Landscape photography can become frustrating if you get too focused on results and constantly compare yourself to other photographers. While browsing the web and visiting social media sites, you see countless photos of spectacular sunrises and sunsets. But getting truly awesome conditions is rare, even for those who are pros at planning. Let me share what the reality looks like.
If you look at my homepage, you see a portfolio of fairly decent landscape and cityscape photos, many of which were taken with a colorful sky as a backdrop. But the images I share online are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the time, I work with less-than-ideal conditions, and the resulting photos are mediocre. Usually, nobody will ever see those, and that's a common thing in the photography community: we only show our very best images.
A photo like the following will never see the light of day. It was the best I could come up with when photographing Mount Bromo in Indonesia a few weeks ago. Granted, the time of my visit was not ideal, with the rainy season approaching. But unless you have unlimited financial resources, you must make compromises from time to time while traveling. If you do a quick Google search for "Mount Bromo," you'll understand why I'm disappointed with this photo.
Landscape Photography Statistics
While I always hope for conditions like the ones I had while taking the title photo of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, what I had to deal with in Indonesia is much more common. Let me share some statistics.
During the last 13 months, I traveled for 284 days as part of a sabbatical. I visited many spectacular places in eight different countries, spending a few months in Costa Rica, exploring South East Asia, and visiting some beautiful European countries. Although it wasn't possible to take photos every day, I can safely say that the number of photoshoots at sunrise and sunset combined lies above 300.
While the shutter count of my camera went up by 15,000, I'd say that I took around 1,000 different photos. That's because I typically have the camera on a tripod and take between 10 and 50 shots for focus stacking, exposure blending, or time blending. Of those 1,000 photos, between 100 and 150 will make it onto my homepage.
You could now say that getting one portfolio photo for nearly every second photoshoot isn't too bad. I'm ok with that. But you must also know that those portfolio photos do not all look like this one.The light during this sunrise on Madeira was something special and the best I got during the past 13 months. But how often did I get to experience something in this ballpark? I went through all the photos I took and counted 25 photoshoots with great conditions. That's less than 10%, and it doesn't only include great light. That one day of fog I got in the Fanal forest is also included, for example. I can count the photoshoots with exceptional light on one hand.
How To Stay Motivated
During my travels, there were periods of several days or even weeks without anything worth getting up for in the middle of the night. But I still did it. I went out for sunrise whenever possible and tried again at sunset. I draw a lot of the motivation for that from those rare occasions when nature puts on a show for me.But I also learned to be less focused on the results. There must be balance. Landscape photography is as much about the process as it is about the photos for me. I enjoy being out in nature. That's why it's never a wasted effort if I climb a mountain in the dark only to be greeted by a view like this. I went up the Grand Veymont again two days later and still didn't get the conditions that would have yielded a great photo. But I enjoyed my time on the trails, the relentless climb in the dark, and the tranquility up on the mountain.
Some views are for the eyes and less for the camera, and learning to take joy from those is important. There was a time when this was hard for me. In 2016, I traveled for six months. During that time, I beat myself up over the very few good photos I was taking. In South America, I sometimes felt that nature had conspired against me. I saw all those great photos of places like Machu Picchu, the Atacama, and the Andes online. But none of my photos would come even close.
A mindset that was too focused on results lead me into a creative rut. The irony was that I thought only great results would get me out of it. So, I went out again and again, hoping for special light and weather. But this was out of my control, and I was getting frustrated.
Back then, I learned the importance of taking joy from the process and seeing the photos as the icing on the cake. Why did I travel in the first place? I wanted to explore beautiful places and photograph them. Yet, even without photographing them, I could still make great memories and have a good time.
The truth about landscape photography is this: It's not easy to take great photos. You must put in the work and be out there as much as possible. Expect to be disappointed by the conditions, but don't get disheartened. Thrive in the process, enjoy your time out there, and be grateful for those rare, magic moments. And never forget how great it is to be able to experience nature and the elements, even if there's no photo to capture.