Now you may be saying to yourself I’m not really interested in standing out, or comparing my self to others. I photograph for myself and and that’s enough to make me happy. Fair enough, but I would argue that the fact that you’re reading this blog, and probably others like it suggests you are interested in improving your photography. There must be someone you show your work to on a regular basis, whether that’s your loved ones or close friends. If it stands out, they’ll notice and let you know, and that’s sure to be a great feeling after the long hours you put in outside.
Photography, like most other art forms, is built upon what has come before, so we’re always contrasting and comparing our efforts and expectations. It’s human nature to compare your images to others—that’s how we improve.
So with that said, here are five ways to stand out as a landscape photographer, to your family, friends, or the world at large!
- Shoot familiar landscapes– Become intimately familiar with your subject, and visit the same locations as much as possible. Even when I travel, I will often focus in on one area to the exclusion of others, so that I can really get beyond the obvious compositions and start to learn what really makes the location inspiring and worth sharing. If you’re not moved enough to return again and again (especially when it’s physically difficult), then you’ll probably have a tough time making an image that stands out.
- Emphasize emotion and story instead of location – So often landscape photographers focus on location, location, location. Great for real estate, but no so effective for truly transcendent images. The best images do not show the viewer where the image was taken, they show what the photographer felt about that location, and that will always make an image memorable. Once you adopt this approach, you’ll see creative possibilities in any location, including your own neck of the woods. After all, how often can you travel to exotic locations? Why put the camera away in the meantime?
- Forget about trying to sell—focus on passion – In my opinion, trying to sell your work prematurely is one of the worst things you can do as a creative photographer? Why? It subjects you to the fickle nature of popular tastes and negative criticism. You’ll start thinking more about how to sell and less about having fun and shooting whatever is really meaningful to you. My experience has been that selling requires a strong cohesive body of work, and that takes time to develop. After my first gallery show, I took a year off from showing again to focus on what I had learned from that first experience—namely that I needed to tell a story with my images. And more importantly, others need to to be able to identify that story. Otherwise people don’t get what you’re really about, and won’t make the connection that is often so important to standing out and being memorable.
- Show only your very best work – Learn to ruthlessly edit your work. Quantity is not the goal, quality and value is. When the images you show truly reflect your vision, then the criticisms won’t bother you as much. This takes time and experience, but it will give you valuable confidence. It will teach you that everyone has a different way of seeing, and none is better or worse than the other. That does not exclude you from technical or compositional issues however, these are always open to improvement and we should listen to others we trust. But in the end, share the images you absolutely stand behind. Exceptional photographers stand out because they’re not afraid to take risks and be bold. You don’t need lots of images for that, just the right images.
- Shoot less, look more – Minor White said, “We photograph something for two reasons: for what it is, and for what else it is.” Those who have taken my workshops know I stress restraint—in other words, wait until you are truly inspired before you start shooting. Wait until you see and feelthat something else that Minor talks about, and I guarantee you it will show in your work. Instead of thinking “what can I shoot, think what can I say.”Bonus Tip – Notice I stated how to stand out as a “landscape and nature” photographer. If you shoot this AND portraits, wildlife, people, macro, etc, then your chances of standing out, not to mention excelling will be greatly diminished. Specializing is the key, especially if you have any thoughts of selling. When you focus on a specific genre, your work is easier to improve, talk about, write about, market, present, and become memorable to others. A website with many different styles says you can’t decide what you want to shoot, and often will not be as effective as one that is laser focused. Check out Mike Moats and his website Tiny Landscapes– he specializes in macro photography and is hugely successful – coincidence?
This wasn’t the easiest post to write, but I feel very strongly about what I’ve observed in my own experience over the years of showing my work and leading workshops. Are there other ways? Of course, but I think these will give you a great start.
Do you agree? Disagree? Need any specific tips I haven’t covered? Please let me know in the comments below so we can all share in the conversation and learn from each other.