Creative pursuits are inherently two-headed beasts. We are all too familiar with being passionate about photography, so much so that we can sink all of our spare time and a good portion of our money in it. Especially when you travel with photography in mind, landscape photography can start to become a trophy hunt. And I can’t blame you. Travel is expensive enough, so you want to make your shots count, right? In this article, I want to present a new way of looking for meaningful shots that may be more interesting to you in the long run.
During my last photography tour in the Norwegian Lofoten, I wasn't that interested in pointing the wide-angle lens towards the beautiful, sweeping vistas that usually captivate me. Instead, I've found myself to be attaching the telephoto lens a whole lot more often than previously was the case. This Arctic archipelago is home to the some of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural landscapes. With a fresh coat of white, the Lofoten Islands come alive as they are host to jagged mountain peaks and quaint red villages by the sea.
In Arctic Norway, temperatures plummeted to -15 °C during the coldest nights, even freezing up the heated piping that's quite common there. It wasn't just the piping (and consequently our tap water) that froze, though. Such a flash freeze does crazy things to the natural landscape too. Among frozen waterfalls, strange patterns in the ice, and sapling trees that struggled to survive in the knee-deep snow, I found myself more inspired by the intimate scenes than the stuff that just about everyone seems to be pointing their cameras at.
The action was supposed to be going on in the sky, of course. Or so the photographers had hoped. The Aurora were not forecast to be active that night, indeed not visible at all. Looking hopeful and cold, we drove along their precariously chosen position next to the icy road and got some proper dinner in a warm and cozy restaurant nearby while that group waited anxiously for a bit of green in the northern sky.
Photographers absolutely flock to these locations to get that landscape. To me, landscape photography is a lonely pursuit, a quest of discovery and sometimes a battle against the elements. But I do have to make a confession. It's pretty damn good business if you offer those trophy-hunting tours and workshops on your website. During my workshops, I always ask what inspires participants, and it’s not often that the answer is “to find a unique piece of art in an inspirational landscape.”
My change of heart dawned some years ago, but if landscape photography truly is your passion, I’m sure you will one day ask yourself if there was more to those areas than meets the eye. In the Lofoten, we have discovered innumerable photographic opportunities among the stark, winterly landscape of the Arctic. Sometimes, just looking in the other direction really helps. At other times, a longer lens will help you to see the world with more abstract eyes. Or how about visiting the place when the light “isn’t good”?
- Ask yourself questions. Opening up an internal dialogue about your own work will not only make you a better photographer in a technical sense, but also a better artist. Ask questions like: "What is it that attracts me to this area?" and "Why do I like what I see here?"
- Be honest with yourself. In respect to answering those questions, it can be tough to be truthful. Don't be afraid if the answers are along the lines of "to sell images" or "to gain a quick following on Instagram." It's better to know this about yourself early on rather than keeping up appearances.
- Both wildlife photographers and wedding photographers will agree when I say that you really have to love your subject in order to discover new layers of depth and find something exciting.