Often when talking to fellow landscape photographers, the subject of differentiating your work from other photographers' comes up. For landscape photographers, one of the most common ways to set themselves apart is shooting in hard-to-reach locations.
Probably as old as landscape photography itself is the notion that a 'good' photographer is one that pushes the physical boundaries, hikes farther, climbs higher, suffers harsher conditions, endures pain – all to get to a unique location and be one of the first to shoot it. Many landscapers sneer at those who choose to shoot closer, easier to reach locations – as if the very effort invested in getting to a hard-to-reach location makes the image inherently better. I have seen images from fellow photographers which were dull, uninteresting, poorly lit and composed – but the photographer was irrationally proud of it after having to climb 1500 meters with a 25kg bag for it.
|'My Favorite Gnome' - my good friend Shy shooting an ice cave in Svínafellsjökull, Iceland.
Canon 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm f/2.8
Making a physical effort does not make your image inherently better, pure and simple. An image is a complex effort, and making it unique can be achieved in many ways. An image should indeed be unique, but there is absolutely no obligation to make it unique by hiking, climbing or suffering for it. This is but one possible way, but there are others. One can shoot unique angles of known places, shoot by night, shoot in less-photographed seasons or weather conditions. One can capture rapidly-changing landscapes like glaciers or volcanoes, and the list goes on.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not insinuating that it's in any way senseless or meaningless to push one's self and photograph hard to reach locations - I personally revere it and try do it myself as often as I can manage it. But that in itself will not make your images better, nor should it. If you hike, climb and suffer to get to a wonderful, unique location, and capture a genuinely good, well composed and lit image, then it's a true achievement and you've done something meaningful. But otherwise, if the image isn't that good as it stands, you've made the effort for nothing, at least photographically, if the main goal is producing good images.
Let's look at two images of ice caves. The first was shot in Svínafellsjökull, Iceland, a few hundred meters' walk from a dirt road, while scouting locations for my Iceland Workshops. It was virtually an effortless shot in the physical sense. Yet I really like it: it's quite unique, well composed and lit, and the winter atmosphere is well conveyed.
The second image was taken in Bolivia, at an elevation of over 5600 meters (over 18000 feet), after climbing a glacier for over 6 grueling hours during of one the most difficult treks I've ever done. Those of you who have climbed in that kind of altitude know that it's pure agony. The body aches for oxygen, every step is a struggle and you basically end up cursing the day you were born. This is, without a doubt, one of the shots I suffered most for, and it’s truly unique. I think it's quite a good shot, better than the former. But I do not think that the fact that I suffered for it makes it better than the first image.
|'High on Ice' - My friend Gal entering an ice cave in the Bolivian glacial highlands. Canon 5D Mark III, Samyang 14mm f/2.8|
A landscape photographer should indeed do whatever it takes for a shot. I'll hike, climb, camp, suffer freezing temperatures and howling winds just to get to a good location, but I always remember that there's much more to an image than the physical effort put into it. The way I see it, this realization keeps me focused on the true spirit of photography.
Here's an exercise: out of the following pairs of images, can you guess which image (of the pair) I suffered for, and which image was a walk in the park to get (at least physically)? Does it matter to you?
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.
If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:
Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia
Selected articles by Erez Marom:
Jun 19, 2017
Jun 17, 2017
Jun 16, 2017
Jun 13, 2017
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