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Self Portrait - Hudson Valley

I recently received the following question from a reader, and thought I would share my answers here – hopefully they offer some insights to help those of you with similar questions.

“…I can’t capture an outstanding mountain or river view…I know a big part of that is that my camera is a pocket camera, and I don’t have real editing software, but I’m curious if you could give suggestions or tips on how to really catch a remarkable view.”

I have written here many times about the role of technology in photography, and as many of you know I am definitely of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. Yes it certainly helps in technical aspects such as resolution, sharpness, clarity, and over all image quality. But in my opinion, the single most important aspect of any photograph is it’s ability to convey a story, and create an emotional response in the viewer.

I will let you decide whether you think the gear plays a bigger role in this regard than the composition, but I repeatedly tell students I have never been asked a technical question by a print buyer – from the 8×12 to the 36 x 90. My my work is based on my love and passion for nature, and the desire to share it with others, and it all starts there – without that, the best camera in the world means nothing.

The short answer is that it takes time – a long time to develop the instincts for seeing light. Landscape and nature photography is ALL about patience. There is a saying – “the best investment you can make in your outdoor photography is in the investment of time”. Sure you can get lucky (we ALL do) and make a few great images, but a consistent body of work is something that comes from practice, dedication, and failure.

Quoddy Head, Maine

Many want to take the shortcut and use technology, computers, etc to make nice images,but ultimately there remains a missing ingredient that keeps a viewer interested over the long run. Learning how to do this involves practice, study, and time. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read as much as possible – photography books, magazines, manuals, etc.
  2. Looks at as much photography as you can – I used to spend hours at the library and Barnes & Noble looking at every single photo book – I also bought a whole lot.
  3. Read this blog and other blogs about photography and try to learn from the concepts expressed and written about. Leave feedback, ask questions, and find photographers that are willing to share and help – this is key.
  4. Take lots of pictures and fail often – then you start to learn from the mistakes you are making. Go out again and make new mistakes – repeat until you start to get better, sometimes faster, other times slow – or as I say two steps forward, one step back.
  5. One last tip – become completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) familiar with your subject, whether that’s a specific location, or light in general. I often think about a potential image in my imagination in the middle of the night, and how I might arrange all of the elements to create the strongest composition – camera angle and height, sun height and direction, foreground and background elements, etc. This is particularly helpful with a specific area or location – ie. see Ansel’s work of Yosemite.

Most important – this should all be fun and exciting, not frustrating and disappointing, Remember my first point – passion should drive you, not the pursuit of the best image – this is what keeps you going for the long run and makes it an adventure. Hope this offers some direction and doesn’t discourage you, but rather clarifies the challenges and rewards of  a truly worthwhile pursuit. Would love your questions and feedback as always!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Another great tip Robert. Your photos are inspirational because of the time you take with your pictures. I always feel like I am sitting looking at your scenes from the spot you are standing when you take the photo. I can hear the running streams, feel the mist in my face from the water splash and the peace that nature gives us. Thank you for sharing your gifts of photography and advice. Nancy

  2. Thanks Nancy – like I always tell students, and everyone else for that matter, the work is inspired by my passion, for how I feel when I go out. Often I go out and leave my camera behind as an exercise – it teaches me to pay attention and focus on what really matters. So often we get distracted by the “process” we miss the magic. I’ll write more about this in the near future.


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