When a wedding photographer suddenly finds himself in beautiful landscapes with no people to photograph, what does he do? He becomes a landscape photographer! Well, let’s be honest… I’m definitely not a landscape photographer. I’m more of a guy traveling through some amazing places with a couple of landscape photographers who happens to point his camera at the same stuff they do. So what was this experience like? Glad you asked!
Let’s just start with the truth. I love the outdoors. I enjoy hiking, spending quiet time soaking in beautiful views and I can appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to create a beautiful landscape image. I just don’t really care to wake up early, drive for an hour, stand around in the dark and freeze my fingers off only to have a mediocre sunrise and come home empty handed. And that is the main reason I don’t photograph landscapes in my free time. I’m just not dedicated enough.
Things are completely different when you spend a few weeks on the road with two guys who love doing this (PL’s very own Nasim and Spencer). They have a passion that’s contagious and makes those early mornings a bit easier to tolerate. There’s a fear of missing out on the chance to create images (and memories) that will be with you forever. Then there are the locations, which, as a photographer, are impossible not to photograph. So, when all of these things came together for a few weeks in the Rocky Mountains while we filmed our Photography Life Landscape Photography Video, I set aside my wedding photographer hat and became a landscape photographer.
For the entire trip, I mainly used my Nikon D810, Nikon 20mm f/1.8 and a tripod. Once in a while I pulled out my Nikon 135mm f/2, but this was mainly for details and random wildlife we spotted on our journeys. As I had to travel light due to limited space, these were the only two lenses I brought with me. Fortunately, Nasim and Spencer brought more gear than I did, so I was able to borrow some from time to time.
I’m pretty sure that I took more images at an aperture smaller than f/2.8 on this trip than I have in 7 years of photographing weddings (that reminds me… I really need to clean my sensor). I also ended up using a tripod every single day, which, after two weeks on the road, probably adds up to more times than I’ve ever used a tripod for photography in my life. What I’m getting at here is that landscape photography is completely different than wedding photography.
The learning curve is steep. There are so many things to think about. I’m used to things happening quickly and reacting to them. I’m not used to having plenty of time to scout a location, compose an image, test settings and then wait for the light to get perfect. I ended up second guessing myself many, many times. Even then, I’d forget some of the basic rules of landscape photography and have crooked horizons or cut off objects. Don’t even get me started on using a polarizing filter.
Eventually though I started to get a feel for things. I became faster at finding a good composition. I knew what would look good and what wouldn’t before I set up and took a test shot. I even got pretty good at guessing the hyperfocal distance and nailing the focus! Still, when I listened to Nasim and Spencer talk, I knew that I had only scratched the surface of landscape photography.
At Yellowstone, I realized that I really enjoy photographing abstract scenes. There were so many colors and patterns at the hot springs, more often than not I found myself spending time photographing the ground after I was happy with my photo of the main attraction.
When all is said and done, I had a blast. All of the early mornings, late nights and cold hands and feet are a distant memory, but when I look at these images I’m transported right back to those locations. I can hear the river gurgling by. I can smell the pine trees (or the sulfur in the case of Yellowstone’s hot springs). I remember the sense of calm or awe that each landscape made me feel.
Does this mean that I’m going to become a landscape photographer? Not in a million years. I definitely enjoyed my time on the road in such beautiful locations, but like I said, I just don’t have the dedication to do this kind of thing all the time. That’s not to say I won’t be photographing any more landscapes. The next time I take a trip, chances are I’ll dust off my tripod and bring it along for the ride.