Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
As we do most years the Photo Cascadia Team will take a few week break from the blog for the holidays and downtime. We will be posting again in mid-January. In the meantime we put together a short slideshow with some of our personal favorites from the year along with behind the scenes shots of our adventures.
Our most sincere thank you to all of our viewers, clients, friends and family. We are only able to continue to do what we do as a team because of all of you. If we didn’t have viewers we would be creating site content only for ourselves which isn’t even close to as exciting as creating it for all of you. If we didn’t have clients none of us would have a business. If we didn’t have friends we would be missing the elements of fun, collaboration and sense of community. If we didn’t have family and the support from them it would make what we do less rewarding and no one to share our sucessess with. There is much to be thankful as another year draws to a close.
There is the quote “once a year go someplace you’ve never been before”- Dalai Lama. In an age where nature photography has changed significantly the last 5 years we can all benefit from trying to get off the beaten path now and then. By this I mean it both figuratively and literally. Figuratively to look for new and different images in well known areas and literally looking to visit the roads and trails less traveled. With this in mind may the new year bring all that you look forward to and more with and without a camera in hand.
On November 20 I sat down (virtually) with Matt Payne to chat about landscape photography for his podcast, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen.
We had a great time talking about a variety of topics including
- – Our respective journeys into landscape photography
- – How to create visual impact in your photography
- – Motivations to keep shooting
- – The creation of Photo Cascadia
- – Conservation and the sharing of locations
You can listen to our conversation here (email subscribers may need to click the link above to listen on the web):
Make sure to go to the podcast page to check out the other great conversations Matt has recorded with photographers like
- – Erin Babnik
- – Joshua Cripps
- – Candace Dyar
- – Guy Tal
- – David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick
- And many more…
Also, since we recorded our conversation, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen is being featured by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and will also be available on their website every month, so congratulations to Matt on that!
I’m a huge fan of outdoor adventure! I love exploring wild places, being immersed in nature and photographing rare moments of natural beauty! I’ve had some amazing experiences and also had some close calls. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. It pays to come prepared, you never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. Whether it’s a photo excursion, back country snowboarding, mountain biking, backpacking, or day hiking there are 10 essential items I always carry with me. These are all items I’ve used to get myself, or other people out of countless sticky situations.
1. First aid kit. I know this seems pretty obvious, but I’m always surprised how many people I meet without a basic first aid kit in their bag. I’ve used my first aid kit countless times, several times on myself, but also on friends and stranger in need of help. I’ve patched up fellow mountain bikers after a crash, photo workshop participants who have had various bumps and scrapes, strangers I’ve run into on the trails and my own kids on several occasions. A first aid kit is something you hope you won’t need, but when you do, boy are you glad it’s in your bag.
2. Warm hat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 90 degree day in the middle of summer, I will always carry a warm hat in my bag. This is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way too many times. I’m usually photographing before sunrise and after the sun sets. The temperature can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. In particular, when photographing in the mountains weather can turn on a dime. It’s really easy to get caught un-prepared. A warm hat really helps keep me warm when the temperature drops unexpectedly.
3. Gloves. I always carry a thin pair of gloves with me. It’s amazing what a difference even a thin pair can make. I found my thin gloves at REI, they allow full control of my camera and do a great job keeping my hands warm .
4. Light weight jacket. I always have a light weight, water-resistant jacket in my bag regardless of the forecast. I’ve been caught in some pretty nasty summer storms. I remember getting caught in a heavy thunderstorm here in the high desert of Oregon. It was a gorgeous summer day, I headed to the Cascade Lakes hoping for some interesting cloud formations as the thunderstorms started firing up. One minute, the weather was beautiful, warm air, calm winds and puffy clouds. A few minutes later the wind picked up, the clouds thickened and it was hailing. The temperature dropped considerably. I took shelter under some trees and quickly pulled out my jacket, gloves and hat from my camera bag. I was still pretty cold, but much more comfortable and in no danger of becoming hypothermic. I waited out the storm and was rewarded with some beautiful storm light. There have been countless times I’ve been thankful I had an extra jacket in my bag. It’s an essential part of my kit and I never leave home without it.
5. Emergency energy bars. It’s always nice to have some extra calories in my bag. Great for emergencies, or if I change plans and want to stay out longer. I generally carry around 4 extra energy bars in my bag just in case…
6. Extra water. I usually carry more water than I think I’ll need. It’s come in handy on many occasions. Your body needs water before it needs food. I’ve run out of water on several occasions, it’s a terrible feeling knowing you’re out of water when you’re thirsty. In fact, if I know I’m about to run out of water, I’ll save the last sip for psychological reasons. I very rarely run out of water anymore, I usually bring more than I need. I’m a big fan of camera bags that have a sleeve for water bladders, these generally allow me to take as much water as I need for an outing. On longer adventures and backpacking trips, I generally have a water strategy and backup plan if that strategy fails. For instance, I usually bring a water purifying pump and a water sterilizing pen for backup. This strategy has served me well over many years and on many adventures.
7. Multi tool. A multi tool is one of the most versatile and useful non-photographic tools in my bag. I’ve used my multi tool to repair my tripod, pull cactus needles out of my boots, fix parts on my mountain bike, fix bindings on my snowboard, cut branches to setup a temporary shelter and countless other things. I particularly like tools with plyers built in. It’s definitely an essential tool that I always want in my bag on every adventure.
8. Duct tape is another incredibly useful and versatile tool. I love knowing it’s always in my bag. It’s helped me get out of many sticky situations. One memorable occasion was in 2006 while snow camping near Mount Hood. The snow was so light and fluffy, my tripod was sinking deep into the snow making impossible to get the angle I was hoping for. I had trekking poles with snow baskets with me, I quickly removed the baskets from the poles and duct taped them to my tripod legs. For the third leg, I used a filter case to create a platform to float on the snow. This temporary solution allowed me to get the perspective I was after. Image shown below.
9. Extra cleaning cloth. I always carry an extra micro fiber cleaning cloth or two in my bag. I use these all the time. If conditions are wet, often times my main cloth becomes saturated and no longer functions. It’s nice to have a backup or two. I’ve also used these for countless other things as well. It’s great for drying and cleaning my camera, lenses, sun glasses, or anything else that might it.
10. Space blanket. This is part of my first aid emergency kit, but I thought it deserved its’ own spot. This little sheet of reflective plastic has helped me get out of several dangerous situations, helping me to stay dry and warm. While solo camping on the Oregon Coast I used a space blanket to make a little tent out of my tripod legs to keep my gear safe and dry in torrential rain. On another trip to Mt Rainier I got soaked while hiking in a rain storm. My clothes were so wet they were no longer insulating me and instead were leaching the heat from my body. When I got back to the car I took my wet clothes off and wrapped myself in a space blanket till my car warmed up.
Honorable mentions: An emergency satellite contact device like a SPOT locator can be a life saver in an emergency. I do have one, but I only take it when I’m in a very remote place on my own and will be out out of cellular service. I also carry physical maps with me quite a bit, but there are so many good GPS and map apps on my phone that don’t bring them most of the time. If I’m going somewhere unfamiliar and remote I do try to have a map for backup still.
All of this fits easily with the rest of my camera gear in my very compact F-stop Kenti bag. Those are my 10+ essential items I like to have in my bag at all times. Let me know what essential items are in your camera, or adventure bag.
Author: Zack Schnepf
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” —Mark Twain
A little secret that is well known to educators is the concept of the “good lie”. It encapsulates the idea that any course of instruction is bound to be incomplete or imperfect, but learning has to start somewhere. When we first begin to study any complex subject, we need some structure, some kind of foundation on which to build our understanding of it. For example, when I was beginning my studies in art history, my professors introduced me to the subject of ancient Greek sculpture by emphasizing the evidence regarding known sculptors, what each had contributed to the art, and why any of it mattered. I later learned just how much of this introduction amounted to optimistic conclusions based on ambiguous evidence, but that education brought me to higher levels of understanding. By the time that I started working on my doctoral dissertation, my research was focused on some of those points of weakness as areas where I could make my own contributions, and my professors were encouraging such questioning because the “good lie” was only ever a starting point.
Learning photography involves a similar progression through structured principles into personal discoveries. As landscape photographers, we learn our craft as a combination of in-field methods, compositional rules, location research, weather chasing, and post-processing solutions—all of which amounts to the “good lie” in our field. Together, these ideas provide a useful framework through which we can develop our creative sensibilities, but the framework itself is merely a way in.
To be sure, craftsmanship is an essential part of the photographic process, and good technique is often crucial to the success of a creative motivation. The sheer spectacle of technical virtuosity alone can provide a special frisson: prickly sharpness, masterfully controlled tones, or precise calculations of celestial events—all count among the many technical accomplishments that tend to delight viewers of landscape photographs. Regardless, perfect technique hardly amounts to the holy grail of photography. Despite its many virtues, technique is fundamentally reproducible, is always subject to becoming obsolete, and can become a visual crutch and a developmental cul-de-sac. For anyone who wants to keep progressing in their photography, creativity is the higher good. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded about craftsmanship and to acknowledge that creativity is a messy place.
Keeping the following caveats in mind can help to ensure that perfection doesn’t become the enemy of the good.
A Perfect Lemon is Still a Lemon
There is an old joke about a person looking for his keys under a street lamp. When a passerby asks him if he’s sure that it’s the area where he lost his keys, the man replies, “No, I lost them a block away, but the light is better here.” The process of making a good photograph can go wrong in the same way, by letting some unimportant factor dictate a direction. I often find participants on my workshops abandoning a great composition that they saw because it would require some minor compromise, choosing instead to photograph something less interesting that they can make ‘perfect’. Sometimes you just have to seize a moment or follow through with an idea however you can because it will result in a powerful photo regardless. Even if it means that you have to use a high ISO or shoot handheld instead of using a tripod, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. When technique starts dictating which ideas to pursue, then it’s probably time to cut the chains and enjoy some creative freedom. No amount of masterful technique will improve the photos that we never make!
The Devil is in the Details
According to the law of diminishing returns, sometimes ‘good enough’ really is…good enough. The value of technical quality does have its limits. After all, the world’s most compelling photographs do not tend to be studies in technique, and most viewers do not even notice many of the technical shortcomings that typically make photographers cringe. Laboring in the service of perfect technique can easily become an unnecessary hinderance to progress, causing a photographer to leave projects unfinished or to become too frustrated to begin a new one. I remember once spending days on processing a photograph with a delicate color palette, shifting hues and tones by minute amounts ad nauseam in my efforts to achieve the perfect balance. I shared some of the variations with a friend who has an excellent eye for such details and who was very enamored with that photo. He carefully compared all of the versions and finally said, “I doubt that any of these differences even matter,” and he urged me to release the photo and move on. It was great advice.
Imperfections Can Create Character
As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportions.” He finds this strangeness in the abnormally large eyes of the woman he loves and delves into describing the depths of her character that he sees through them. Beauty in photographs can also come about through such strangeness, typically created by some imperfection in the pictured elements or by some irregularity in their presentation. A leaning tree or burned out snag can break up regularity and give character to a forest scene in the same way that film grain or soft focus can. Even ancient Greek architects seem to have understood the power of imperfection when they made temple columns bulge in the middle instead of being perfectly straight vertical elements; the more emphatic examples suggest an interest in giving the temple some life, some character, as if its columns were bulging like muscles while supporting the temple’s entablature. Similarly, a high level of refinement can sap the life out of a photograph, causing it to it look too mechanical. It is possible for a photograph to be lacking in vitality simply by appearing too perfect.
Craftsmanship has always been one of the great joys of artistic creation for me, and I both exercise and teach it with great enthusiasm. “The good lie” is good for a reason, providing an important foundation and a perpetually useful touchstone. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it has its limits, its exceptions, and its missing links—and sometimes making a substantial contribution to your portfolio means stepping outside that box. The pursuit of perfection has the potential to elevate a photograph significantly, but it can also smother its fire or prevent us from creating a photo at all. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of our own goals that should tell us which direction to go. When creativity is hiding in the shadows, we’ll never find it by looking in the light.
Have you ever had issues of technique keep you from pursuing a moment or an idea? Do you have any photos in your portfolio that would not exist without some compromise? Please feel free to share in this discussion with a comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It’s been hard for me to fully express exactly what impact I am feeling from the Eagle Creek Fire. Those that haven’t experienced the Columbia River Gorge or don’t know it as their backyard like I do may think it’s simply another forest falling victim to the flame. For those that know it like I do, it’s a crown jewel of Oregon. Considering I am not that religious in a traditional sense I say going to nature is my temple; with the gorge being the temple I have spent the most time in.
Certainly, there are much larger catastrophes in recent memory in the states let alone across the globe. Even a storm like Hurricane Harvey that resulted in thousands of homes and business being flooded and loss of life is severe and unfortunate. Now we have Irma. My heart goes to all those impacted. Even in the Gorge there have been changes impacting lives generations before us. Simply look at how the Columbia River changed by building the dams and the impact that had the Native American tribes. We are not the only ones that have ever been impacted by significant changes in the gorge both human and nature caused.
When I first heard of the fire I felt myself starting the rolling coaster of emotions like you would go through for any grieving process. In this case hearing how it started it was anger. Then I moved to shock, then to sadness knowing the fire was growing and going through all these places I planted my feet many times. Places I have enjoyed with good friends, with family or solo for alone time. I even lost sleep a couple nights thinking about it. Again you may not understand but let me tell you a little more.
2017 Eagle Creek Fire – Photo Credit: Chris Liedle
I grew up in the “Gateway to the Gorge” on multiple acres and a creek where I would play outside for hours at a time before the days of many parents worrying about too much screen time and the need to force kids outdoors. This area has been a part of my life for decades. I am convinced it’s what helped put the yearning for nature in my blood at an early age resulting in countless days taking hikes, capturing photos and simply exploring throughout my life.
I have stood in ice cold flowing water with the snow line above my head until my feet went numb and loved every minute of it. I have hiked in the pouring rain with no one around, wondering how much it needs to rain before a tree falls to then see a tree fall. I have hiked to highest point to see the view and almost got lost coming down. I have chased the light up many gorge trails and then back down. I have driven the old scenic highway with half a foot of fresh snow and not a single vehicle track except my own. I have endured the strong East winds that funnel down the gorge like a freight train getting pelleted by ice, snow and rain. I have visited busy scenic areas thick with crowds to off trail locations rarely seen where the only sound is nature itself.
Taken underneath Pony Tail falls looking out into the lush greenery. Many years back a small group of us were photographing along the stream that you see in this scene. One of them, Phill Monson, found a semi buried old wooden sign that said Pony Tail falls. It had fallen from unknown causes from the tree it was attached to and broke apart yet you could still see the name Pony Tail. I have it on my desk to this day.
We are all saddened because we know it’s special to live close to an area like this. An area filled with lush plant life, refreshingly crisp water and magnificently rugged terrain. It’s a place where all walks of life come to escape hectic schedules, connect with nature or simply to reflect. I have come to the Gorge many times where I was reminded that I had too much desk time since my last visit and I walk away rejuvenated to tackle what life brings at me next. The beauty can leave you awe struck on your first visit. I have seen it firsthand. It’s National Park worthy if I can be so bold. It’s a treasured place to be protected.
It’s frustrating to us all how the Eagle Creek fire started and no doubt we would all feel a little bit differently had it started due to natural causes. Instead it was a group of teenagers lighting fireworks in a precipitation starved forest without a single care as to what might happen. We will need to let the law enforcement aspect take it’s course yet I do know it’s not much good spewing out hate towards those that did this as I have seen online. We are better off channeling that energy to do something positive. We all have been or will be a teenager. As a teenager we all had at least one experience (or a few) which, after the fact, we realize was stupid and could have been much worse, where we thankfully learned our lesson with little to no consequence. Unfortunately in this case the consequences were to a level most of us could not fathom. If those that are responsible for the fire are reading this I would tell them to continuously look for ways to spend time volunteering to give back to nature and serve local communities. This will help you move forward yet never forget it.
This was a very memorable day from quite a few years back. Myself, Zack Schnepf, Jeremy Cram and Marc Adamus spent pretty much all of daylight exploring off trail. It was slow going try to go the path of least resistance while minimize impact to our surroundings. Finally after hours we came across this scene. Well worth the adventure.
Like many, I am sadden about the changes that took place to our shrine, The Gorge. It doesn’t come without heartache yet it’s certainly not the end and I have to look at it as a new beginning. The photos seen to date show the gorge was not burnt completely to a crispy blackened wasteland like we might see on a sci-fi show after an apocalypse. Even the areas heavily damaged will come back to life in their own unique way with the eventual signature gorge green sprouting through the ashes. Yes, it will take time but nature always returns and sometimes in ways that amaze and surprise us. I am barely old enough to remember seeing Mount Saint Helens erupt. It’s been decades yet now it’s an impressive place to visit even though it’s different than it was before the eruption. The same will hold true for spots greatly impacted by this fire.
This should give you a general idea of what to expect in areas that are heavily damaged. This is in the vicinity of Angel’s Rest and was taken about 7 years ago which was about 20 years after this fire happen. I had visualized this photo on a prior hike without camera gear and bad light. I came back about a year later to make this along with a similar one in winter you can see here.
Those that know me know I tend to live my life with the glass half full as it’s too short to think otherwise. Even after my initial stages of disbelief and grief I am now moving on and look forward to the regeneration of our beloved gorge. I feel fortunate to be close enough to continue to have more experiences not only personally but for my wife and me to do the same with our young children who have only started to explore the many areas the Gorge has to offer, even if some of them will be different now.
As a side note, I have seen a number of comments online from individuals very eager to help the gorge come back to life again by taking on the task of figuring out what to do next. It’s great that many of us want to give back now more than ever. I would suggest that we leave the determination what needs to be done for damaged areas up to forest professionals and Mother Nature. We should look to donate our time, and or money if inclined, to organizations that support the gorge like Friends of The Columbia Gorge as one example.
Lastly, lest I forget to say thank you to the many firefighters, police and first responders that worked tirelessly, and continue to, on the Eagle Creek Fire to avoid losing lives, homes and historic structures as the fire is not yet contained as I write this. Your efforts are immensely appreciated.
This was one of those rainy days, that we frequently get between October and June. I stood here in the water with my feet and hands pretty close to numb while water was dripping off my head and camera. I probably should have protected my camera better yet it survived while I thrived.
I believe this was the first time I met Sean Bagshaw in person, before we started Photo Cascadia and became good friends. Myself, David and Sean were exploring Eagle Creek trail on this day. I remember thinking this scene was better with someone in it as it helped provide scale so I was glad he was “in the way” for this photo.
The gorge after fresh snowfall. Looks beautiful dressed in all white. This is not your iconic scene but hiking deeper into the gorge to find the more rugged and wild side. This is where peaceful scenes can be found in any season.
I found this wandering the forest near Larch Mountain on a day thick with fog and melting snow from the trees. Anytime a slight breeze would come I ended up doused with water from the branches as they ensured I didn’t leave the scene dry.
I was hiking I believe in the area of Triple Falls for the afternoon. I was taking my time coming down because the sky was pretty socked in and wasn’t planning to take a sunset photo. Somewhere I glanced a break up in the clouds that seemed to be increasing. I jogged the last 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile with heavy backpack to get to the car, drive here and take this photo before the light faded.
This was taken close to a decade ago. I crossed the bridge and almost thought about not taking a photo because I was nearing the end of my day of hiking and photography, telling myself “next time”. I am glad I took a few minutes to capture this. Since that year I have not seen this canyon devoid of large logs or trees. It’s above Oneonta Falls.
Photo and Text By: Sean Bagshaw
The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area has been the backdrop for many of my favorite outdoor photography experiences. I have found few other places on the planet as beautiful, mysterious, rugged and alive. Over the years I have hiked many of the canyons and creeks, alone, with my family and often with other photographers. I took this photo of Gorton Creek while exploring above Wyeth with several of my Photo Cascadia colleagues a few years ago. I remember it was a life affirming day. I think this small scene does a good job of sharing the essence and the magic of the entire area. I hope it recovers quickly.
Photo and Text By: Zack Schnepf
Here is one of my favorite locations in the Gorge. I think of Oneonta Gorge as Oregon’s green slot canyon. It’s another unique and special location to me. The lush green moss and ferns coat every surface and the steep walls rise up into a lush forest. I love how the trees grow right out of the steep walls. It truly is an incredible place to experience in person.
Whether it’s serious or downright hilarious we all can appreciate quotes that inspire us in some way or at the very least cause for pause and thought. Some of these have been accumulated over time in my note taking and others were discovered when thinking about this blog post. They were chosen because they reflect how I view photography or nature, inspire me personally, portray the past, present, future of photography or merely provide a good laugh. After all “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” – Lord Byron.
I am sure a few you have heard before yet I am also sure there are some you haven’t. From some of the biggest names in photography to others not as well known or not professional photographers at all, to simply nature related inspiration for your next landscape adventure. Spend a few minutes below to get your thoughts flowing. These are intentionally in no particular order. Feel free to comment below with your favorite photography or nature related quote.
“In a world and a life that moves so fast, photography just makes the sound go out and it makes you stop and take a pause. Photography calms me.” – Drew Barrymore
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The whole nature of photography has changed with the advent of a camera in everybody’s hand.” – Sally Mann
“I find it some of the hardest photography and the most challenging photography I’ve ever done. It’s a real challenge to work with the natural features and the natural light.” – Galen Rowell
“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” – Nancy Pelosi
“I don’t have a favorite photo. As a photographer, I have attachments to each image. Not the one photo: the experience of getting the photos is the challenge or the thing.” – Michael Muller
“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.” – James Agee
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind
“Photographers deal with a lot of crop.” – Unknown
“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas
“Photographers are violent people. First they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.” – Unknown
“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The grass is always greener when you crank up the saturation in Photoshop.” – Unknown
“If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.” – Galen Rowell
“Cheap photography isn’t good, my dear, and good photography isn’t cheap.” – Unkown
“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping at what’s in front of you.” – Frans Lanting
“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, ‘I could have done that!” – Unknown
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston
“People say photographs don’t lie, mind do.” – David LaChapelle
“You must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment a photographer is creative. The moment! Once you miss it. It is gone, forever.” – Henri- Cartier-Bresson
“Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” – Mary Ellen Mark
“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” – Minor White
“You might be a photographer if you won’t even share a cell phone picture without editing it.” – Unkown
“Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget.” – Robin Williams
“It was only after a while, after photographing mines and clear-cutting of forests in Maine, that I realized I was looking at the components of photography itself. Photography uses paper made from trees, water, metals, and chemistry. In a way, I was looking at all these things that feed into photography.” – David Maisel
“Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” – Piercy W Harris
“For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn’t the art of photography but I don’t agree.” – Annie Lennox
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” – Unknown
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” – Abraham Lincoln
“A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams
“Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell
“Warning: I am about to snap!”- Unknown
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” – Edward Steichen
“When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.” – Patrick Demarchelier
When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.
In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.
I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.
A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.
I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.
Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.
Anyone who develops an intense passion for landscape photography is likely to ponder its potential as a career choice. These thoughts may pass quickly for people who have ample time and money to satisfy their photography cravings. Others will feel a nagging desire to make an expensive, time-consuming hobby pay for itself and will at least dabble in options for producing some side income from it. For a smaller percentage of enthusiasts, however, photographing nature develops into something much deeper than a part-time interest; it becomes a calling, a lifestyle, and a basis for self-identity. A person in the latter situation is likely to give some serious consideration to the idea of making landscape photography their full-time profession. If the siren song of life as a landscape photographer is luring you into deeper waters, then the following realities of the profession may help you to decide whether or not to heed the call.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll
As often as people jokingly refer to prominent landscape photographers as “rock stars”, the reality is rather sobering. Most professional landscape photographers are self-employed, and like proprietors of any other small businesses, we tend to devote most of our time to our work. Having a strong work ethic and a high tolerance for austerity are crucial to building and sustaining a business, especially in the early years.
Of course it helps that some of this work is a labor of love, but much of it is quite mundane. Depending on the business model that you follow, tedious paperwork may be necessary for insurance purposes, for permits, for exhibition space, for all sorts of contracts, or for certifications, just to name a few of the more common necessities. In the United States, having to establish your business as an LLC or S-Corp means an extra level of complication at tax time each year, and the annual bookkeeping is no party either. Besides the demands of business compliance, a whole plethora of routine tasks requires attention on a regular basis. Email correspondence is particularly never-ending. I have heard more than a few professional landscape photographers refer to themselves as “professional emailers” because keeping up with email and various types of electronic messages is such an ongoing commitment. Similarly, the maintenance of social media accounts can be a career in itself, and website development and maintenance is another area of activity that can easily consume many precious hours.
And what happens after you do get to enjoy some quality time in the field? The actual photography also creates more work down the line. Developing, cataloguing, backing up files, and keywording all have the potential to draw you into a black hole of busy work. Being out in the field regularly also means using your camera gear more often, and heavy professional use tends to necessitate frequent maintenance of that gear and of the peripheral equipment and vehicles associated with outdoor activities.
Indeed, the life of a professional landscape photographer is not nearly as glamorous as the most obvious features of the occupation might suggest. A large array of responsibilities are involved that can cause the profession to feel a lot like a traditional desk job at times. Nonetheless, the actual photography is enjoyable enough to make it all worthwhile for the right kind of person. It is an incredible feeling to stand behind a tripod in a majestic location and to have the thought occur that “This is my job!”
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Travel is another facet of the career that many aspiring professionals may underestimate and misunderstand. A rare subset of full-time landscape photographers are able to restrict their activities to local areas, but most spend a significant amount of time traveling far and wide. My own travels take me away from home for about 300 days each year, an amount that is probably well above average but that is not highly unusual. Contrary to common assumptions, this travel is not entirely dedicated to creating new photographs for my portfolio. I travel to teach, to give talks, to meet with partners, sponsors, or other business owners, and to attend conferences and expos, among other purposes. Purely personal travel aimed at pursuing my art is something that I crave as much now as I did before I went full-time with my photography. If you think that a career in landscape photography will give you more opportunities to travel freely, then you could be right, but those opportunities may still be fewer than what you would like. I know many amateurs and part-time professionals who are able to devote more time to personal travel than is the case for most full-time landscape photographers.
Regardless of why a photographer might end up traveling, a lot of time away from home complicates many aspects of daily life, especially those involving communication. These complications include being without phone or data signals, dealing with time zone differences, and not receiving mail or packages easily. It can be very difficult to reply to messages, to return calls, or to keep in touch with friends and family. If you are not able to travel with the people who are closest to you, then you may have to accept that communication with them is likely to be very limited.
Of course frequent travel does have its benefits. Life on the move tends to be exciting, especially for anyone who enjoys a frequent change of scenery and is invigorated by cultural variety and by meeting interesting people. If you ‘travel well’ and can tolerate a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience, then life on the move can be a wonderful existence. Even if it is often exhausting, a life full of travel is a life full of living.
Anyone who takes a keen interest in nature photography probably enjoys being outdoors, but working professionally can require an especially intense level of outdoor activity. For example, on a recent run of five workshops in the desert, I spent 28 nights sleeping in a tent over a six-week period, and the quality of sleep was often quite poor due to extreme temperatures and high winds. While teaching workshops in the mountains I do a lot of hiking and backpacking, so much that I have permanent marks on my hips from the waist belts on my backpacks. My knees have seen happier days, and one of my ankles frequently reminds me of the time that I broke it when I fell into a snowy terrain trap. Frequent exposure to the sun and to the elements means dealing with a whole variety of skin issues, from dry skin to sunspots and the related risk of skin cancer. Alas, spending a large amount of time outdoors does come with some consequences, any one of which could be particularly serious for a person with relevant health issues.
On the other hand, a life lived outdoors also brings some substantial health benefits. It is a great feeling to be very physically fit due to continual outdoor activity, and breathing fresh air on a regular basis is an additional boon to overall good health. Even frequent exposure to sunlight has its advantages, causing positive psychological effects that can improve a person’s mental health quite noticeably.
Shooting Wide Open
If you are the type of person who prefers to maintain a low profile, then a career as a landscape photographer will present some special challenges. As an artist in any medium, your name is inextricably linked to your business, meaning that anonymity will tend to hinder your success. The more willing you are to ‘put yourself out there’, the easier it will be for you to sustain yourself with your art. This openness may mean agreeing to do interviews, to do some public speaking, to network with industry professionals, to cooperate with brands, to make appearances at gallery openings and art shows, to write a blog, to correspond with fans, or to be engaged on social media. If you can embrace the idea of being open to the photography world and its appreciators, then life as a professional will be easier for you.
Balancing creative interests with the need to survive is the classic dilemma of the professional artist. No matter how you bring in your photography income, you will always reach a point where you know that some amount of creative compromise could have the potential to improve your financial results. Even if you maintain the highest level of integrity in privileging your own creative interests, you may still feel uneasy about it, especially if other people depend upon your income to some extent. Moreover, you will sometimes encounter the not uncommon notion that professional artists are ‘in it for the money’ or are otherwise ignoble, an idea rooted in antiquity, when the art forms with the highest status were those that required the least amount of labor. Having the ability to tune out such distractions is essential to staying focused on your art and to enjoying a career as a landscape photographer.
While there will always be exceptions that prove the rule, in general, a hardworking landscape photographer can expect to make a middle-class income. Many aspiring professionals wonder how to achieve even that level of sustenance, and the best advice that I can offer is to evaluate the full range of options for putting a strong photography portfolio to work for you. The classic idea of photos as commodities that can sell as prints or as licensed images is only one possibility. A compelling body of work can also attract other photographers who would like to learn from you, so photography education can be a good option for anyone who has the inclination and aptitude for teaching the techniques, craft, history, and ideas that can help other photographers to advance their art. Other options include writing books, writing for magazines, creating videos, monetizing social media accounts, or accepting support from sponsors. If you can create a special body of work, then you can probably find a way to make it bring in a reasonable annual income, provided that you are willing to put in the effort and to make the necessary sacrifices that might affect your lifestyle.
Despite the many drawbacks that I’ve mentioned above, I awake each morning excited to get out of bed (or out of my sleeping bag) and get to work. A lot of what is required can be onerous at times, but it nonetheless results in a special feeling of satisfaction that my efforts are all supporting my art and my greatest ambitions. Just as rewarding is the great pleasure that comes from teaching and sharing my passion with people who are so happy to indulge in it themselves. It is truly wonderful to see the light that seems to switch on inside of a person when they learn something new, when inspiration sets a fire within them, and when saying goodbye, they offer a hand or a hug and their eyes sparkle with sincere gratitude or camaraderie. It is a great privilege to meet so many interesting and inspiring people each year and to feel as though we are jointly contributing in some way to one of humankind’s greatest collaborative projects, the ongoing exchange of ideas that is art.
Of course most of these rewards can come without any amount of professional activity, but a life dedicated to their realization is likely to bring them more often and at higher levels. If you feel fueled by such motivations and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, then life as a professional landscape photographer may be the right path for you.
Which features of the profession do you see as the most challenging or rewarding? Do you have any questions about professional landscape photography that I haven’t addressed in this article? Please feel free to comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.