Consumption, creativity and their impact on landscape photography

Consumption, creativity and their impact on landscape photography

This image was taken in a hidden canyon in Zion, Utah

I love Iceland and Patagonia, but I have to say, seeing the same compositions from famous locations, albeit in different shooting conditions, over and over again is driving me absolutely crazy. In a broader sense, those locations aside, it really begs the question; is creativity dead? I know that some locations are very limited compositionally and I know that there can be other physical limitations as well, but I think that we as photographers owe it to ourselves to do better. I think many of us see those all to famous compositions while researching these well-known locations and we make a subconscious mental note to snag that shot. I think it even goes further than that; even seeing a captivating image from these locations forces us to put subconscious creative blinders on because we have to have that photo in our portfolio.

I’m not saying that we need to write off those ‘bucket list’ shots, because they do serve a purpose from a marketing and sales standpoint. What I am saying though, is that I think allowing sales and marketing to limit us creatively is doing a serious disservice not only to the progression of the field, but to our own personal progression as photographers and teachers as well.

When I first started out in photography I made the mistake of going after familiar compositions because well, it’s easy to do. It’s easy to see an amazing image from someone that inspires you and to gravitate toward immolating it. I think that we’ve all done this to some degree at some point in our careers. The question is; how do we break free from that mindset?

Personally, I have been working a lot harder as of late to shoot scenes in new and creative ways using different focal lengths and creative means to get myself out of any creative slump that I may encounter and to steer myself away from compositionally iconic images. Whether it be using a drone to gain a new perspective or using a super telephoto lens to pick out elements in a scene that speak to us, I think that it’s time to move on from the stereo typical compositions and to seek out something fresh and innovative. 

The best part about pushing yourself to try new things is that you don’t have to fly to Iceland or Patagonia to do it. Many of these opportunities can be found in your own backyard. The Pacific Northwest is an excellent example of this. There’s a never-ending supply of not only iconic locations, but also new and inspiring locations in our region. Seeking something new and different isn’t supposed to be easy. You have to work for it and the path won’t always be straight and narrow, but it’s the journey itself that I find to be one of the most inspiring parts to this whole process. In the past year alone I’ve seen a fairly marked change in the ways that I approach any given scene photographically. I think that forcing myself to move from what’s comfortable has expanded my creativity and has pushed me to move in different directions photographically.  

My challenge to myself, as this new year swings into full gear, is to push myself and to motivate others to push the field to new heights, creatively. Go to familiar locations and diverge from what’s easy, find new locations and explore them. I know that there’s more to be seen beyond the status quo and it’s up to us to push ourselves to find it.       

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  1. Patrick Mcdonald February 8, 2017 at 10:22 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I feel your pain. What drives me crazy, even more than seeing the same compositions from all of the famous spots, is the fact that hoards of photographers criss-cross the planet (Iceland, Patagonia, Norway, etc.) to get these shots. A flight such as this will release about 2-3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. I have read reports from photo workshops claiming things like: “our caravan of seven SUV’s logged 2000 miles this week chasing light across 3 states…). We all need to consider the impact that travel has on the planet. I am not saying that we should all just stay home – only that we make a conscious effort to shoot more locally. Most of us have plenty of subjects and compositions nearby to keep us busy for a lifetime.

    -Patrick McDonald

    • February 9, 2017 at 5:37 am #

      I couldn’t agree more, Patrick! What drives me crazy is that all of these people go to these destinations and come away with the same shots! If you’re going to travel somewhere and leave a carbon footprint doing it, at least try to be original and come away with something that is meaningful to you and the progression of the field. There’s definitely nothing wrong with staying close to home. There’s still so many areas that I still need to check out in the PNW. All in due time. I think sustainable landscape photography practices are the only thing that will save the landscapes that we enjoy for generations to come.

  2. Brent Clark February 10, 2017 at 1:50 am #

    Lots of good ideas here that I totally agree with, Chris!

    I think that shooting the “postcard” or “bucket list shots” shots have value to some extent, even outside of sales and marketing. I certainly have a lot of those shots. If you’re actually at an iconic location in person and you know THE standard composition, you can walk around there and look at all kinds of different compositions and learn about the thought process and what compositional elements make up the famous shots, and then apply what you’ve learned there to other photographs in other locations. I consider myself fairly new to photography, and I think it’s a great way of learning. However, I think I too am getting to the point where I’m a little tired of always seeing the same compositions (though I’ll probably still shoot from the bridge when I go to Zion or Reflection Lakes in Rainier, etc for the experience). I can tell from your work that you are clearly past this point. Now is when you can apply the things you learned from the past toward your own unique work.

    Everyone also has different goals with their photography. Some people want to create unique original art and make a statement. Others are perfectly content with visiting beautiful natural places and wake up early sometimes to take a pretty photograph. The artist’s intent is not always clear when you’re just scrolling through social media seeing picture after picture of the same locations. To answer your question about “how to break free from that mindset?”… I think the creative artist naturally will – as you’ve done, they may look at other art with some amount of disdain and try to avoid doing the same thing others have done. They’ll want to show the world their own unique take on things. Others simply don’t have that drive, and that’s ok too.

    All in all, I’m with you. Just thought I’d share more thoughts on the matter.

    • February 20, 2017 at 5:22 am #

      Thanks for the well though out reply, Brent! I really appreciate your taking the time to write that post. I completely agree with you; your thoughts definitely echo mine when it comes to how I view the creative process. As you’ve stated; there will always be those who are just fine with taking the standard shots and I’m totally fine with that! Heck I even still do it from time to time. I think that what it comes down to is how you want your work to be remembered. Thanks again for the feedback. It’s been really cool seeing your work develop over the years, keep it up man. Lots of great and inspiring imagery!

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