Yesterday was officially the last day of what has been a very busy summer, and today ushers in the new season of Fall. Over the past few months I’ve had two safaris in Africa, one photo tour in Iceland and I depart on Sunday to lead my Autumn photo tour in Lofoten, Norway. My travels throughout this year have been very rewarding. I have enjoyed the company of many wonderful people whom I now consider good friends. During the course of the year I’ve spent time reflecting on the nature photography industry. There are a couple tendencies I have noticed relating to landscape photography, I’ll call them familiarity and fantasy.
‘Familiarity‘ you ask? We’ve all heard of (or met) the photographer that snubs others with a heavy dose of elitism because they never shoot iconic locations, right? (Odds are that same photographer spent their early years as a photographer shooting those exact locations they now sneer at). First of all, let me say that I can appreciate their sentiment to a degree. Given the opportunity, I’d strongly prefer to shoot in a wilderness area that hasn’t been trampled by millions of footprints and find my own fresh compositions. However, there is a reason that those ‘overshot ‘ locations are popular. There the strongest compositions tend to be fairly obvious and the scenes are very photogenic. It would seem unwise to be too quick passing judgement against an image from one of these ‘popular’ places. I personally haven’t spent time poring over other photographer’s compositions, trying to replicate their shots, (and I don’t say that from a position of arrogance either). I say it because I have taken shots in National Parks, only months later to discover someone else had a similar composition as the one I’d taken. Does that mean I shouldn’t have taken that shot? I think not. The simple fact is that I saw a beautiful landscape which appealed to me and I made an image as a result of my emotional response to that scene. I lead photo tours and safaris to some of the most popular photography destinations in the world. It would be easy for me to become jaded and forget that many of my clients have never seen these views, vistas or wildlife species before. As a photo tour leader I believe it is my duty and obligation to my clients to remember what it was like to see these incredible places for the first time. So what do I do? Personally I like to view this as a challenge to visit the same location multiple times and find ways to create a new interpretation of the same scenes each time I am there. If the light or the weather changes from the last time I shot that place it is easier, but in similar conditions, what then? The beauty of this is that you don’t have to travel around the world to exercise this discipline. See how many times you can visit the same regional park in your area and create a new composition of the same scene. This is where testing your creativity comes in, embrace it. Once we have become so familiar with spectacular locations that we can no longer appreciate their beauty and find fresh compositions in them, have we not lost our vision?
Creativity brings me to our next topic, ‘fantasy‘. This is the handicap some people put on their own photographic potential. Prior to traveling to a new destination they will scour Google images, searching for photos and compositions of their intended destination, painfully stunting their creativity in the process. Arriving on the scene they are unable to think for themselves, all they see in their mind’s eye is the shot of another photographer. They race around looking for the vantage point that produces the image they recall from some forgotten corner of the internet. You may laugh, but sadly I have had people show me photos, and all but ask me where the photographer’s tripod legs were positioned when that particular shot was taken. All I can think is what a horrible experience that must be, to constantly be attempting to fashion your own work in the shadow of someone else, to have your vision clouded by the compositions of another. While it is true that we have all learned at some point in our life by copying, it is only intended to be a stage in our development as photographers, not the fulfillment. Executing our own work though the work of our peers or photography “idols” is not life, but fantasy. Individuality is freedom from the norm, and though not always popular, it is alive!
If you’d like to see a collection of images from my recent tour please visit my Iceland Portfolio.
For information on my upcoming Iceland trips see my webpage: NOW Tours.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. – Nathaniel
© 2016 Nathaniel Smalley Photography – All rights reserved.