so many things I’ve been feeling and I appreciate your thoughts and ideas on how to “deal with it.” Just returned from a week in the Missouri and Arkansas Osarks. Went down with great expectations. Lots of dark skies and fog and rain and generally yucky conditions that had a negative impact on the results of my images. But, ya know what? Upon reflection after reading this “tip” I didn’t do too badly. So, thanks again. For this and all that you do to help those of us who really love making images.
I didn’t get tickets to Midnight Madness here at PSW14, so I happened upon your blog instead. You’re not the only one who has travelled and realized the pictures you’ve seen just don’t seem like what is before you now…and are let down. I felt like this with the Grand Canyon. The colors are very faint/faded in real life. Totally deflated me when I saw it in person.
P.S. I love all of your articles, love taking classes from you because you are such a kind person, and also because you explain things so simply, and yet teach so many things in a short time. Keep smiling and being awesome!
Thanks Kristen! I hope you had a blast at PSW 🙂
Great article, love the statement “Why? Because they learn each time they go back, and can improve and finesse their photography and location choices each time they’re there.” I feel like I can do my best work at places close to home that I’ve visited 100’s of times. I think that is an often overlooked aspect of landscape photography.
I am reading this as I prepare to head home from Iceland. We visited a lot of the iconic spots and, of course, most of my shots do not look like the ones that I have seen on 500px or elsewhere. On the other hand, I got some photos that I did not expect: Aurora Borealis in August was a surprise! It seems vital to arrive at a location with an open mind and new eyes, which may let you see things that locals do not. I just talked with a pro who visited my Milwaukee, where I live, and made observations that would not occur to me. I do agree with your premise, which is why I am working toward a move to Colorado.
You made a good point.
If you master the craft and found good spots, all you need is the weather to cooperate and so just keep trying !
And the keep-trying thing is indeed made much easier if you live in the area and just need to peek out of the window to see great light coming.
If you really love a place but cannot move there, you could lead a small group workshop there once or twice a year 🙂 (like some europeans pros do by going in summer and winter to Iceland)
An actionable response to this realization is to shoot the subjects available to you where you DO live the way you would if you lived in one of those places you WISH you lived.
I totally agree. In the past year, I’ve gone to the beaches and places that are close to me more than ever just for that reason. It gives me something to shoot and take “seriously” even though, it’s not exactly what I’d like to be shooting.
Matt, this blog posting is one of your best. Living near the location you want to shoot makes a big difference. We now live in Grand Junction, CO. I can be in Moab in 1 1/2 hours. Aspen in 2 hours. The Colorado National Monument is right in front of our house. I have several great photos of the Colorado National Monument as a result of living near this park. Also have hundreds of really bad photos.
I have been doing landscape photography for many years. Timing and luck is a big part of it. Recently went to Canada and got only one photo I consider to be really good.
That’s great Steve. You’re also really close to Ouray. I was there during the first week of October last year and it was awesome. Love that whole area. Enjoy it! 🙂
My problem is that I take the photos I was so excited to take. Process them and put it out there for all those to see. Then I quickly get sick of looking at them.
This is so true, on all four points. I recently went on a 10 day photography tour to the Southwest Corners (New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah), something that, for a variety of reasons, I have wanted to do for six years but couldn’t until this past June. After downloading the photos, I went from hmm, not bad, to really, couldn’t I get a better shot, or you know, this is really, really good. And looking back at some of the other past vacation photographs, I like them even better than when I first posted them.
Thanks, Matt, for some great WOW’s (words of wisdom).
I love the shot of the guy on the horse in Monument Valley. Awesome!
Thanks Matt for writing that.
I just came home from a trip from Iceland and just made the same experiance like you. There are stunning pictures of the locations I’ve been on 500px which had superb sunrises or sunsets, great skys, aurora lights …
I just wasn’t that lucky and often didn’t get a second chance.
So I’m perfectly with you and thank’s that I know now that I’m not the only one …
Glad to help 🙂
Btw… how was Iceland. I really want to get there soon!
Thanks. Good article. It’s certainly something that I’ve thought, but am happy to hear (read) a professional say it.
And congratulations for getting they’re and there correct (“Because they learn each time they go back, and can improve and finesse their photography and location choices each time they’re there”).
Thanks Alan – It’s a miracle I did get them right. Don’t get used to it though 🙂
The post today brought me back to a moment in my life when this light bulb went off over my head also. For years I had tips into Spokane WA and surrounding areas, SanFran, New York City, always a camera in tow, always heading out to those ‘classic shot’ locations, only to come home with (what appeared to be) empty pockets in as much as images went. Try as I may to catch that same ‘feeling’ on an image as I’d seen so many times from those same vantage points, it always seem to escape me. But after 4 or 5 years of attempts it dawned on me that I just wasn’t going to be able to be there when those golden hours took place. The weather would never be right just in the few hours I would get to spend in a certain spot.. And I just had to make due with the images I WAS able to snaggle away from those days. That being said, I tend not to follow that trend for scenic photos anymore and try and concentrate on things that move faster.. a little more impact to the eye. But it was a very good read. Just another example of just how different we all are…. while still being very much the same.
Thanks John. I often made it out to San Fran and every time I did I’d go to Big Sur. Like you, I didn’t have a lot of time. I usually drove down in mid-day, shot sunset and had to drive back up that evening. It took my years before I actually saw the coast. Every time I went it was fogged in. Sometimes I didn’t even pull my camera out it was so bad. Then finally I had some good weather. Not great weather, but decent enough 🙂
I live in the Bay Area and love going to the beach up and down the coast from Big Sur to Half Moon Bay to my favorite beach Gray Whale Cove and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. It is always hit and miss when it comes to the fog and getting sunsets. I agree with your article and I feel blessed that I live close enough to so many beaches and awesome landscapes that I try and am going to try harder to shoot more often. I took several of your classes at PSW14, I love your pictures and you are a great teacher. Everyone in Vegas inspired me to get better at what I love doing. Thank you.
Thanks Susan! I’ve definitely seen my share of fog at Big Sur 🙂
“Then you get there and, for some reason, you never feel like your photos live up to what you saw (please tell me I’m not the only one).” You are definitely not the only one! I feel this way most of the time. I appreciate your honesty because it makes me want to continue knowing that I am not alone in my thoughts!
You’re not alone Eddie – now I’m there with you 😉 Scary huh?
And so I moved to Southern Utah a little over a year ago.
I haven’t gotten bored with my surroundings.
From Zion to Moab, there’s never a dull day of photography.
To support your hypothesis I reviewed my Flickr photos from the past year. It’s obvious that I’ve begun to understand this beautiful area better than someone who has a very short week to visit 5 National Parks 🙂
Awesome Scott. I’m kinda jealous too!
Good post, Matt.
Photography is a lot like fishing.
Expensive gear (and lots of it), there’s a certain amount of skill involved, and sometimes you luck out and get something bigger and better than you could have ever expected. But most times not.
But any day out shooting photos is better than a day in a cubicle.
That’s an awesome analogy James. Thanks.
So how did “you” conclude that? (LOL)…Are you moving to the Pacific North West somewhere? I would…
The reason that happens is because of 500px; people go(not just you) there for “inspiration” taking OUT of the account that those amazing photos were taken either by someone who lucked out on their trip or a local who has access to those places on whim and has an eye for photography, lots of people have cameras, but fewer can see a good photo in front of them, and even fewer know what to do with it after they took it. Like we do with the beaches here. Ignore the beginning of that post and scroll down to see how an average boring Florida pond can make a good photo…it’s all about the sky…http://acorner.net/blog/2014/7/if-there-is-an-original-already-we-know-whos-the-copy
Anyway, great article…let’s go out sometime and shoot a Florida sunset and show them how we can get 5 different images of the same thing. Deal? LOL
Spot on Matt.but sometimes one can get blind by the natural beauty around you(im from Norway) and i find i get more inspired by trying to shoot something when traveling to a different country,even though it never looks as good as the photos i reserched on 500px before leaving 🙂
I never thought I’d want to try landscape photography until very recently. I live in Southeast Idaho, lots of nice sunsets here. Great article. This makes me want to take advantage of the few dollars in gas money I have to spend to drive to a beautiful shoot.
Do it Brad! 🙂
Nice article. It confirms a lot of my thinking. Nice to read it from someone as experienced as you.
Nice tip 🙂
And maybe I can help you with building a custom theme from scratch. I don’t blog often but used to change theme every month until I start creating one that I really like.
Thanks. I’ll let you know if I change again. 🙂