Can’t Go to Epic Locations? Rediscovering the Passion for Local Landscape Photography

Can’t Go to Epic Locations? Rediscovering the Passion for Local Landscape Photography

If you, like I, are stuck in less than inspiring locations you might need a little push or kick to actually get out and do what you love: landscape photography.

What initially made me fall 110 percent in love with landscape photography is the common story of visiting Iceland with a camera. I have returned on several occasions and visited some of the most epic and famous landscape photography locations in both Europe and the USA since. Big epic sweeping vistas, awe-inspiring mountains, majestic waterfalls, and grand glaciers. Not to mention ticking off both Milky Way and aurora photography.

Living in Denmark, which is mainly a rural country with young forests (no old growth) or huge Red Woods, I have spent most of the past three years looking for locations outside of Denmark. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Danish nature isn’t beautiful, it very much is. It is just not photogenic in the same way the “classic” landscape photography destinations are.

A lighthouse being swallowed by a dune. One of the few "epic" and unique locations we have in Denmark.

To find something original, unique, special, photogenic, and interesting to photograph is hard if not impossible. I really have not been inspired at all. Denmark just does not have what Iceland, California, the U.K., or the Alps region of Europe have.

Or maybe I should just stop whining and actually get to work.

For the past years, I have spent so much time focusing on what Denmark does not have I have overlooked what we do have.

Denmark has many fishing boats along our coasts. At some places they're dragged onto the beach during night.

Danish nature is fairly simple. This invites not only to minimalist photography but also to intimate scenes. On top of that, since many locations isn’t “inspiring” at first glance you might have to look outside the box and actually work for your composition. Just like photographers do.

In northern Denmark we have some relatively large dunes, which makes for some minimalist photography.

A straight down drone photo of a jetty called "Infinite Bridge" located in the town of Aarhus.

A cormorant sitting still for 30 seconds on a rock in the ocean.

A Minimalist Winter Morning

During a morning last week with hoarfrost and fog, I visited a hill only a 30 minutes’ drive from where I live. While sitting in the car I came by multiple scenes and compositions, which only required a push on the bottom. The fog and frosty conditions made for many beautiful and minimalist photos.

Arriving at the location, I just had to climb the hill where many silver birches are spread out with a good amount of space in between. In this way, it is simple to isolate each tree. The fog and hoarfrost created separation to the background making the trees stand out even more. When I had my wide-angle shot, I changed to the long lens and started to pick out different compositions. The photos are simple, almost abstract, and the pastel colors calms the photo down even more.

Check out my video from the morning below.

After returning home, I was thoroughly surprised and felt inspired in a completely new way. Since then I have been out photographing Denmark even more and I might have gotten some of my favorite photos from Denmark ever. Those, however, are for another article.

Conclusion

For me there are a couple of important things to take away from an experience like this.

Firstly, start exploring your own neighborhood and pick out locations that might be interesting during certain times. Landscape photography is utterly dependent on weather conditions, even the classic epic locations are. What locations can work during fog? Which during the golden hour? Is it seasonal? Summer, winter, autumn? What makes for minimalism or which could work from a drone? When the required conditions for your previsualized photo happens, you just have to get there and push the bottom.

Secondly, most of these photos will do horrible on Instagram. They only receive one-tenth of the engagement as some of my other photos. They simply just does not work on a small medium as the phone. Even on a computer screen they can be underwhelming. These photos are not “in your face,” which Instagram for the most part require. However, because they are not “in your face” you can hang them on your wall without having a piece of wall art, which takes all the attention of the room. A piece of art, which actually calms down the room.

Are you photographing locally? How do you like it? Check out the video and let me hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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31 Comments

Tamas Nemeth's picture

I'm with you Mads, although I'm gazing the Nordsjælland region mostly (I've never been to Jylland, shame on me). It has it's challenges to find those compositions worth to take, but the accessibility of those location can help, as one can go out on the perfect weather, and take that photograph at the peak of that scene.
Going to somewhere distant will grant the access to that beautiful location, but it doesn't guarantee the perfect light.

Alex Armitage's picture

It's even worse here in northern Florida so I can completely relate. Also Mads in terms of instagram engagement, I think it's more related to your audience than it is your photos. You gained most of your followers with composites, incredible light, and beautiful "in your face" landscapes. So when you post things that are far more subtle, your audience doesn't react. Compare that with someone who has continually posted more minimalism/subtle work and it's a different story.

Chris Silvis's picture

Worse in Northern Florida? I grew up on the panhandle. What I wouldnt give for some sunrise/sunset shots of the emarld coast. Or spanish moss hanging from the trees as light breaks thru. Visiting St.Augustine and firing away at 200 year old homes. Tallahassee with its cityscape. Backroad towns, or mitary reservations with their "built up" mock towns. You gotta change your perspective buddy. Your in a gold mine and dont know it.

I've been to No. Florida, I concur with Chris Silvis and will add to Ocala National Forest to that list, beautiful country!

Alex Armitage's picture

Maybe it's a taste thing then, I've lived in Tallahassee my entire life and it certainly doesn't excite me for landscape photography. I do admit the canopy roads are beautiful but difficult. I've shot the same canopy road at least 6 times and never got a shot/light worth sharing.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

From what I can see Northern Florida looks amazing ;)

Alex Armitage's picture

Maybe it's just me then! I get bored of cypress trees

Chris Rogers's picture

I live in the midwest. Nothing but fields for eeeeeeeeeeeeeever. On the upside. Our sunsets and sunrises are absolutely stunning.

Paul Asselin's picture

Out here in the middle of Canada it is prairie as far as the eye can see. But yes, sunsets, sunrises and gathering storms can make amazing shots.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

But you have storms! :D That's something I'd like to photograph one day :)

Matthew Saville's picture

A ton of my earlier work was made just walking distance from my house. I'm actually working on a book that is jokingly titled "Stuck in Suburbia - Inspiration for the landscape photographer who can't afford a trip to Iceland or Patagonia"...

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Haha, that sounds like a very good book :)

Rayann Elzein's picture

I know the feeling! I live in the Netherlands and even worse the nearest coastline is more than 1.5 hour drive from me, so it doesn't help either. It can't be more flat and uninspiring than this! But as you say, the stuff you can do in such landscapes (as opposed to massive northern lights in snow covered Lapland) is not "instagrammable", so it doesn't get seen so much... but it's possible, with some patience and a bit of luck with the right conditions :)

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

It is quite interesting as I find the Netherlands quite beautiful. I guess you already follow Albert Dros, some of your unique things such as tulips and windmills are definitely worth shooting, but obviously over time you get a bit tired of it :P

Rayann Elzein's picture

Haha yes, of course I know the work of Albert Dros. But frankly speaking, I got bored in tulip fields the first time I visited them... But I never get bored of Auroras, even after seeing them 100 times :-))

David Pavlich's picture

Most of my life has been spent in the flatlands, midwest, Gulf South, and now the praries of Manitoba. I envy those that have elevation outside of their door. However, I did live near New Orleans and for a street photographer, it just doesn't get any better!

And the Sunsets on Lake Pontchartrain are magnificent. So there is some saving grace not having mountains and valleys to shoot.

I can relate Mads and I completely agree that shooting epic landscapes is more or less "easy mode" and shooting local is actually much harder to do. It's why I stopped watching YouTube videos on landscape photography, because they don't actually help me progress. I don't have Kirkjufell around the corner, or the Lofoten, I have to actively look for subjects, there is no list to tick off.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I think you can still learn a lot, even though you don't have Kirkjufell in your backyard. The hard part is to realize you can make better landscape photos than what you can get at the iconic locations. It's hard because you get bombed with epic locations, which are fairly easy to photograph.

If I check on photographers I follow on Instagram I can't help thinking that these guys only ever shoot in epic locations, preferably at sunrise/sunset. It's fun to watch for a while but it gets boring after some time, where's the challenge if all you have to do is to travel to the location in question and wait? The people who watch these videos are, for the most part, not in a position to travel the world at leisure, because they have a family, a job and are frowned at for buying a camera with a 4 figures price tag attached to it. I stopped watching when I realized I didn't learn anything from these videos that I didn't already know.

The last time I actually learnt something from another photographer was when I bought a post-processing tutorial (Eric Bennett, for those curious to know). Right now I'm reading a book on lighting, with 2-3 more waiting in line (one about weather and such) and if I'm not reading, I'm trying to be out there and shoot some pictures, that's worth more than any video on YouTube.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

That's quite interesting. The traditional approach to landscape photography is exactly to find your location and then just wait for the light/best possible conditions to appear, click and call it a day. That's more or less what you see from Thomas Heaton, Simon Baxtor, and Ben Horne. Nothing wrong with that at all.
On my travels, although it is "epic" locations I constantly have to adjust my expectations and deal with the weather I get. I find that to be a way bigger challenge. It helps to have a great scene in front of you, but I don't have the luxury of waiting around until the conditions better. I have to look at the scene, see what elements work and already in-field see what I can use in post-processing to pull out what I find to be "optimal" for my own taste. That's why I rely so heavily on post-processing to get what I want from a certain scene.
It's different approaches and I think they're all warranted. I find it very interesting to see other ways of doing landscape photography. The more ways you master the easier it is to get what you want ;)

I couldn't agree more. I visited the Lake District in June 2018 after having seen your video and stayed for over a week. Unfortunately, however, it hadn't rained in weeks and that didn't change during my stay either. It was frustrating to say the least. No waterfalls to shoot, the lone tree of Buttermere on the shore, no bad weather to make a dramatic picture, nothing. That was quite a challenge and the best shot I got was taken on the way to a location instead of at the location itself.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

No sunsets or sunrises either? That's a bummer... can't win each time :(

Kennet Brandt's picture

Good article Mads. Sure is probably more simple to shot on epic locations, but the downside compare to shooting localy is that they often are crowded with tourist, and that can also lower your motivation. I don´t know if youré familiar with the Swedish photographer Jonna Jinson? Otherwise check here out. She has amazing photos taken mostly in her surrondings in the northern parts of Sweden.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Kennet. Yes, I know her. And her beautiful work. She's good at the atmosphere thing :)

Nice read, Mads! True, scouting the neighbourhood is good for practising to shoot the epic locations ;-)

I live in the heavily industrialized and urbanized Rhineland in Germany. Really photogenic landscape locations are at least an hour or two away. That's what I thought. Until I discovered a local forest 300 m away form the busiest Autobahn (highway) in Germany. I found a few compositions which I really liked and I'm sure there are many more locations that haven't been discovered yet.

troy knight's picture

Great article, and very inspiring! Funny enough I can totally relate, although I'm sure I could be called the boy who cried wolf a little bit, but here is goes.... Living in Los Angeles and loving landscape photography, I can find myself in a similar rut. I am lucky to have so many places that are iconic either in the city or just a few hours away. But what can be less then motivating is knowing that the iconic or grand shots that are close enough to be there and back in a few hours, are less then original. But these types are articles help remind me to go to those spots, find minimalist shots they many have over looked, try different lenses that you wouldn't commonly use at that spot, and find original compositions. I love Andy Gibbs on youtube because he's very much so that same way, he can go to iconic places, but find the shots that most people would overlook 9/10 times. As always geek up the great articles and videos on youtube!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you very much, Troy! I can understand the problem. Having all these "over-photogrpahed" (a term I don't believe in) iconic locations nearby. But the entire Sierra Nevada is just amazing. I bet you don't need to hit Yosemite only. But even in Yosemite, I'd argue you can make something rather original. My favourite photo from my US tour is the one below. It was unplanned and pure luck, but I guess that's also part of landscape photography :P
https://fstoppers.com/photo/177985

troy knight's picture

Absolutely, and I would agree that a place like Yosemite is so dynamic that even taking the shot from tunnel view can be different almost everytime! But just like the photo you shared, remember to change up from the norm of shooting the valley wide angle, but instead using a longer lens makes for an epic photo!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

You're absolutely right! The long lens is fantastic for epic photos!

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