When I think about how I can help people with their landscape photography, everything to do with technique first comes to mind. Without technique, it’s more difficult to get what you want. Obviously, I also think about composition because that’s what will allow our photographs to say what we want them to say. But is there anything else? What about motivation?
In this article, I’m not going to talk about technique or composition. For technique, you have my own and others’ photography courses. For composition, you have my book “Practising composition” (Spanish language edition). But today, I want to talk about what motivates us to photograph nature and landscapes.
It is no longer clear to me whether what motivates us to get up to photograph a sunrise. Is it the fact of visiting a place, living a unique experience and being able to capture it with our camera? Or rather to collect trophies, get likes or conquer fame?
In the last few years on social media, I have noticed that the moment someone shares a very good photo of a place, it creates a need in others to take the exact same photo.
I will try to explain. When we look at a travel magazine and see a report about a place, we will surely feel seduced to travel to that place, visit it and enjoy it. If you are also a photography enthusiast, you will probably want to take pictures of it. However, nowadays, we take note of where each photograph has been taken in order to go and take exactly the same photograph, from the same point of view, and if possible, with the same light.
So what am I trying to say with all this? Is it wrong? Is it right? God forbid I should judge anyone. I am simply saying that inspiration is one thing, and copying is another. And it’s not that copying itself is a bad thing, but if we all copy, in the end, we will always see the same pictures of the same places. Whose pictures? Those of the first person who photographed that place.
My point is that copying is the right way to learn. I myself recommend it to my students, but copying has the danger of killing your creativity. If you always take other people’s photos, you will have a collection of impressive photographs that you haven’t really worked on yourself. And even though you may look like an amazing photographer to others, deep down, you will know the truth.
On Instagram, I try to follow profiles that bring me something new, something fresh, and even discover new places. That’s what I like the most, travelling to places where I haven’t been before. In that way, I try to get the most out of that place by taking my own photographs. What makes me most tired of social media is seeing the same pictures of the same places over and over again. To such an extent that I’ve come to dislike those places, and I have no intention of visiting them for the time being.
Social networks are a fundamental part of this trend of collecting photographs. Instead of writing down places to visit on a map, we write down the exact points of the photographs to be taken. Mind you, I’m not criticising this, as I do it myself, but do you really know the environment where you have taken the photograph, or are you really an expert on specific locations? Many times I have left a place with the feeling that I didn’t know it at all.
If you don’t agree with my words, stop and think for a few seconds. Think about the last few photos you’ve seen on Instagram, and tell me how many of them are of a specific place. Then, think about how many other people have taken the same picture or composition. For example, if I say “Monument Valley”, “Antelope Canyon”, “Empire State”, “Vatican Stairs”, “Barrika beach”, “Consuegra”, “Otzarreta beech forest”, “Little red houses of Lofoten”, you will already have a specific image in your mind.
Moreover, it is no longer enough to just take good photographs. A great photographer only takes incredible, spectacular photographs of moments that will never happen again, with light that we have never dreamed of. Obviously, I am joking here, all this is meant ironically.
Motivation is the engine of our lives. It’s what drives us, and it’s what makes us drive for almost two hours to see if we can photograph the moon even if the forecast says it will be cloudy. It is the one thing that keeps us “warm” even when we are in sub-zero temperatures with a dark sky waiting for it to open to photograph the Aurora Borealis.
But when the primary motivation is to collect photographs like trophies rather than experiences, don’t you think there is something starting to go wrong?
About the Author
Sergio Arias is a published travel photographer and photography educator based out of Valencia, Spain. He can usually be found travelling the world, organising workshops and photography tours to far-flung locations such as Norway, Iceland, New York and Canada, to name just a few.