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.
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.
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?