After multiple attempts to capture sunrise or sunset and not getting the conditions I wanted, I decided I was going to take photos no matter what the conditions were, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and pushing myself to be a better photographer.
One of the hardest, if not the hardest parts about landscape photography isn't the editing, the gear, or technique to take photos. The hardest part is simply waking up early or staying out to be there when that beautiful golden light hits the scene of where you are. Recently, I've been pushing myself to drive into the mountains and try to capture exactly that, yet every time I do, the conditions are absolutely horrendous or the sun just never shows up. Trying my best not to feel defeated and giving up, on my most recent trip, I told myself I was taking photos no matter what the conditions were, and there was a valuable lesson learned through the journey.
Take More Photos
One thing many of us do when we just start photography is to shoot everything. It's one of the best ways to learn and gain experience with our equipment, different lighting conditions, and anywhere in-between. As time goes on and years pass by, I have found myself shooting less and less. This can be good and bad.
It's good to know what you want to shoot and be able to predict what will look good on camera. I remember shooting so many sub-par shots (I still shoot plenty of these) simply because I thought the scene looked beautiful in person but never quite understood why my shots didn't translate that beauty into my photos. Doing this repeatedly over the years taught me that many of the beautiful scenes I experience in my life won't turn out to be nearly as great on camera. Fewer photos also meant I didn't have nearly as many photos to sort through and could focus on very specific shots, eventually reaching a point where I try to approach every scene as if I'm shooting on film with a limited number of exposures.
The bad part about shooting this way is less exploration and more hesitation to try something new. You start to only take the photos you know will work rather than trying to capture scenes in a different light. You get set in a routine without branching out and trying new approaches, which restricts your ability to progress. Of course, you can still improve on specifically what you want to shoot, but you'll back yourself into a creative corner where you can start to feel trapped.
I think I'm personally trying to find a balance between knowing when to take photos and pushing myself to try something new. This past month of repeatedly traveling to the mountains and never even taking my camera out pushed me to just shoot anyway, and I think the results were quite positive.
As photographers, there is no ceiling of skill, and we can always improve our craft no matter what point we are at in our photography journey. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to try new things can not only potentially show you new skills or ideas but can also reinvigorate your motivation to go out and shoot.
In my video, I push myself to try to shoot in conditions I wouldn't normally shoot in, regardless of the outcome, reminding myself there is something to learn in every single photograph we take. Instead of focusing on how great the photo might turn out, I focused on what I could learn by shooting in conditions I typically would never take my camera out in. The above shot was taken at f/2.8, which is a rarity in my landscape photos. I typically even teach others not to worry too much about the aperture rating on their lenses, because the majority of the photos you take will be f/8 or above. While that still holds, I found myself using a shallow depth of field to help separate the hollow tree with the aspens I had purposely lined up in the frame. Even though this wasn't a groundbreaking technique by any means, it helped dust off a few tools I hadn't used in a while.
So, what else did I learn? I came up with quite a few ideas for a future video on shooting in the snow. I was reminded that sometimes, a technically flawed photo with better light is probably going to be better than a more technical photo with dull light. I found compositions, locations, and subjects for the future. I could continue, but the biggest takeaway here is that learning is simply willing to admit you know nothing and being open-minded to what is presented to you.
Photography has always been an escape for me to the point where it can be therapeutic. This is typically how I answer a question I get from other photographers: "Why did you choose landscape photography?" I know many of you reading this could be focusing on completely different genres of photography whether it's as a hobby or potentially a source of income. Regardless of why you are shooting, at some point in your journey, whether it was five years ago or today, you were likely using photography to make your day just a little bit better, finding happiness in your results, or enjoying the inspiration photography has brought into your life.
Wherever you are in photography, try to find that enjoyment. As I take photography more and more seriously to the point of turning it into a career, I have lost that therapeutic feeling I used to get when I go out and shoot. It still happens sometimes, but not nearly as much. Every trip into the mountains that resulted in no photos left me feeling like I failed rather than feeling renewed. It wasn't until I just forced myself to shoot photos I wouldn't normally take that it reminded me of why I started all of this in the first place. Even though I didn't take a single shot I'd put in my portfolio, I found myself simply enjoying the adventure and putting less emphasis on the results.
Just go shoot more photos.