Ever hear about (or see) one of those popular landscape photography locations that’s absolutely packed with people? Ever wonder why everyone is standing there taking the same exact photo that maybe tens of hundreds of thousands of photographers have taken before? If you haven’t witnessed it personally, then you’ve probably seen it. And if you haven’t, then just check out the photo above taken at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Believe it or not, you’re not even seeing the other 50+ people that were to the right of me in that photo. So with crowds often like this, and so many photos looking similar to each other, why do so many people love landscape photography?
This all leads to something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now, but just haven’t found the right context to talk about it. Basically, as a landscape photographer I often hear two things said about shooting landscapes:
1) Some one will say landscape photography is kinda like photo collecting – meaning you simply walk up to a location and “collect” a photo (implying you’re not doing anything creative or photographic-like since you’re just snapping a photo).
2) The other thing I hear a lot is people wondering why anyone would sit at a location like you see above, knowing all of those other photographers are there taking the same photo and yours is going to look just like it.
Years ago, it used to bug me a little but I’ve gotten over it. Mainly because I realize it’s just personal taste. Everyone likes different foods right? So why would photography be any different? But there’s a little more to it that I think reading on will help you consider…
My Buddy RC And A Recent Trip Out West
Last week my friend RC Concepcion was teaching a workshop with Bill Fortney and His Light Workshops. I’ve always wanted to shoot Monument Valley so I figured it was a great chance to head out there and enjoy some time with friends while I was at it. Well, one of the things I’ve always known about RC is that he kinda had that “photo collecting” mentality about landscapes. Now, he was never mean about it and never did anything to belittle my photography. In fact, he was always very quick to recognize a nice photo when he saw it. But landscape photography just didn’t seem to be his “thing”. But I think that changed a little last week.
It All Started When RC And I Had To Go On Separate Sunset Shoots
This all begins with RC and I going on separate shoots. See, part of the ride to the sunset location he was going to, involved driving down an extremely bumpy dirt road for about 30+ minutes (we’d gone to a similar location for sunrise so I knew the drive). It was seriously like being on one of the Deadliest Catch boats 😉 Little known fact about me: I get REALLY motion sick. And when I say REALLY I mean REALLY bad. If I’m not the one driving a car then I’d better be sitting in the passenger seat or I start to feel ill (and even that doesn’t always help). And I knew from the sunrise shoot earlier that day, that I couldn’t take another one of those trips. So I bailed out and shot something different for sunset.
The Moment I Knew It Changed
Later that evening RC and I are sitting in the hotel room looking at photos from the day. RC looks over at my laptop and says “Dude, where was that!!!???”. He then proceeded to mutter a few expletives about me getting a cool shot that he missed. It’s not that he was mad at me or anything. And it’s not that his sunset shoot was worse than mine or anything. It’s just that he loved the shot and wished that he had been in a similar place. It was at that moment I knew RC got “it”. What is “it” you ask? It’s that feeling of creating a a beautiful photo of a beautiful place that no conversation, debate, and no amount of discussion between us would ever make him see.
Here’s What It All Comes Down To
We actually talked a little about the topic during our trip. What I explained to RC was that saying landscape photography is like photo collecting, is devaluing the actual process of taking the photo. Look at the Story Behind The Photo posts I’ve been doing. They’re some of the most popular posts, and it’s not because everyone likes the photo. It’s the story behind the photo, and the journey that it took to create the image. We’ve probably all been to crowded photo locations where several, if not tens or hundreds of photographers are trying to take the same photo. So why don’t we just skip that location and look at, buy, or admire their photo, instead of trying to make our own? Because making our own photo of a beautiful or memorable place is part of photography. I’ve personally seen many great photos of Monument Valley. And honestly, I’ve seen many greater than mine. But I consider my trip an absolute success because I got to shoot Monument Valley the way I wanted to. I can still admire other’s photos of the area, but now I also have my own – and that means a lot to me. I was there. I got to feel what it was like. I got to experience the scenery, the air, the beautiful color in the sunset/sunrise, and the feeling of taking my own photo there. Plus, I got to put my own spin on the post-processing (which regardless if anyone admits is a HUGE part of landscape and outdoor photography).
That’s what it’s all about and that’s why I have absolutely no problem walking up to a location that’s been photographed a million times before, and taking my own photo there. Do I love hiking out into the wilderness and capturing places few ever get to see? Sure I do. But a beautiful place is a beautiful place – whether I had to hike for hours and camp overnight to get it, or I walked 15 feet out of my car and set my tripod next to 10 other photographers.
Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one! 🙂