You're the Artist

July 22, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Single DigitsSingle DigitsBoth the sky and the shoreline below are painted with warm hues just before sunrise - making the frigid January morning seem a little less icy. (Atlantic Ocean at Rye, New Hampshire) Way back in the pre-Internet days, if you wanted to teach yourself how to become a photographer you probably did so with the help of some books and magazines. That's the route I took, anyway. Good instructional manuals written by talented outdoor photographers were key to providing a solid foundation. Then I discovered Outdoor Photographer magazine, which featured great "how to" articles and regular columns by accomplished artists like Bill Neill, Frans Lanting and George Lepp. (OP now is but a shadow of what it once was, but as long as Neill keeps contributing, I continue to subscribe.) Finally, some of the best "textbooks" for me were coffee table masterpieces showcasing the work of my favorite photographers. Studying images created by artists like Galen Rowell or David Muench was - and continues to be - an excellent education and source of inspiration.

That was then. Now workshops proliferate and you can find scores of photography articles and video tutorials online. There's an abundance of information, some of which is very good. Useful tips; suggestions regarding how to develop your creativity; different approaches to processing. We all continue to evolve as artists. New ideas and techniques are always interesting to think about and experiment with.

That said, you'll also find many opinions regarding what you "should" and "shouldn't" do to make good landscape photos. Everyone has opinions. It's what makes the world go 'round! You can agree or not. Trust yourself. 

Of course there are some universal truths both about fundamentals like exposure and focus and how to control them as well as the basics of composition. Then there are guidelines like the rule of thirds. Often you'll follow these. But there may very well be times when "breaking the rules" results in fantastic photos. The better you understand the concepts behind the guidelines, the better positioned you'll be to jettison them when it makes sense to go in a different direction.    

Beyond the basics, there are many schools of thought about outdoor photography, such as:

  • To make unique images, avoid "big" landscapes. Go for intimate compositions instead.
  • Only use your wide angle to make landscape photographs.
  • You must have a pronounced foreground subject to create a strong landscape composition.
  • Stay away from icons like Yosemite's Half Dome or Olympic's sea stacks. You can't do anything original with them. 
  • Compositions featuring spectacular conditions aren't interesting. The intense weather or colorful sunset "happened" to you. Those types of shots prove only that you have patience and perseverance.
  • Never shoot during the middle of the day. Put your camera away after sunrise and don't get it out again until magic hour in the evening.
  • Create complete images in-camera. You shouldn't be processing at all. 

I'm sure you've run across at least some of what's on this short list (which contains contradictory advice). They're opinions: neither right nor wrong. What works for one isn't necessarily the next person's cup of tea. In this context, "must" or "shouldn't" are better taken as suggestions. You're the artist. It's up to you to determine how to create your art. 

Certainly it's important to get the basics correct. Know your equipment. Know how to create a technically good photo. But when it comes to subject matter and how to tell the story, don't feel you must follow everyone's advice - and don't worry about pleasing everybody else!

Art is subjective. You have a unique vision; be yourself. 

When you look at paintings in an art museum, do you like every piece on display? Probably not.  

While I enjoy a wide range of styles from impressionism to post-impressionism to American Realism, I favor French Impressionism the most. Does that mean I like every impressionist painting ever created? No. And while Claude Monet is one of my favorite painters, some of his pieces resonate more than others. 

So it will be with your photographs. Different people will be drawn to different images for different reasons. 

Photograph what you love. Strive to find ways to creatively compose the shot in a way that conveys what you're seeing or feeling to the viewer. The more effectively you're able to do this, the more likely your images will resonate with your audience. 



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