Historically, nature photography has been a force for good. Conservation photographers have promoted the preservation of many ecologically sensitive and magnificently beautiful places. Nature photographs have motivated scores of people to experience nature for themselves, and in many cases become advocates for the preservation of wild places. Photography also offers a personally meaningful way for many of us to engage much more deeply with the natural world and then share those experiences with others through our photos.
In recent years, this positive legacy has been upended. It is now easy to make the case that pursuing and sharing photographs of nature has much darker consequences. Nature photography has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last five years with the rise of platforms like Instagram, easy access to detailed location information online, and technology advancements that make photo-taking much easier. These trends are leading to the irreparable destruction of some special places, overcrowding in places that can’t handle the volume of visitors, and a sharp increase in injuries and deaths from people seeking to “get the shot” or see the view they saw featured in a super-popular Instagram post. Read More
About a year or two into taking up landscape photography as a hobby, I went with a few friends to hear Cole Thompson, a Colorado-based black and white photographer, speak about his photographs, methods and finding his personal vision. At the time, I found his talk to be interesting and thought-provoking but not terribly relevant to my own photographic path. I was busy pursuing iconic landscapes and chasing dramatic weather so his messages about personal expression didn’t resonate much at the time.
Years later, now with different goals for my photography, I see significantly more relevance in many of the points from his talk, with his views on what he calls “photographic celibacy” constantly coming to mind. While Cole describes this practice and his reasons in more detail on his website, these few sentences from him sum it up well: Read More
I came to photography well after I started hiking and backpacking. Thus, my early sources of information about wild places all prominently featured advice about outdoor ethics, especially practices like Leave No Trace. If you are not familiar, the basic idea behind Leave No Trace is that travelers in the backcountry should strive to leave no evidence of their visit, minimize their impact, and if possible, improve the condition of the places they visit (leaving a campsite in better condition than you found it, for example). With many wild places experiencing increased visitation, human impacts can cause significant damage if visitors do not show this kind of respect and care during their visits.
Increasingly, it seems like some landscape photographers do not view these principles for outdoor ethics as applicable to our kind of outdoor pursuit and the damage left behind is becoming obvious in an increasing number of spots. I have recently engaged in a few online discussions on this topic and have found some of the responses disheartening, with some portraying the attitude that they are entitled to a photograph regardless of their impact. Other arguments favor a dismissive tone, downplaying any specific example as an exaggeration for nothing more than making a point or so minor that it doesn't matter (trampling some plants is no big deal). All this seems to be a sign of the times, with daily stories about how the forces of willful disregard, ignorance, entitlement, and narcissism combine to do a lot of damage to special places (click on the links for a sampling: national parks in general, the Appalachian Trail, Sedona, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree). Read More
A few years ago, a typical photography trip for us looked like this… Ron leaves Colorado, driving toward the Canadian Rockies. A few days later, he stops by the Edmonton, Alberta airport to pick up me and our friend Koveh. In a day, we are heading out on a 40-mile, 4-night backpacking trip into the heart of the Canadian Rockies (with Ron and Koveh both recovering from illnesses on the day we depart for the hike). After returning from our backpack, we spend two days driving all around the Canadian Rockies, chasing the light, following the weather, and seeing as many places as we can. Ron and I drop Koveh off at the Calgary Airport and drive to Vermont (yes, Vermont – 2,411 miles away), intent on chasing fall colors and foggy conditions.
We end up spending about a week in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire before clear skies come into the forecast. Following the clouds, we end up at Rickett’s Glen in Pennsylvania (383 miles away) for less than 24 hours, hiking along the 6-mile trail featuring 20+ waterfalls twice in one day, and leaving at an absurd time early the next morning so that Ron can drop me off at the Boston Airport for my flight home. Ron drives down to West Virginia and with clear skies in the long-term forecast, heads home as well after about three and a half weeks away.
Chasing the light… Chasing the weather… This is just what landscape photographers do.
Or maybe not. Read More
“The Desert is calling, and I must go” John Muir didn’t say, but I will.
The desert isn’t as easily loved as other landscapes, like the mountains in Muir’s famous quote. Its beauty is often more subtle, rewarding only those who are willing to slow down and fully immerse themselves in it. Read More
To those who have learned to love desert, who have smelled the creosote or sage brush after a fresh rain, who have admired the way an ecosystem often inhospitable to humans is still thriving with life perfectly adapted to it, who have appreciated the often strange and surreal geological features that call the desert home, who have an inclination to solitude and open spaces, the appeal of the desert is undeniable.
I will start out this post with an important note. This is not a rant due to sour grapes or feeling left out of the clique of popular kids. When I was posting regularly on 500px, my images often made it to the front page and even filled the top slot on the site on a few occasions. I am also not intending to criticize or offend any individual photographers who are active on 500px but am instead commenting on the negative culture that the site promotes and feeds. I am somewhat hesitant to post something filled with a lot of negativity but decided to go ahead since I think a dialogue on this topic is important.
Landscape photographers have been engaging in a lot of dialogue about the 500px photo-sharing site lately and for good reason (many of the discussions have been on private Facebook pages about individual photographers and photographs, but here is a link to a recent post on the topic and one from Ron from a few years ago). 500px is having a strong influence on the landscape photography community and in the views of some, including me, this is not a positive development. I am weighing in and discussing some of the arguments that others have made on this topic because I find 500px's influence to be damaging to the direction of landscape photography overall and harmful for individual photographers who feel the strong pull to conform because of the site’s dominance. And even though I use 500px as the example, the points also serve to illustrate much larger trends in photography overall.
As a fellow photographer reminded me in an email dialogue on this topic, the 500px culture isn’t going to change. So why bother even talking about this? Because photography and the sharing of photography should be a positive, constructive, and enriching experience. I have heard from enough new photographers to know that the culture of the 500px website can be highly demoralizing and a single website should not have the power to stop budding photographers before they even get started or discourage talented photographers who cannot get traction on the site. Read More
A few days ago, a photographer on Facebook sadly lamented that they made a trip all the way down to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado only to be sorely disappointed because of the state of the aspen trees. This year was a mixed bag, with some patches changing quite early, some getting blackened by frost, and others slowly fading to a dull green. I would agree with this photographer’s sentiment (and should note that I have sounded a lot like this in the past) – 2014 was not a great year for fall colors in the San Juans if you arrived with specific expectations for hillsides of golden aspens, mountaintops full of fresh snow, and interesting weather for photography. Still, fellow Dreamscaper Ron Coscorrosa and I both came away with quite a few photos we like from the same place at the same time. The difference between us and the photographer I mentioned above? We arrived with few expectations for what we hoped to photograph and instead welcomed the opportunities that came along. Read More
As Ron and I started writing our first e-book on photographing Iceland, we decided to include a section on photography etiquette since we had encountered a string of distressing behavior from other photographers during some recent trips. These incidents started becoming so common that Ron gave them the nickname of Crimes Against Photography, some of which are included below. While the vast majority of my experiences with other landscape photographers have been positive, these other less-than-positive incidents have become frequent enough to suggest that the landscape photography community could benefit from practicing some common etiquette principles.
Considering that landscape photographers should be ambassadors for and respectful of the wild and natural places we visit and photograph, it is surprising to find that an important topic like this receives almost no attention from the typical sources of photography information. This also helps explain why the behavior we have observed occurs so frequently. With some landscape photography locations only becoming more crowded and more people taking up this pursuit, this topic is only becoming more important. Read More
For almost the last two years, I have had the great fortune to travel and photograph extensively with no purpose other than my enjoyment. This opportunity did not spring forth from pure luck but instead from some deliberate decisions I made to change how I was living my life. Luck and timing, of course, played a role but so did hard work, taking advantage of the right opportunities, and consciously deciding to leave a lot of the constraining parts of an old life behind to take a chance at a happier future.
After two years of intense (and sometimes exhausting) travel, my pace has slowed down and I am starting to work through all of the photos I took during this time. Because I need some structure to make my way through two years of unprocessed photographs, I have decided to choose a small selection of my favorite images from each place I have visited and then share them in a blog post. Having an enormous backlog of photos is both a blessing and a curse, and if I am to make any headway in reducing my backlog I need to have a structure and process, rather than the ad-hoc processing I have been doing to date. This post is the introduction to how I ended up here, with an epic backlog of photos and almost two years of wonderful experiences to show for it. Read More
Browse any internet photography forum and the majority of the landscape images will be of well-known iconic locations or common subjects. A frequent criticism of landscape photography revolves around this fact, with critics observing that too many photographers pursue the creation of derivative photos of well-known locations, all while calling themselves artists, instead of seeking out more creative work. This viewpoint has come to resonate more with me in recent months and I have been seeking to get beyond standard views of icons in pursuit of more personal work. Still, some iconic locations do represent another increasingly important aspect of my pursuit of photography – placing more emphasis on enjoying the experience of visiting incredible places as an equally important result of a photography trip. Icons have achieved their status for very good reason and experiencing some of those places for myself holds significant value, value that at times exceeds the value of pursuing creativity and originality. Read More