Is Landscape photography worth the time?

Is Landscape photography worth the time?

Recently I exhibited a new body of work at one of the galleries in the Santa Fe Art District here in Denver Co. The opening nights are always my favorite because you can be a fly on the wall with the people looking at the displayed art. You can always count on hearing some interesting candid critiques of the work before they know who you are. Now, I am one of those people who love to hear honest critiques, especially if the person is knowledgeable in the language of art and can express constructive criticism. Toward the end of the opening night for my exhibition, a gentleman engaged me and asked about my work (I won’t mention his name, but let’s say that in his position, he is an expert in the photography field.). I showed him my portfolio which I had brought with me, and as he looked at my Landscape (outdoor) work, he said something that really hit home for me – “This is really beautiful work, but everyone is doing it.”. Sometimes it takes an honest opinion and conversation about your work to change your perceptions. Let’s talk about it…

When I graduated Junior High, my parents bought me my first camera, a Polaroid one-step. That summer, my sister took me on a camping trip to Yosemite National Park and my love of Landscape Photography was born. Fast forward to 2000 when I lived in Santa Cruz Ca. which has some of the most amazing beach and sunset photo opportunities year-round. I have honed my Landscape photo skills and spent countless hours outside “waiting for the light” – I love landscape imagery and always will. The technical skill required to shoot good Landscape photos can be learned in a single-day class and the rest becomes being in the right place at the right time. Once you learn the basics of composition, focus and aperture settings, it becomes a game of waiting for a great looking sky and the sun to be in the right spot. The differentiating factors in images from one photographer to another become minimal, and in coastal towns like Santa Cruz, you will often see five or more photographers at the next art and wine festival with their versions of “that sunset from last month”. In my current location near Denver Colorado, you see endless photos of aspens in the fall and winter as well as Rocky Mountain fall colors.

I’m not being cynical here, I love landscape images. I don’t actually sell my photos (check out the philanthropy page on my website if you are interested in my work), but I know a lot of photographers who do, and Landscapes generally do better if you can get them into a calendar or use them as an avenue to get into photo education and teach workshops. Part of learning landscape photography is finding places that are out-of-the-way or unique. Sharing this knowledge with  others and teaching them to shoot beautiful places can be much more profitable than selling your images on Shutterstock.

It feels like no matter what I shoot – whether it is abstract images of the human form, or a body of work which features my guide dog Fauna, or even product photographs, I always keep a special place in my heart for my landscape images. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I can get rich off my work. Standing out in the cold or in the rain waiting for the clouds to get in just the right spot – and the sun to drop just below the horizon isn’t going to net me anything more than an image I can show off to friends and family, and maybe a cold.

The bar to entry for becoming a recognized landscape photographer is much more than I am willing to commit in terms of time. UK-based YouTube star and landscape photographer Thomas Heatpn began documenting his landscape work in 2014 and has dedicated his time and energy to landscape work. He now teaches location courses on his landscape style and has become a well-recognized landscape image creator. While I have no data to support this, I would bet that the bulk of his income is derived from classes rather than print sales.  

So, am I telling you to give up landscape photography? Absolutely not, just take this article as someone telling you the truth – it is a tough game to be in as a primary style. I won’t stop shooting landscapes, but I will realize that unless one is doing some crazy compositional technique no one else is doing, getting a good landscape image is being at the right place at the right time. A few years ago, I did a series of work on a tree that was close to my house in Santa Cruz Ca. I went to that tree (it was a block from my house) three times a day and took images of it. It ended up being an interesting study in mediocre landscape images. Anything not shot when there was a cool storm coming in, or during the golden hour was just not that interesting. The images where I used a non-traditional compositional technique or shot at midnight with a five-minute shutter speed also proved noteworthy. It became a matter of finding a way of shooting the scene that was different. This is a reason why I am a big advocate for starting a project which includes shooting the same subject, like a tree or park bench over and over for a period of time – like a month. You will learn a lot from a project like this.

I see landscape work the same as being a musician. There are a ton of people doing it, and if you get lucky and market yourself right, you can do well, but don’t quit your day job until you are sure. I shoot landscapes because I love to be out in nature and it feels fantastic when I get that awesome shot. When you are passionate about something it doesn’t matter if you are going to become rich doing it right?

Hey! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me via my social media sites I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any of my other articles! Until then, Get out and get shooting! 

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