Although I’ve touched upon the topic of social media and its impact on landscape photography before in a previous post: LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY AND SOCIAL MEDIA: A BLESSING AND A CURSE; I felt that it was important enough to add a bit more discussion and depth to the topic.
Mass Media and Consumption
The world of Landscape Photography is getting more and more crowded by the second. Facebook, Instagram and several mass upload photography sites have inundated the fine art photography world with mountains and mountains of well for lack of a better word; crap. Getting noticed and gaining relevance in this day and age is extremely difficult given the current environment we find ourselves in. With that said the question that really stands to be asked is; why bother? Why bother pursuing a career in a field that has ultimately been consumed by copycat photographers who post the same compositions that have been shot hundreds of thousands of times over? Patagonia, Norway, Iceland you name it are all being inundated by photographers chasing that one epic shot that everyone else has. So, why struggle? Why fight? Why take photos at all?
I’ll be the first to say that I’ve been there; I see a photo online and I go ‘I NEED to get to that location, that’s completely insane!’. I’ve done that more times than I can count. With that said however how do you separate yourself from the thousands that came before you once you get to THAT location? Why would you want to add to the never ending flow of comp stomps and stigmas that come with landscape photography? I think the answer to all of these questions is simple and it boils down to one word; innovation.
Innovation is Key
For me innovation is key; it separates you from the masses and allows your photos to rise to the top. For many of us photography is our escape. our passion and our way to reconnect with ourselves but I admit that it can be quite frustrating at times as well. As artists we can all hit mental blocks in our creative process and photographic highs and lows. Something as simple as changing your lens can open up a huge variety of possibilities. Thinking outside the box in regard to shooting, processing and marketing are all key to forming and maintaining a successful business and keeping the creative juices flowing. With that said it all boils down to one thing; the photos. They have to resonate with people; you need to make an emotional impact from the first time a potential client sees your work. Most of all they have to resonate with YOU and make YOU happy. The minute that photography becomes ‘work’ is the minute that you need to take a step back and really re-evaluate why you started down this journey in the first place.
The field is crowded and it’s only going to get worse as technology improves and more more people purchase their first DSLR. I don’t look at this as a bad thing necessarily; I look at it as more of a challenge. I actually enjoy going to overshot locations in hopes of finding some new way to present a well photographed scene. Take your camera off of the tripod and play with different compositions; move around! Get excited about the scene! That’s what photography is all about; feeling the energy of the moment and just having fun. If you’re not passionate about your work it will show in your photos. Not every photo is going to resonate with everyone but the key is that you pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and tried something new.
History and Trends
Although many of us complain about the sheer volume of photos available today and how dilute the market has become we have to realize that this has ALWAYS happened in art throughout history. Think about the various art movements in landscape work throughout history. In the 1800’s artists like Brandt, Vedel, Monet and Millet all carved their niche in a very popular field of naturalism which eventually gave way to impressionism and artists like VanGogh. Tens of thousands of paintings flooded the market during that time in an attempt to imitate the style that was sweeping the globe. The only difference is that they weren’t nearly as visible as they are today thanks to social media and the internet. Imitation really is a form of flattery; but directly knocking off someone else’s work is really detrimental not only to the photographer but also the field as a whole.
I’ve learned an absolute ton from photographers like my good friend Ryan Dyar. He carved his niche in the industry by giving his photos a distinct look and feel in his post processing work along with very strong and unique compositions. Take one look at the crowded field of landscape photography today and you can see just how much his work still resonates with photographers all over the world. Ryan first introduced me to several different painters who’s work he really learned a great deal from. One of those painters was Albert Bierstadt from the Hudson River School (along with other artists like Frederic Church).
The way Albert portrayed light, atmosphere and mood in his paintings directly influences a lot of what I do today in my work and I think that his work indirectly influences a lot of the great photographers in the field today. His paintings almost had a cinematic quality to them; like something you would see out of the films adapted from Tolkien’s books. His style (as well as the style of other painters from the Hudson River School) is still very relevant today and whether photographers realize it or not, still has a huge impact on the field. There are many imitators out there but only you can take the steps necessary to break away from the trends in photography.
Separating yourself from the crowd in post processing and understanding the fundamentals of photography is key. I’ve discussed this quite a bit in some of my other posts about abstract photography and intimate scenes but it is very, very important. Developing your own unique style of presenting, editing, and shooting your images is extremely important to personal satisfaction and overall success in the field.
I think all too often we succumb to trends and patterns that we are exposed to on a daily basis thanks to sites like 500px but it’s our job as photographers to keep things fresh and to keep the creative juices flowing.
Avoiding the Pitfalls
The competition that social media can lead to can stunt the personal growth of a photographer in a big way. I personally don’t look at other photographers as challengers or as the field as a whole as a competition. I think we tend to get so blinded and frustrated by the success of others that we lose focus of our own creative process. I think that it’s important to let other photographers inspire you! Inspiration is the key to innovation; you absolutely have to let go of jealousy, animosity or anything else that might be harmful to your own personal growth as a photographer. I think it’s also important for folks that are just entering the field to realize that sometimes criticism and critiques can be a good thing! I’ve been there. I’ve had my photos torn apart by Marc Adamus who is practically a God among landscape photographers. It made me feel sick to my stomach at the time but I can honestly say that it made me a better photographer. It forced me to grow out of my comfort zone and to develop my own style and presentation of my work. Don’t let yourself fall into the trends and styles of shooting that have been made popular by mass media. Develop your own style and you will succeed. Nothing is easy; I’m still learning and developing as photographer on a daily basis but I think the key is to stay humble and to keep yourself motivated. Sometimes my shots turn out and sometimes I’m absolutely kicking myself for not going about them in a different way. It’s part of the creative process and it’s all part of the journey to becoming that photographer that you’ve always aspired to be.