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Building a Cohesive Landscape Photography Portfolio – Part 1

Can you imagine if your whole landscape photography portfolio could only be made up of images from one location? Well, that was the challenge that Christine Hauber faced as she embarked on a several-month journey to photograph the Mojave Desert as artist in residence at the Mojave National Preserve. Not only was she challenged by the sheer vastness and desolation of the desert landscape, but she also needed to create a portfolio that was both diverse and cohesive – and that accurately reflected her personal experience and artistic style.

Shooting exclusively in infrared black and white, this 25-year veteran of photography achieved that goal beautifully. We were curious to hear how she did it and what advice she has for other photographers who would like to put together a cohesive gallery show or portfolio of their own. Here’s what she had to say:

This was the first show I’ve done that needed to be site-specific. Every image had to be shot in Mojave National Preserve. That was probably the biggest challenge. I stayed in the Preserve for a total of four weeks (luckily I have an RV, so that was easy to do) and created a portfolio exclusively using images I shot during that time.

In this article, I’ll talk about shooting, processing, printing and hanging your photos so that they make up a cohesive body of work, using my experiences in Mojave as an example.

Set Yourself Apart

A lot of previous photographers have shot Mojave National Preserve in color, so I knew I wanted to shoot in infrared. Infrared is my specialty. (I actually started off as a film infrared photographer, and when my film was discontinued in 2009, a friend gave me his converted digital camera.) Really with infrared, my biggest focus is what the sky is going to be doing. Sunrises and sunsets in infrared really aren’t that exciting. So for me, I don’t have to get up at the break of dawn, but I do have to be ready for the pretty clouds. Shooting in infrared is really more about the subject matter and how it’s interacting with the sky and the environment.

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“Withstanding the Storm.” How the sky and clouds interact with the landscape is a big focus in my images. With my already busy schedule, I was able to devote four weeks over a period of five months to this project (three consecutive weeks in November). During my first eight full days I was presented with nothing but blue skies and I was really wondering if I was going to be able to complete a portfolio. With an average precipitation of 3.5 inches of rain per year, I knew I needed to take advantage of any clouds in the sky.

Scout Your Location

To me, scouting is really important. Let’s say you have just three or four days at a location. It can be difficult to just show up at a place and get exactly what you want. Sometimes you have to spend the sunny days scouting and marking down which places you would like to return to again. The Kelso Dunes was one of those places for me. I had to return to the dunes three or four times before the light was right.

Don’t Rush

Once you’re on location, a tip I like to give photographers is to spend some time just really looking around. Remember, if you walk one direction, always turn around and see what’s behind you to make sure you’re not missing something. Don’t waste time worrying that you’re not going to be able to find anything to photograph. Sometimes you have to just breathe. I always tell people to pause, breathe and feel. A lot of times, images will just come to you if you do that. But if you’re rushing from one point to the next and getting caught up in the technical aspect, I feel you can loose touch with that connection to the environment.

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“Cholla and the Rocky Ridge.” On some deep, subconscious level, I am drawn to life that exists on the edge of solitude. With a couple of completely different ideas in mind for my Artist-in-Residence portfolio, somehow, I ended up gravitating towards the minimalistic images of solitary strength that was far removed from my original plans. But, heck, that is the life of a photographer!

Embrace the Challenges of the Landscape

Mojave isn’t popular with a lot of photographers because it’s a difficult place to photograph. If you go onto the Internet and look up Mojave National Preserve photography, you don’t get this series of site-specific images like you would of, say, Yosemite. It doesn’t really have those amazing, one-stop landscapes that a lot of other national parks have.

In some places, I liked the idea of the landscape, but when I got out of my car, it didn’t quite work. So I would hike by myself in the quietness, and that’s when I would get into my zone. In the desert, you can see across the valleys, and there are little cactuses, bushes and trees forever. So the challenge was trying to really pinpoint how best to capture that. And I think each person has to find their own style. If you’re a color photographer, work with the sunbursts, sunrises, sunsets, and the backlighting of cactuses. They are really pretty when the sun hits them.

To be continued…Building a Cohesive Landscape Photography Portfolio – Part 2.

About Author Christine Hauber

As a full-time professional photographer for over 25 years, my love of photography has pushed me forward through the tough times as well as the absolutely amazing times. I have captured the quietness Mother Nature gives us to the amazing faces of man and beast.

Without a creative outlet, I am not sure I could exist with such gratitude and grace. Being creative affords me hours of quiet contemplation, allows me to absorb the beauty around me even when there seems to be very little of it and feeds my soul. Sharing my resulting images and knowledge is my way of hoping to bring those same feelings to those who view them.

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