When it comes to photography, it’s no secret that my favorite thing to capture is the activity of life – candid moments, laughs without restraint, a split second stop in action that reflects grace, movement, passion, strength, and struggle. I often find it hard to put into words the impact of uploading images from camera to computer and I see that I’ve captured the activity of life. And when I can’t find words, I usually gush. I go on and on and on about lucky I am, or how fun a shoot was, or how amazing this life is. It’s hard to truly render my feelings except to say that I love it.
I can also tell you that I have rarely felt this way about landscape photography. Not landscape photography photographed by others, those images I love. Rather, landscape shot by me. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of images I have deleted over the course of fifteen years. I would upload or develop film and would just think yuck. So uninspiring and most definitely zero gushing. None. Not even close. And so I mostly gave up. I figured it just wasn’t for me.
Then I travelled to West Texas. I won’t lie, my expectations were low. I wasn’t nearly as excited about Big Bend National Park as I was about seeing the iconic Prada art installation outside of Marfa, Texas. I was so very wrong.
On the one hand, the land was open. On the other, it seemed incredibly unforgiving.
I found myself thinking that one must be so desperate to be willing to traverse this land illegally from Mexico to Texas. Along those same lines, I wondered what good a wall would do. The landscape seems unyielding and a destroyer of whatever hands have made whenever it wants or from the passing of time. But this is not a political post, but merely an observation of landscape.
There were moments during this road trip that I began to understand what people mean by ‘God’s own country.” Are there far more interesting and beautiful places in this world? Sure, but as harsh and beauty collided in West Texas, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the preservation of this landscape. And because life inspires art, I thought I would try again at this landscape photography thing.
Do you ever find yourself fully knowledgeable about a particular subject only to realize that the most basic concept is the one you are overlooking? Yeah, it’s so great to realize this. In my case it’s called lighting. Any photographer will tell you it’s all about the lighting. And it is. When photographing people, you want to be in the best light – not too bright, not too dark, no splotchy shadows, the golden hour, backlit and on and on. So it would only make sense that the very same concept would apply to landscapes. Makes sense. Logical. And yet, I completely missed this. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit it because I should know better. And I do, when it comes to people. I just didn’t know it when it came to landscape.
I’ll show you what I mean.
This first image was taken around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Is it a terrible image? It could certainly be worse, but it’s just so so.
This second image was taken around 8:30pm. The last few moments of the golden hour as the sun is setting.
Now, can the color in the second image be reproduced in the first? Sure on some level. It would take me far longer to accomplish something like that in photoshop that mother nature has already perfected. To capture these colors as they happen one must plan for the right time of day. And for me, at least, the difference of a few hours changes photograph substantially.
Another example of gorgeous lighting. The colors, the position of the sun, the sun flare all those things I had forgotten in prior attempts that are as key in landscapes as they are with people.
And by luck and timing, I managed this starry night, lit up with a thunderstorm. Luck because while you can have knowledge of sunrise and sunset, weather patterns can often be elusive. Timing because had I not been shooting Big Bend at sunset, I would have never come across this shot at 3:30 in the afternoon. Never.
Oh landscapes, I’m so glad I didn’t give up on you. West Texas has inspired me in new ways and while the re-learning of the importance of lighting when photographing landscapes was rather humbling, I’m glad of it.