The public, and many other photographers don’t truly appreciate the struggle of landscape photography. In their eye’s, it is a simple as showing up and capturing the beauty that mother nature provides. Yes, showing up is a major factor of this game, but If only it were that simple.
It is Woody Allen who is credited with the famous quote – “80% of success is showing up”. This is the greatest struggle of landscape photography. Sometimes when I arrive at a location for the first time, I get lucky. Most times, I don’t. I need to show up over and over, and over again.
Sometimes I think it is only my wife who truly understands the struggle of landscape photography as it is she who is left at home looking after the kids as I roam the country oftentimes coming home with nothing to show for it.
As a husband and father of 2 very small children, time for my photography is at a premium. I can’t take 3 or 4 days to sit at a location waiting on good light. I generally visit an area, if & when I can and cross my fingers hoping everything will fall into place. Its hugely frustrating, to know I can visit a location in terrible weather today, but tomorrow it has a chance of being perfect but I won’t be there.
I don’t have any spectacular locations close to home. Many of my favourite locations are 2/3 hours away. Repeated trips to these spots result in hours and hours of driving where I cover 1000’s of miles. Lots of early starts and very late finishes. All in the hope that everything will come together when I arrive and that I will have the competence to capture it.
The Struggle of Landscape Photography
History has a habit of repeating itself and this is certainly the case for me in 2017. The Summer of 2016 was mentally tough. Each time I arrived at a location, the weather closed in despite having looked promising up until 10 minutes before I arrived. I felt cursed and eventually packed the camera away for a couple of months through sheer frustration.
Here’s a recent example – I’ve made 3 significant trips in the last two weeks.
St Johns Lighthouse
The first being to St. Johns Lighthouse on a Sunday evening as the weather looked promising. I have been here around 4 times and not got an image I like. On arrival, I knew the location wasn’t going to deliver on this occasion. I moved down the coast a little and worked a panoramic shot of the Mourne mountains. I came home with one image for the night but it is one I love.
The North Coast
I didn’t venture out the following weekend as the weather was rotten. By Tuesday night I was itching to get out. I’ve been working the north coast hard for the last number of months and I only have 2 images worth showing. I met up with a buddy and headed off in high hopes this would be the evening that delivered as the weather was very changeable. On arrival, it was dull, overcast and rotten with no movement in the water at all. We scoured the coast for a location but couldn’t find anything that worked. I did trip across Graham Daly on one of his One to One workshops which was a nice surprise. We didn’t even manage to take the camera out of the bag which is a rare occurrence for me not to even try. I settled for a bag of chips instead.
The West Coast
Thursday morning saw me driving to Galway and then to Ballina for work. I don’t get to this location often so was hopeful something might happen that evening. The plan was a spin to Easky for sunset but a very strong north wind at high tide made it doubtful I would get next or near any rocks due to big waves. Heading in the opposite direction and drove out past Ballycastle head. I scoured the back roads and eventually found myself on some remote cliffs with fabulous views. I just could not make it work. The wind was so strong, I could hardly walk in it, never mind hold a camera steady or get near a cliff edge. It was heavily overcast with rain showers blowing past. I hung around in the desperate hope something might happen. 2 minutes of light materialized and then it all disappeared. I made what I could of it but know I didn’t do the location justice. The wind was so strong, I had to jump the ISO up just to raise the shutter speed to get a sharp image. The tripod was literally shaking and vibrating even though I had my full body weight behind it.
I did spot some potential locations on the drive back to the hotel and planned to get up the following morning before work and try one of these. Unfortunately, this type of mileage (600km in a day) takes its toll on you and I felt like a broken man by the time I reached the room. A sunrise shoot was out of the question.
As you can see, the struggle of landscape photography is real. Most of us don’t talk about or show the bad ones. Unlike me, some people make it look easy and churn out fantastic image one after the other. Its as if they are always in the right place at the right time. I know better know – they just work harder than me and spend more time out there.
Show up enough and you will finally get a good one – one you really love. All the hard hours have finally paid off and you get one. There are probably only 4 or 5 of these images a year for a hard-working photographer. Your chuffed with yourself. Then it comes – That comment. The snub you should have seen coming but forgot about. Some idiot, somewhere pipes up and exclaims “You must have gotten lucky when you visited that location because it didn’t look like that the one time I visited”.
Deep breathes, tongue to the top of your mouth and count to 10 before you make a response. There will always be one.
The ever internal optimist, I will continue to struggle on. I’ve only discussed one struggle of landscape photography here – I’ve not even gotten to composition, field craft, post processing, etc. The list is endless. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.