We welcome this guest post from accomplished landscape photographer and Gura Gear Pro Team member, Robert Rodriguez Jr.
It’s a crowded field when it comes to landscape and nature photography, and it seems everyone is making better images with better gear every day. So how do you stand out from the crowd? What can you do to make your photography more personal and unique, and less like everything else that’s out there online?
Now you may be saying to yourself I’m not really interested in standing out, or comparing myself to others. I photograph for myself and and that’s enough to make me happy. Fair enough, but I would argue that the fact that you’re reading this blog, and probably others like it suggests you are interested in improving your photography. There must be someone you show your work to on a regular basis, whether that’s your loved ones or close friends. If it stands out, they’ll notice and let you know, and that’s sure to be a great feeling after the long hours you put in outside.
Photography, like most other art forms, is built upon what has come before, so we’re always contrasting and comparing our efforts and expectations. It’s human nature to compare your images to others—that’s how we improve.
So with that said, here are five ways to stand out as a landscape photographer, to your family, friends, or the world at large.
1. Shoot familiar landscapes- Become intimately familiar with your subject, and visit the same locations as much as possible. Even when I travel, I will often focus in on one area to the exclusion of others, so that I can really get beyond the obvious compositions and start to learn what really makes the location inspiring and worth sharing. If you’re not moved enough to return again and again (especially when it’s physically difficult), then you’ll probably have a tough time making an image that stands out.
2. Emphasize emotion and story instead of location– So often landscape photographers focus on location, location, location. Great for real estate, but no so effective for images that have something to say. The best images do not show the viewer where the image was taken, they show what the photographer felt about that location, and that will always make an image memorable. Once you adopt this approach, you’ll see creative possibilities in any location, including your own neck of the woods. After all, how often can you travel to exotic locations? Why put the camera away in the meantime?
3. Study all forms of art- It’s so easy to fall into the habit of just looking at photography for ideas and inspiration, and especially contemporary photography. But what you photograph and how you photograph it comes from your individual perspective, how you see and experience the world. That is influenced by everything you come into contact with. Study the masters of photography. Study painting. Read great novels. Find artwork that inspires you, and draw on that to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Photographing a beautiful landscape is not enough. Sharing what you thought about that landscape is much better. By exposing yourself to other art, you’ll develop a much better sense of how others did and continue to do the same, and grow your visual and artistic vocabulary.
4. Show only your very best work– Learn to ruthlessly edit your work. Quantity is not the goal, quality and value is. When the images you show truly reflect your vision, then the criticisms won’t bother you as much. This takes time and experience, but it will give you valuable confidence. It will teach you that everyone has a different way of seeing, and none is better or worse than the other. That does not exclude you from technical or compositional issues however, these are always open to improvement and we should listen to others we trust. But in the end, share the images you absolutely stand behind. Exceptional photographers stand out because they’re not afraid to take risks and be bold. You don’t need lots of images for that, just the right images.
5. Shoot less, look more– Minor White said, “We photograph something for two reasons: for what it is, and for what else it is.” Those who have taken my workshops know I stress restraint—in other words, wait until you are truly inspired before you start shooting. Wait until you see and feel that “something else” that Minor talks about, and I guarantee you it will show in your work. Instead of thinking “what can I shoot.“ think ”what can I say.”
Some may think that buying the latest gear, or learning the latest techniques in Photoshop and Lightroom can have an equally positive result on your work. That may be true on individual images in the short term, but great photographers are respected and admired for a body of work that exhibits a *personal vision.* My own experience over the years as a landsdcape photographer and teacher has shown me that a commitment to expressing what lies inside all of us as creative human beings is the only thing that can make a difference.
“A good photograph is one that communicate a fact, touches the heart, leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.” - Irving Penn