How Not to Hate the Current State of Landscape Photography

Today, the landscape photographer’s Internet can be a difficult place to spend time. It is plastered with eye-catching, ridiculously-saturated, lazily-composed, and sometimes dishonestly-falsified imagery that receives an insane quantity of likes, comments, favorites, pluses, or whatever else exists on the growing number of social media outlets these images appear in. It almost defies logic how viewers all across the globe just can’t seem to get enough of what you or I may consider to be a very poor photograph.

As expected, in a relatively insular community such as landscape photography, any significant change is going to meet its share of criticism. Plenty of photographers write about their experiences playing the blame game–pointing their fingers at who or what they identify as the cause for this perceived evil, and plenty of others write about how desperately we must resist this change. While I don’t disagree with certain parts of these viewpoints, I can say that they are not terribly constructive, and that I am so, so, SO tired of reading, writing, and hearing them. Images will not stop becoming more saturated and contrasted than they used to be, new post-processing techniques will continue to be taken even further, and the Internet will be sure to deliver the bottom of the crop to our screens whenever we ask it to. These changes aren’t going anywhere, and I don’t think it is a very good idea to remain in denial of, or be angry about them.

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Mt. Jefferson, Oregon, USA. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/15 sec @ f/16, ISO 100.

For those of you who wish to progress as photographers, but find yourselves stuck in a rut, wanting to off yourself each time you view 500px, or feeling discouraged because a thousand other photographers receive more praise than you do, don’t worry! You’re not alone. I, and many others, have been there too, and I am not afraid to admit it. It is all too easy to let our own negative feelings towards these changes get in the way of what is both a great privilege and an incredibly rewarding way to spend our time. I think that we have a lot to gain by admitting that some of these recent changes are not totally evil, and that we can all learn to use them to our advantage.

If you have been wishing for the state of landscape photography to return to a way it once was, then I have bad news for you–it’s not going to happen. However, if you wish to move forward out of your comfort zone, but have been reluctant to do so, here is a short list of ideas that I hope may help you feel a little bit less grumpy:

1. Spend less time on social media.

It is as easy as this: if you are bothered by the images you see receiving praise on sites such as 500px, Google+, or Facebook–simply don’t look as often. It is important to remember that although outside affirmation feels great, at the end of the day, it is not as important as having your own confidence in your work. An interaction that requires less than five seconds of a viewer’s time is hardly worth putting any stock into. Social media is an incredible tool for us to share our images with the rest of the world, but if you can recognize that it may be holding you back in ways, maybe it is time to re-assess your relationship with it.

2. Avoid uniformity.

Strong use of saturation and contrast has been unfairly villainized. That is not your true enemy–uniformity is. Deep rich tones and vibrant colors can all work wonders for nature photographs when used appropriately. With the power to do this to our images comes a great responsibility, though. Without being careful, it is all too easy to create a large body of images that all look the same, because they were processed with the same few tools, and with the same few goals in mind. This is a poor way to use a vast world of tools, and it is a terrible trap to fall into. If you remain cognizant of it, you will be able to keep yourself in the clear.

3. Composition is still everything.

We have all seen a thousand lazily-composed and sloppily-shot images that were processed and pushed far beyond the realm of what we each consider acceptable. Sometimes, these shots get absurd amounts of attention on the Internet, and maybe we even catch ourselves feeling envious of the photographers who gave birth to these horrors. It is easy to forget that at the end of the day, the joke is on them. If you have to ask why, you need to look harder. No amount of post-processing can transform a poorly-composed image into something worthwhile.

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Harmony, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, Photodiox Polarizer. 5 sec @ f/18, ISO 100.

4. Learn to recognize good light when you see it.

Photographers seem to have all sorts of definitions for what they perceive to be “good light.” For some, it may be something as simple as nicely-diffused soft light, or warm low-angle sunlight, and for others, it may have exclusively to do with strong, saturated sunrise or sunset light. These two extremes, and just about everything in between them, all count for me as “good light.” If you never question your own definition, it is far too easy to pigeon-hole yourself, wanting to photograph only the most brilliant of sunsets, and feeling uninspired to pick up your camera any other time.

5. Do not lie, cheat, or steal.

I understand that where somebody may draw the line between influence and plagiarism is a matter of his or her own opinion, but I feel like this one is pretty easy to understand. If you feel like you might be doing one of these things, you are most likely correct. Now, stop that. If you don’t, you will regret it when you realize what you’ve been missing out on.

6. Worry about yourself.

At the end of the day, why care what anybody else does with their photographs and time? Whether an image receive boatloads of praise online or not, if you don’t like something that you see, simply don’t do it yourself. Whining to ourselves and to others about what we don’t approve of isn’t going to help anything. Imagine what you stand to gain by focusing that energy on how to take your own art further. There is no need to feel pressure to photograph a certain way, nor is there a need to bow to it. Why let that cheapen such a wonderful thing as landscape photography?

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The Wizard’s Hat, Bandon, Oregon, USA. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 2.5 sec @ f/13, ISO 200.


About Alex Mody (6 Posts)

An emerging talent in nature photography, Alex Mody—winner of the Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice International 2009 Youth Photographer of the Year Award—specializes in landscape photography. Alex, based in Olympia, Washington, is a full-time college student and professional photographer. His nature images have been featured in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Nature’s Best Photography Magazine, Elan Magazine, N-Photo Magazine, as well as on a number of websites including Discovery Channel.com and NatureScapes.net. Additionally, Alex offers both private and full-group workshops near his home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.


41 Comments

  • […] Today, the landscape photographer’s Internet can be a difficult place to spend time. It is plastered with eye-catching, ridiculously-saturated, lazily-composed, and sometimes dishonestly-falsified imagery that receives an insane quantity of likes, comments, favorites, pluses, or whatever else exists on the growing number of social media outlets these images appear in. It almost defies logic how viewers all across the globe just can’t seem to get enough of what you or I may consider to be a very poor photograph. – MORE… […]

  • Really good (and funny) article, Alex! (Does that count as praise via internet?) One of the best pieces of advice a “photography mentor” once told me is that there is a very fine line between the right amount of editing and too much editing with saturation, vibrance, contrast, etc. If the photographs are not constructed well when you take the photograph, don’t try to make it work during editing. Thanks for a fresh breath of honesty!

    • Thanks, David. I appreciate your kindness! I don’t have anything against praise via the Internet – I just feel like the impersonal, often insincere praise is dangerous to invest ourselves in. Your mentor was right, I think. My mentors have certainly helped me get to this way of thinking, as well. Glad you enjoyed reading the article!

  • Great blog! It puts the reason of why most of us…especially we amateurs…into perspective. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

  • Sorry. I hit the send button too soon. What I meant to say was, “It puts the reason of why most of us…especially we amateurs…make the photos we do, into perspective.”

  • This is probably one of the better photography articles I’ve read in a while. I’ve been in a rut for a few months and was experiencing a lot of what you covered. I’m just now coming out the other side with an idgaf attitude about what the internet thinks and more confidence in my own work and vision. I’m definitely sharing this one in my photographer circles.

    Great images, btw.

    • Thanks, David. Idgaf or bust! I’m glad you’ve turned the corner on this one, as well. It’s a tough situation to steer through, and I fear that many photographers will be stuck there for a very long time.

  • Excellent post! 100%t true. Thank you! I needed that!

  • Well Done….

  • Hey Alex. I’m a big fan of your work, man, actually, of everyone at Dreamscapes. I was going to reply here, but it was getting much too lengthy. So, I’ll do a blog post on this very timely subject.

    But, ultimately, I only have one critic and one competitor: myself. All that I have to do, in the midst of the mind numbing number of photographers (many quite good) going to the same locations, at the same time, to get basically the same shots, is to keep striving to get better at what I do.

    • Thanks for the compliments, Tony! I have owned a few of your books for many years, since before I even had a DSLR. It seems like you’ve understood this issue for quite a while, and have been producing great work that is distinctly yours for many years. Thanks for weighing in, and I look forward to reading your blog post as well.

  • Thanks for the great advice! Love the don’t worry one ;) So true and no need to spread unneeded grief over others pics either…

  • Sarah Marino

    Hi Alex – I have been looking forward tot his since you mentioned to Ron that you were writing something on this topic. Overall, an excellent post with sound advice.

    • Thanks, Sarah! My original writings made it seem like I hate myself, so I tried to take a slightly more tasteful approach. Thanks for commenting. I miss you two!

  • Well said, Modogg! At the end of the day, don’t give a shi!t about what anyone else is doing.

    • Thanks, Crip-Walk! I agree – we really need to be selective about where to give a sh*t, and where not to.

  • I enjoyed your viewpoint Alex. Well written as well. I often scratch my head and wonder if I am missing something. I have stayed a bit traditional and shoot large format film. I see the volume of work being done, along with what I perceive as the “over doneness”, and become judgmental, along with doubting myself. I can’t say that what others do is wrong, but I certainly don’t care for computer generated work that looks like everything else. I appreciate your take and how well you express it here.
    Nice work!
    Jon Paul

    • Thanks, Jon. That self-destructive judgment and doubt that we all feel sometimes can be an artists worst enemy. Thanks for commenting!

  • Ron Coscorrosa

    Alex,

    Great post (and as always, stunning images).

    With the advent of digital the line between digital art and photography has become very blurred. I believe both producers and consumers of photography are still getting used to the creative freedom that digital photography offers, it’s still a relatively new platform and there are some evident growing pains. I think there are many who do things because they can, not because they should. As you said, with great power comes the responsibility to use discretion and have taste. I am all for innovation and new techniques, but they should always take a backseat to the image.

    I couldn’t agree more about avoiding uniformity and embracing all types of light, and moving beyond pretty sunsets, but the most important point is to photograph for yourself and not try and please the masses (who often have poor taste anyway).

    • Good to hear from ya, Ron. I thought about writing a detailed response to this, but I quickly realized that I have nothing of substance to add. I agree with 100% of these words and appreciate you taking the time to weigh in. I wouldn’t be out of this rut myself if not for some of the things you’ve written on your own blog, and I truly appreciate that.

      Like I just commented to Sarah, I miss you two!

  • Thanks for providing some perspective on this, Alex. It can be difficult to not be bombarded with the same images over and over anytime we go online but it’s on us to do a better job at filtering out the noise if that’s the case.

  • Whenever I see pieces like this I agree with them wholeheartedly and have experienced many of the same feeling and doubts as the author. This is quickly followed by the gnawing sensation of doubt. I cant help wondering if the author would think I am actually part of the problem!

    Not being somebody with a degree in photography who has been shooting landscapes since the days of film I am constantly doubting myself and wondering if I fit into the “just another talentless idiot with an bag full of expensive gear pretending to be a real photographer” category of photographers.

    Obviously if landscape photography prints sold a lot better and we were all swimming in cash then the feelings of paranoia wouldn’t quite have the same sting.

    Not entirely sure why I am confessing this hear… perhaps its after reading such an honest piece I feel the need to be likewise honest?

    • Hey Mark,

      First of all, thanks for the kind words! I am glad to hear that you understand where this is coming from, and that you can see through it. But, honestly, I don’t think you’re being fair with yourself. Even if you are a “talentless idiot” to others, who cares? If you enjoy photographing, and continue to strive for improvement, then you are as real of a photographer as there is. You wouldn’t have that bag of expensive gear if you didn’t love to use what is inside of it, and I think you’d be selling yourself short not to keep trying. Most of us pros don’t sell too many prints these days, anyhow!

  • Great article, Alex. One of my favorite photographers, who participates in one of the most well known sharing platforms, and does some of the best landscape photography I’ve ever seen, said that you can’t let the number of likes, views, or comments be the sole measure of the quality of one of your photos. I think that’s sage advice for everyone.

  • Hey Alex,

    Long time no speak! Hope you’re doing well (and from what I’ve seen from your online presence, it seems like you are!).

    Thanks so much for this extremely thoughtful – and accurate, I believe – article. This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately, and frankly it’s been wearing me down a little. As I’ve been working to improve my photography – and share it with others – I’ve been stumbling (very clumsily, I might add) into some of these realizations myself. But it really does help my self esteem to hear it articulated in such a lucid way from someone as talented and experienced as yourself.

    As you and others here have eluded to or said flat out, social media is just a tool for sharing your work and being exposed to others’. It’s a big mistake to put much weight on the feedback you get from social media (or lack thereof), and while being exposed to other peoples’ work is a good educational tool, it’s important not to overdo it (I see it as a type of sensory overload). By backing off of sites like 500px a bit, I’ve been able to reduce my photo envy/frustration (but there’s still much more room for improvement in that area!), and this is actually allowing me to enjoy my own work more.

    Thanks again for this very uplifting article, especially on a Fri. afternoon! Take care, man.

    • Hey Josh, thanks for stopping by and commenting – it’s nice to hear from you! I am doing pretty well, and hope that you are too. I appreciate your kindness and am very glad that you’re figuring out your own way to contend with all of this as well.

  • Hi Alex – Your words just resonate in my mind . So very true, in my opinion. I’m just a hack trying to make myself a better photag – no one special. But I agree with you. We see this stuff (that you talk about) every day and I wonder how many hours did this person spend to turn what it was NOT into something that can fool others…and worse yet, it fools him. Your Bandon image, to me, is just stupendous and it also, in my mind, is a perfect example of a shot that a lot of people would over process.Yours is s what you saw and I l love it.OK I have taken wayyy to much time so I will get back to learning how to turn on the new D800 that this old geezer got for Christmas! :-) Love your work AND your words, man. Thank you, Alex! Denny Jump I

  • Great article and our frustrations very well articulated. Ansell Adams said: “Great photographs are made, not taken”. I the darkroom age that was true, probably mostly in the B&W days, but in the digital age that is more true than ever. I feel that it is almost our responsibility to remember what a scene looked like and then reproduce it in Photoshop. My camera’s Raw image doesn’t give me a lot of guidance. I shoot Raw and JPEG
    combined and the JPEG will show the saturation the camera was set at at the time of the shoot. That is my rough guide for how the processed image should look on my calibrated monitor. Let’s not forget that many people who post images do not necessarily have access to good monitors. My general frustration is that the average social media consumer ends up, like a psychotic individual, to be unable to distinguish reality from Photoshop Fantasia. It numbs their visual senses and renders them unable to appreciate realistic beauty. If the better photographers give up on presenting reality the future would be bleak. So let’s not quit and throw in the towel.

  • Great words of words of wisdom Alex.This is one of the best posts I’ve read in awhile and worth sharing. Keep up the great work!

  • While your advise above is very worth while, I do find your opening two paragraphs very offensive and very egotistical. While fine art landscapes is what some people aspire to shoot, it is not the goal of everyone that has a camera. For you to assume that every landscape you see on the net must look like it was shot by Marc Adamu, Art Wolfe, Patrick Di Fruscia, Dewitt Wiggett or yourself doesn’t give the wide range of enjoyment that people obtain from photographs and want to share with others.

    There are all sorts of people out there taking pictures and for every reason in the book. Lets give them credit for putting an eye to a view finder or a live view screen and snapping away without a care in the word other than creating a memory. There is nothing wrong with the family album, the Instagram, the FaceBook, the Smugmug or the Google + page full of photographs that not of professional grade but are a simple pic of a place, thing or person enjoyed. And what if they take this pic and what to process it, pump up the contrast, HDR it, jack up the structure. Does that mean that it is a poor photograph, I submit that it does not. It just isn’t how a fine art photo would look. The fun thing about photography is that is is a medium that you can take pictures any way you want.
    So put the high horse in the barn and when you are out browsing, go by the photos that aren’t what you are looking for, until a gem catches your eye and you go WOW!
    Just on man’s opinion.

    • Ian Plant

      Thanks for your comment Lou, but I strongly discourage anyone who comments here from using language that could be construed as a personal or insulting statement directed towards the authors or other commenters on this blog. For example, you can disagree with the author without calling him egotistical. I try very hard to keep this blog free of the flame wars found on other sites, so please let’s keep things 100% polite, civil, friendly, and respectful. Thanks!

  • Nice post Alex, and it’s nice to see a very good young photographer plying the PNW! I have to disagree somewhat with your 1st paragraph. I see a lot of good in work put up on sites like 500 px. But then I try not to focus on the mistakes in a photo only the strong points. Of course there are photographers who haven’t yet learned when to say when on sliders, but they will I’m sure. In fact, I have seen a backing off of praise for saturated/contrasty images. I think the fad has peaked and is on the way down.

    One thing I will add is that this sort of advice is best given to photographers just starting out who have not gone onto the social media sites looking at images. Granted it’s the way I started (and we all know about that bias), but I think it’s extremely useful to develop your style by doing not looking (at the work of others). There will be time for that later, and one should try to start off with the work of very accomplished photographers past and present.

    Especially great advice you gave was to strive for diversity in your portfolio. I think this is key. Also I’ll go beyond the point you made about not paying attention to the “love” or “criticism” you get on social media sites. It amazes me how caught up people get with votes, likes, etc. For me social media is first and foremost a way to connect with others. And if you think connecting with others is competing with them, making life a continuing contest, then have at it! But for most connecting is much simpler – it’s making friends.

  • […] For various reasons I wasn’t going to blog about the best trip I’ve had. Ever. I changed my mind after reading an inspiring article, so please bear with me as I try to make some sense of a glorious time road tripping through some of the most staggering landscapes and beautiful coastlines I’ve experienced, while at the same time feeling at my lowest ebb as a previously passionate landscape photographer. The article was by Alex Mody and is over here,  ‘How not to hate the current state of landscape photography.’ […]

  • Good post. I know where you are coming from. When browsing though pictures on Flickr, I often find myself wondering why people are commenting so favorably on some unworthy photo (and not on mine!). I am learning to do as you suggest – just worry about my own stuff.

  • A well written article and I can certainly identify with how you feel about social media. I often wondered why people with poor photographs get so much likeable comments but now I realize that it is not important. What’s more important is enjoying one’s self and recognizing that the photographs you take is only important to me.

  • Great read. It was very pleasing to see “spend less time on social media” in the #1 spot. Not sure if its placement there was intentional or not. The truth is that the more #1 happens, the more #6 is likely to happen. When #6 happens more, then that leads to a decrease in #5. Less #5 leads to less #2. (Did that all make sense??)

    Despite the numbers game above, there is no getting around #3 and #4 as being the most important. If one doesn’t learn to see good light and learn to create strong compositions, then they will have to entirely rely upon luck to create good images.

  • Good article Alex. Well stated. I would add an additional point that the best images come from the place photographer’s know the best and that’s just outside their own doors and down the street. So many amateur nature and landscape photographers chase locations versus learning the light, and to learn it best is to appreciate what’s available in your own home state or location. Honestly that’s where a lot of the “social media envy” comes from – this “must be nice to be able to go there” mentality. Appreciate what is available to you every day and communicate that passion through an awareness of light and spirit of that place each of us calls home.

  • Great post Alex!

    The “problem” is when I made “ridiculously-saturated, lazily-composed” photos myself few years ago not so many people liked them so was disappointed. Now I make my photos less saturated and try to think more about composition and light and now I have even less likes but treat it as a good sign ;-)

  • Hey Alex, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Hate it or not, but all those likes, social media, 500px and other stuff – this is really the only way to measure your success as a landscape photographer nowadays. With cameras being so accessible lot’s of new people start in photography, and many prefer to go with landscapes. Competition is very high, be it an oversaturated high contrast sunset shot or a subtle and gentle well-composed foggy tree shot. And when you push to the limits, trying to grow as photographer and make better imagery, when you spend money and effort reaching different locations – it’s sad when all you get is a praise from a family member and a personal feeling that you ‘did a good thing’.

    If you aren’t a well exposed and popular photographer – social media is the only place to get noticed, even if most of likes wouldn’t be as sincere as you would want them to.

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