In all my years of printing and teaching printing workshops, the single most important thing…
It’s a crowded field when it comes to landscape and nature photography, and it seems everyone is making better images with better gear every day. So how do you stand out from the crowd? What can you do to make your photography more personal and unique, and less like everything else that’s out there online?
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.
This Post Has 5 Comments
Very interesting and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Robert!
Hi John – thanks so much for the feedback and kind words. Yes I hope it makes you think, it has certainly made me think, and that always promotes good photography.
This is most helpful and timely. I have been looking at one project, and recent images as well, and trying to figure out what my faviorite images seem to have in common, and what draws me to those images. I also am looking at a very familiar place in editing my work down to a selection of best images, and trying to be ruthless on this. I am focusing on what I want to say with those images. It is for an upcoming solo show. In working on website, I am also struggling with what to put up to best represent what I do, and how I want to be perceived (categorized is too limiting a word). I even thave thought that my social media should be focused on my photography more, and less about general things. I think to develop a following, as you clearly have done, you need consistency and dedication to the subject matter.
Your point on what you choose to put up on line or for sale in your “Bonus Tip” is very important. If you list “landscape photographer” in your bio, that site should be of landscapes. My current site is guilty of that right now, and I am in the process of changing it. If you have a significantly different body of work, or are one of the few that can do two things very well, such as weddings and portraits on one hand, and landscapes on another, then have two websites and two businesses, so that the clients or purchasers don’t necessarily see both at the same time. Not an easy thing to do, but if you struggle with that, you may find that one genre is not standing out, and it may force you to review why that is the case. Rich Pomerantz comes to mind, from CT. He has a website and business for his nature, horticulture and related photography, and then a completely separate website and business for weddings, portraits and headshots. He can do both, but one website does not try to show both sides, as clients and patrons may only want to know him for one or the other. Pretty solid idea.
I have probably spent more time pondering these issues this summer than taking images, which at this point, is probably what I needed to do. I will get out and create more, but with a renewed interest and approach that hopefully gives me a fresh work on who I am as a photographer, and what I am trying to accomplish.
Bill Bogle, Jr.
Hi Bill – thanks for the feedback. You bring up some great points, and also how great to see how you are starting to think about exactly what you want to “say” and accomplish. These are both difficult concepts to tackle, but almost always lead to an improvement in both your photography and your marketing efforts. Not everyone is trying to market his/her work, but if you are, these approaches are critical – as the example you have also illustrates.
As another example, the 6 images that REI licensed from me was a direct effect of my very careful and focused marketing efforts as a Hudson Valley landscape photographer. When I asked the art director why they had called, and how they found me, her response was they were looking for someone that had images that conveyed a true sense of the region. They figured a local would be their best choice, and once they found my website, it was clear to her that it was my specialty. This was “appealing” to her, and she mentioned how she avoided websites that tried be all things to all people.
Great post, Robert, full of pertinent advice! I just came back from a vacation at a location/landscape that is full of emotion for me, and yes, erred on the side of trying to shoot too much at too many places (because it’s full of possibilities) instead of focusing, as you say, on a single place and striving to convey the emotion of the moment and landscape. Thanks!