Landscape photography is hardly of any benefit to society, nature, or the world in general. For most people, the commercial value is quite low as well. So why would you do it?
In the past few months, I found myself shooting more and more landscapes. Funnily enough, the purpose of my photographs has been questioned quite a lot, recently. After all, landscapes don’t really document my journey and they don’t tell a story about my mood. Yes, they are beautiful in some way. But are they any good?
The Ugly Truth
Let’s face the truth: If you’re one of the few lucky people who make money from landscape photography, your photographs are probably not the main source of income. Either you tour people around Iceland, Mongolia, Faroe Islands, or Patagonia or you are a YouTuber taking people out on an adventure. In both ways, you don’t earn money with your photographs but with your teaching or entertainment. Maybe, you even write articles on Fstoppers – like me – and your photographs only complement written text.
Landscape photography is one of the areas of photography, where it’s really hard to make money. The web is already full of first-class stock images of almost any place on earth. Only if you’re really good and you’ve got a great photo agency or a foot in the door of a magazine editor's office, you might even get an assignment every now and then. What a dream! But that hardly ever becomes true for most of us.
Is It All About the Beauty?
Of course, these thoughts only consider the commercial value of a photograph, but you can’t always convert aesthetic value into money. Landscape photographs show the beauty of our planet, after all. That’s true, but when did your friends and family really take a closer look at your photographs? One that takes longer than a double-tap on your smartphone screen? When was the last time you printed your photographs and hung them into a gallery, where hundreds of interested people spend an hour or more to look at your beautiful creations?
And if your photographs were liked by others, did they have any further purpose? Other than making people jealous and maybe book a trip to the same location only to find out that it’s not as beautiful as it was in your pictures because they didn’t get up at five in the morning?
Landscape Photography Is For Yourself
Okay, let’s stop the cynicism here and face another truth: Every day, hundreds of thousands of landscape photographers still got out to shoot at locations, which we have seen from all possible angles in any possible weather. Others shoot meaningless subjects like trees on a field, only because there is some beautiful light. What is the sense of that photograph?
Landscape photography makes photographers happy – it’s as simple as that. In portrait or commercial photography, you’ve got a customer and it’s your job to make them happy. They want a photo and you have to deliver. It can be fun — and usually is — but it's all about the product. You can also cooperate with artists in a non-commercial project and work a little bit more for yourself — or deliver a message at least.
Landscape photography is simpler — mother nature is your client, but she won’t tell you what she likes or dislikes. Your own taste is all that counts, and you don’t have to cooperate with anyone if you don’t want to. In this way, landscape photography takes photography to a very simple level: Look for locations and then work with them the way you want.
It’s Not Only About the Photograph
The photograph itself is just one outcome of landscape photography, but far more important is everything that happens around it. It’s as simple as your fortune cookie will tell you: The journey is the reward. Landscape photography to me is making memories. Tales about what I did, where I went, and also a tribute to our beautiful nature. It’s not important if other people will “consume” my photographs, even though it’s great to see that some show interest and are impressed with what is out there.
Let’s talk about envy, here: Even though I think many landscape photographs (especially those with people waving their hands in the air just like that waterfall was a rock star) are only meant to arouse envy amongst the viewers, they fulfill a purpose. A big audience starts to think about the beauty of nature (or its edited representation) and becomes conscious of the fragility of our planet. Although it rarely initiates changes in the consumption behavior of people, it’s a first step towards understanding our planet and learning to love it. The dark side of it: More and more people travel to the famous photography hotspots, causing a lot of emissions and also take away the natural spirit of the places. It starts with a parking lot and ends with a fence and entry fees.
Landscape Photography Is the Definition of 'Me Time'
Self-care has become quite important. Not only during the last year but also because of our fast life in general. Burnout and stress-related diseases have become more present than ever. Landscape photography has the purpose to take you out of the hectic everyday life and learn to enjoy nature like you never did before.
Before I dove deeper into landscape photography, I would have never thought about getting up before sunrise if I didn’t have to for some work or study reasons. I would have never thought to stop wherever I was driving or walking just to embrace the evening sky or impressive cloud formations. Landscape photography literally has taught me to see our world with different eyes. I start looking for details in the beautiful light even if I don’t carry a camera with me.
Landscape Photography and Landscape Gazing
Having taken more and more photographs of breath-taking sunsets, stars at night, or the first light of the day, I learned to enjoy the mere presence of beauty in nature. In the beginning, it freaked me out whenever I didn’t carry a camera, but I learned to accept that it’s not about the photograph but my own experience. Of course, it’s nice to share that experience online, but I can also keep it for myself – and the people I’m with.
Sharing your experience and your impressions just in the moment can also be of great value for others. My girlfriend has become better than me at seeing beautiful details in nature. I’m still a landscape photographer but together, we have become a team of professional landscape gazers.
All in all, landscape photography is not about the photograph itself but about the act of photographing the world: It creates joy. It adds a little more sense to your own life.
What's your opinion about it? What keeps you getting up early and shooting landscape photographs? Do you even make money from it? I'm keen to read about your opinion in the comments.
"In both ways, you don’t earn money with your photographs but with your teaching or entertainment."
Isn't that the truth.
Nothing wrong with it when that works for them but IMO youtubers are much more about entertainment then being photographers. I don't care for 99% of them.
I started shooting more landscape images several years ago to go along with my camping and hikes in nature, separate from what I shot for income. Started sharing more as well but as you said made very little money doing so. Part of that is I don't have a big following, not sure I ever will. Part of that is people love nice images until its time to part with cash. But, its is what it is.
I have taught photography classes at a community college in the past but have not wanted to mix that into my landscape photography, as you mentioned, thats "me time." I was considering it though as I have been asked and then COVID happened. I don't mind being a teacher which is different then being a photographer just not sure I want to mix the two.
I seem to be following more and more photographers on YouTube.
Fortunately, for some of them it is very much about education, not about entertainment or gear-lust, such as Alistair Ben, or The Art of Photography (although of lately, Art of Photography seems to do a lot more gear-reviews and less education, you can browse the history of his channel for quite some educational vids from him). Those are the ones I follow most.
There are others whose education via YouTube I value and some of them regularly write articles here, or have their videos posted here, but I don't want to just name every photographer on YouTube whom I like. :P
Cool! I have picked up some tips on using Lightroom and photoshop from youtubers. But I find most youtube photogs images just plain and average, if you can find their images or work at all. Especially the very "popular" youtubers who seem to be all entertainment. I remember checking one quite popular channel years ago to see what all the fuss was about and could not get past 2-3 minutes. IMO popular doesn't mean good, but, if you have figured out the you tube gig it can mean money, just for very few.
Well, Mads Peter Iversen, Alister Benn, Nigel Danson, Mark Denney -- I don't know how much of their videos you have watched. I like their work for instance, and how they show and explain things. They generally show a fair bit of their work too in their videos or their websites.
But hey -- there are many ways to learn more about (landscape) photography or the use of tools like LightRoom and PhotoShop! :)
Thanks, maybe I'll check them out. I try to stay off you tube though.
To me, it's also not being against youtube. Not at all. I follow many photographers' chanels and there is hardly a better way to get yourself off from the couch than watching a landscape photographer's video and becoming envious. In most cases, I don't even mind if the photographs aren't that special. The "entertaining" vlogs show me, what it's all about: Being out there.
"After all, landscapes don’t really document my journey and they don’t tell a story about my mood. Yes, they are beautiful in some way. But are they any good?"
"any good" is really subjective. I can look at a photograph today and not think much of it. But, tomorrow, the next day, the next week, the next year, it might have a different impact. Even if we follow all the "rules" of composition, color theory, etc., only a trained eye might be able to appreciate, or not. The layman may swoon or not. I'm still trying to give up on what others "like" unless it's a portrait of them. Then, it's more of a collaboration. But, landscapes are for me to try new things and experiment. Likes are fine. But, in the end, screw them.
Landscape photography makes photographers happy – it’s as simple as that.
What else should there be? There are several cliches about the reasons for doing art, usually its because the artist relates.
I agree, but I know there have been times I have made it stressful on myself when I tie it to making money. Lets face it, getting to locations and not getting paid can get expensive. Now, if its a hobby with a full time, non-photography job paying the bills and travel, good for those folks!
I think you have a good start in your approach to this subject, but I believe there's a possibility to go deeper. A quick google image search reveals definite trends in today's popular landscape photograph, the expansive shot taken in the midst of a radiant and dramatic sunrise or sunset. I can enjoy the beauty but I have little interest in this kind of landscape photography. My absolute favorite body of landscape photos were shot by Sally Mann. In her work "A Thousand Crossings," she uses landscape photography of the American south to explore the idea of place and the history of the south with the struggle with race and religion. It is a very powerful exploration of society through landscape photos (which is contrary to your first sentence of this article). I love Clyde Butcher and his use of landscape photography to not only explore the aesthetic beauty of the Florida Everglades but also as a vehicle to advocate for nature conservation (another contradiction to your first sentence). Lastly, I often think about a passage from Susan Sontag. Paraphrasing from her book "On Photography," she says something to the effect that a beautiful photo is not always a photograph of something beautiful. There can be a deeper beauty beyond a photo of a beautiful landscape. This leads me to think of a passage from the book by landscape photographer Robert Adams, "Beauty in Photography." He says, "landscape pictures can offer us, I think, three varieties – geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together … the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life” Saying all of that, the answer to you question, what do I get from landscape photography? I get the possibility of landscape photography saying more than just a photograph of a beautiful landscape. There's a possibility of going beyond an entertaining and aesthetically beautiful photo to something that combines geography, autobiography, and metaphor in a way that captures a deeper beauty. This is what excites me.
I started my journey into landscape photography 10 years ago. I have always shot for myself and no one else. I have an in with an editor of an Iowa magazine and make some money doing that. It barely covers expenses. Every image that has been published though was an image I wanted to take not what they wanted.
I sell some online also at a few POD sites. All of the sales keeps my head above water financial wise as I do not want to tap into my day job money. I started out on YouTube last year not to teach, as there are too many now telling you how you should do it, but to share my journey and experiences while out. I do not expect thousands to subscribe to my channel. The best way to learn is experience and you get that by being out there every chance you get. Experience can't be taught or learned in a class.
Landscape photography is deeply personal and can be fulfilling when you get the shot you were looking for. In life there are so many things worth more than money. The journey is worth it in the end. This is what I get out of landscape photography.
When you get the shot you were looking for, and perhaps even more when you also got that other shot you were not looking for but spotted while you were out there, observing, exploring, and shooting. :)
I love shooting landscape. It's something I started doing during the lockdown last year and it has grown into a passion.
But I don't do it for anything other than my own satisfaction. I love being out in the landscape, seeing, exploring, shooting. Playing with the camera to get different shots, different effects, different images.
Coming home and browsing the results, processing the images, seeing beautiful shots that I can watch every day on my screensaver and perhaps print for my own viewing.
Sharing that on social media and getting likes is nice, getting the appreciation from others is nice and can stimulate me to post more, but still -- I do it for myself, for the pleasure I get out of just doing it.