How did your interest in landscape photography start? Let me guess. You saw a nice sunset and snapped a photo of it, most likely with your phone. Back home you realize the photo is very dark, almost black, but the orange colors in the middle are so eye catching. OK, this might not be exactly you, but in my case, this was pretty much how I discovered landscape photography.
Landscapes are the most accessible subjects for any photographer independent where in the world you live. It is no coincidence landscape photography is one of the most popular genres in photography. The way a landscape photographer develops his or her skills are not so different from photographers in any other genre. It’s a learning process for better or for worse.
Here is my idea on how a landscape photographer develops. The order of the stages might differ slightly between photographers.
1. The beginner
As a snap shooter, you don’t plan what and when to photograph. You always have your phone with you, so you’re ready to snap a photo whenever a situation occurs. If you have a Point and Shoot camera you rarely remember to bring it along unless you’re going for vacation.
You continue to photograph sunsets because these are the photos you family and friend give you most credit for. Other than the sunsets, most of your other photos are taken at midday, because that’s the time with plenty of light.
Encouraged by the results, you bring the camera more often when you’re going out. You start to explore and photograph your local area more frequently. You shoot a lot when the sun is shining, and the sky is blue. Well before the sun goes down and it gets darker you’re well back home. On days with clouds and no sun, you don’t even bother to bring the camera.
During this period, most photos don't turn out like expected. Something is missing. Occasionally you get some “better” shots, but don’t know why. You have no fear and show all the photos you take to everyone. Even more great feedback from family and friends. It's time to post your first photos on Facebook.
You take more and more sunset photos because they get most likes on Facebook. The sunset portfolio increases but the image quality does not improve at all. Most photos do not look like what other photographers post on Facebook. They are too dark and kind of boring.
Why are some photos so dark? It hits you; it must be the camera. You have outgrown the camera. After asking a couple of friends, you buy your first real camera - a DSLR with a kit lens. You unpack the camera and throw the Instruction manual in a drawer. The green Auto mode setting seems like a good choice.
Then comes the disappointment, a new DSLR but not better photos. Your photos are not even in focus anymore. You’re about to give up. Maybe it wasn’t the camera? Discouraged by the fact, you stop posting more photos on Facebook. Instead, you start looking at other photographer’s photos, thinking “is it me?”
2. The student
A learning process
Now is the time you realize you must learn about photography. But you cannot afford to buy a course or book because you just spent all your money on the new camera. You pick up the Instruction manual but give up after a few pages. A friend tells you about YouTube. For some time, you watch YouTube videos day and night about how to take better landscape photos.
For the first time, you hear about aperture, shutter speed, ISO and not to forget the Exposure triangle. You’re confused and frustrated. All this technical stuff.
But you don’t give up. You practice, and after a while, you feel more confident using the different camera settings.
You also learn how important light is in landscape photography. Soon you only photograph during the golden hours (sunset). Taking photos at midday – “not me”. But how many sunsets can you photograph? You understand nice sunsets is not everything.
As you dig into the art of photography, you start to experiment with shutter speed. Waterfalls, here I come. You’re about to conquer long exposure photography and moving water. You need a tripod, so you buy the cheapest you can get.
With the tripod, you discover a whole new way to photograph. For a while, you’re hooked on long exposure and waterfalls. You have learned a lot at this point, and you start to see the photos improve.
Posting to social media
Your confidence increases and you start posting on Facebook again. You get likes, many likes - from friends and family and occasionally from unknown people. Inspired by the success, you decide even more people must get the opportunity to see your great work.
After some searching, you decide to post on the photo sharing site 500px.com. You’re shocked, as no one likes your photos. What happened? You look at the great photos from other photographers. These people have hundreds and thousands of followers. How can that be?
You learn a photo is more than bold colors and waterfalls. Help, "I need to learn more."
3. The “photographer”
You’re a “photographer” now. Soon shutter speed and aperture is second nature. Now what? As you explore the work of other more experienced photographers, you realize something is missing in your photos. More online research and you discover composition. A huge but important topic. You’re ready for more Internet studies.
Down on the ground
For the first time, you take an image while laying on your belly on the ground. You explore different angles and perspectives when you compose the next photos. Even your old local spots look different with this approach. Composition changed a lot. Your photos soon start to look something like the pros on 500px.
You read more photography blogs, and find a few that focus on your technical skills rather than the camera you use. You learn even more about composition. The more you learn about light and composition, the more your photos improve.
Seeking the likeminded
Once more your confidence increases. You join landscape photography groups on Facebook and start to connect with other photographers. You know your photos are quite OK, but the feedback from the groups are not as you expected. Few comments and few likes.
Photographers don’t comment much on other photographer’s work. They are in the group for the same reason as you - to be seen. They really don’t care about your photos. But post something about a new camera or a new ND filter brand, and they will wake up.
Now, you already have a Facebook business page. But as with the groups, the feedback is rather mediocre. In the lack of response from Facebook, you decide to build your own website so the world can see your great work. You title yourself a photographer now. The website name is something like - “(Your name) Photography.com.”
You are more selective and upload only your best photos to the new website. Somewhere in the back of your mind, thoughts about selling you photos are lurking. You add a “For Sale button” and hope for the best.
4. The wannabe pro
You have learned there is one more step to great photos - post-processing. You already have an old version of Photoshop on your computer and want to give it a try. But unfortunately, the learning curve for Photoshop is steep.
Again, you’re off to YouTube for tutorials, this time on how to use Photoshop. You keep studying videos for a while until you give up. You cannot make it with Photoshop, let’s give Lightroom a try. Cool, Lightroom it is - for a while.
You outgrow Lightroom and jump back to Photoshop. Stitching and blending multiple exposures is your thing now. HDR software is out, old fashioned! Luminosity masking, you know!
With your new acquired post processing skills, you create a YouTube channel and start posting your training videos. You’re a photography teacher!
More new gear
As a teacher, you must have the latest camera, so you need to upgrade. You search for your next camera. Once again you spend a lot of time on review sites. You cannot buy anything less than a full frame - the latest and greatest in camera. With a full frame, you need a sharper and more expensive lens. Your savings spent on more expensive gear.
5. The traveler
Hello world, here I come
It doesn’t take long before your local area, and your own country is too small. Nothing more left to photograph here. The world is next - you will travel. You want to photograph the epic landscapes of the world.
Off you go, maybe to attend a workshop. At the epic site, you line up together with your fellow ten workshop participants and a couple of other workshop groups. Everybody fighting for the best spots to shoot from.
You arrive home, edit your best photos and post them to Facebook. Soon your fellow workshop participants post their best shots as well, looking the same as yours. While lining up at the epic spot together with all the other photographers, you totally forgot about composition and perspective. You did not even try to do something different from the others. But you got your “trophy.”
With the new “trophy” and a little more confident than last time, you post to 500px again. You get a few comments; “awesome,” “nice,” “fantastic,” “follow me,” “see my work” and so on. You win a few awards on online competition sites like Pixoto and WiewBug. Soon you’re a published and an award-winning photographer. You can update your website About page.
Dreaming about profit
Till now your photography website has not brought in any money. No photos sold! Hopefully, the new photos from the epic spots will sell. You upload them. Come buy my work! Silence, nothing happens.
Among millions of photography sites on the Internet, people don’t even know you have a site. No one finds your site. If you’re lucky, you might sell a photo or two, but nothing to make a living from. Unfortunately, you don’t know much about marketing. More to learn.
6. The pro
Teaching other photographers
You understand you cannot make a living from selling photos. Over the years, you have learned tips and tricks from other photographers. Maybe you should consider the same. Feeling like a pro now with all your knowledge. Why not share share your expertise.
There is always someone knowing less than you, and which could use your help. The number of followers on your Facebook page and YouTube channel is decent now, so you let them know you’re soon to start teaching photography courses and workshops.
The ring is closed. Another “once a beginner” is ready to teach beginner photographers how to use their camera and to take intermediate photographers to epic scenes somewhere in the world.
For those who take the steps to become a pro photographer, they soon face new challenges. They need to learn marketing. A little while back Facebook was an easy and free way to market your business. But this has come to an end. You must pay Facebook now to allow your followers to see what you offer.
When this happened, many photographers turned to Instagram, to post photos there instead. Guess who owns Instagram? Right, it’s Facebook. Only the future will show how long you can use Instagram as a free marketing platform. Probably not for long.
Few professional photographers are marketers, so they must learn how to promote their services. Marketing soon becomes a big part of the overall business. Less time for photography.
How to stand out from the competition? Maybe some new gear will do? Once more you read reviews. Maybe "I should become a pilot?"
Yes, "I think I’ll buy a Drone."
The evolution of a landscape photographer will vary a lot. Most of them never reach the “Pro” stage. The majority will enjoy making landscape photos as a hobby for the rest of their lives. I hope I have not offended anyone with this somehow ironic post. To my defense, you will find a lot of me in article.
Now, if you read this far, why not tell me which stage you’re at in your landscape photography journey.
Give your feedback below.