Landscape photography is hardly of any benefit to society, nature, or the world in general. For most people, the commercial value is quite low as well. So why would you do it?
In the past few months, I found myself shooting more and more landscapes. Funnily enough, the purpose of my photographs has been questioned quite a lot, recently. After all, landscapes don’t really document my journey and they don’t tell a story about my mood. Yes, they are beautiful in some way. But are they any good?
The Ugly Truth
Let’s face the truth: If you’re one of the few lucky people who make money from landscape photography, your photographs are probably not the main source of income. Either you tour people around Iceland, Mongolia, Faroe Islands, or Patagonia or you are a YouTuber taking people out on an adventure. In both ways, you don’t earn money with your photographs but with your teaching or entertainment. Maybe, you even write articles on Fstoppers – like me – and your photographs only complement written text.
Landscape photography is one of the areas of photography, where it’s really hard to make money. The web is already full of first-class stock images of almost any place on earth. Only if you’re really good and you’ve got a great photo agency or a foot in the door of a magazine editor's office, you might even get an assignment every now and then. What a dream! But that hardly ever becomes true for most of us.
Is It All About the Beauty?
Of course, these thoughts only consider the commercial value of a photograph, but you can’t always convert aesthetic value into money. Landscape photographs show the beauty of our planet, after all. That’s true, but when did your friends and family really take a closer look at your photographs? One that takes longer than a double-tap on your smartphone screen? When was the last time you printed your photographs and hung them into a gallery, where hundreds of interested people spend an hour or more to look at your beautiful creations?
And if your photographs were liked by others, did they have any further purpose? Other than making people jealous and maybe book a trip to the same location only to find out that it’s not as beautiful as it was in your pictures because they didn’t get up at five in the morning?
Landscape Photography Is For Yourself
Okay, let’s stop the cynicism here and face another truth: Every day, hundreds of thousands of landscape photographers still got out to shoot at locations, which we have seen from all possible angles in any possible weather. Others shoot meaningless subjects like trees on a field, only because there is some beautiful light. What is the sense of that photograph?
Landscape photography makes photographers happy – it’s as simple as that. In portrait or commercial photography, you’ve got a customer and it’s your job to make them happy. They want a photo and you have to deliver. It can be fun — and usually is — but it's all about the product. You can also cooperate with artists in a non-commercial project and work a little bit more for yourself — or deliver a message at least.
Landscape photography is simpler — mother nature is your client, but she won’t tell you what she likes or dislikes. Your own taste is all that counts, and you don’t have to cooperate with anyone if you don’t want to. In this way, landscape photography takes photography to a very simple level: Look for locations and then work with them the way you want.
It’s Not Only About the Photograph
The photograph itself is just one outcome of landscape photography, but far more important is everything that happens around it. It’s as simple as your fortune cookie will tell you: The journey is the reward. Landscape photography to me is making memories. Tales about what I did, where I went, and also a tribute to our beautiful nature. It’s not important if other people will “consume” my photographs, even though it’s great to see that some show interest and are impressed with what is out there.
Let’s talk about envy, here: Even though I think many landscape photographs (especially those with people waving their hands in the air just like that waterfall was a rock star) are only meant to arouse envy amongst the viewers, they fulfill a purpose. A big audience starts to think about the beauty of nature (or its edited representation) and becomes conscious of the fragility of our planet. Although it rarely initiates changes in the consumption behavior of people, it’s a first step towards understanding our planet and learning to love it. The dark side of it: More and more people travel to the famous photography hotspots, causing a lot of emissions and also take away the natural spirit of the places. It starts with a parking lot and ends with a fence and entry fees.
Landscape Photography Is the Definition of 'Me Time'
Self-care has become quite important. Not only during the last year but also because of our fast life in general. Burnout and stress-related diseases have become more present than ever. Landscape photography has the purpose to take you out of the hectic everyday life and learn to enjoy nature like you never did before.
Before I dove deeper into landscape photography, I would have never thought about getting up before sunrise if I didn’t have to for some work or study reasons. I would have never thought to stop wherever I was driving or walking just to embrace the evening sky or impressive cloud formations. Landscape photography literally has taught me to see our world with different eyes. I start looking for details in the beautiful light even if I don’t carry a camera with me.
Landscape Photography and Landscape Gazing
Having taken more and more photographs of breath-taking sunsets, stars at night, or the first light of the day, I learned to enjoy the mere presence of beauty in nature. In the beginning, it freaked me out whenever I didn’t carry a camera, but I learned to accept that it’s not about the photograph but my own experience. Of course, it’s nice to share that experience online, but I can also keep it for myself – and the people I’m with.
Sharing your experience and your impressions just in the moment can also be of great value for others. My girlfriend has become better than me at seeing beautiful details in nature. I’m still a landscape photographer but together, we have become a team of professional landscape gazers.
All in all, landscape photography is not about the photograph itself but about the act of photographing the world: It creates joy. It adds a little more sense to your own life.
What's your opinion about it? What keeps you getting up early and shooting landscape photographs? Do you even make money from it? I'm keen to read about your opinion in the comments.