The first tasks of a new photographer are to learn their camera and understand the basic concepts of photography. Once they accomplish that, they should be able to reliably produce sharp images with acceptable exposure. But that is rarely enough for someone wanting to create beautiful photographs. Creativity is the missing ingredient, the “secret sauce” that takes your landscape photography from mundane to magical! But how do you pursue creative landscape photography?
Here are some strategies to help you discover your creative side or find your creative voice when it seems to be hiding.
Learn to really see before you click the shutter
Many times, the excitement of being in a stunning location can be so stimulating that we can’t wait to start taking shots. To get in touch with your creativity, leave the camera in the bag and just be in the moment for a bit, letting the spirit of the location become apparent. You will start to notice what makes a location special and you will start to see the possibilities for the photographs you want to make.
This is just one more reason to get to a location early before you expect the nicest light. That gives you time to explore the location with your eyes before looking through your camera.
Think about abstracts
If you feel like you are in a rut and your photographs all look similar, a good way to spark creativity is to look for abstract images. Often, we get in the habit of taking what I call ‘documenting shots’, sharply-focused photos of a location that can easily lack soul. These types of shots are necessary as part of the story of a place but don’t tell the whole creative story of a location. Looking for abstract images can help you get in touch with your creative side and show off the often overlooked spirit of a location.
The image below is a good example of creative landscape photography. I was in the Smoky Mountains alongside a stream during the late afternoon. I took the normal shots of the stream, the fall leaves, and the mossy rocks… nice images to be sure. But I felt like there was something more creative I could do with the scene. I noticed that the gold and blue colors of the leaves and the sky were reflecting in small sections of the flowing stream and I knew I could make an abstract image that captured the spirit of the scene. I grabbed my 70-200 lens and went in tight to photograph just tiny portions of the stream, using various shutter speeds until I found just the look I wanted. My creativity was humming along!
Try Something New
To fuel your creativity, try a completely new type of photography. Challenge yourself to learn a new genre and embrace how uncomfortable you feel at the outset; that tense feeling can be a springboard for creativity. I am a landscape and underwater photographer. If I feel like I’m lagging in creativity, I may attempt to capture a portrait or other photographer in action! Yep, it’s a little scary, but I have come to enjoy that feeling of tension because it sparks my brain to step out of the ordinary and create something entirely new. I find that when I do this and then go back to my normal work, I have a renewed sense of creativity.
Learn your gear, inside and out
Learn to use your equipment. Sounds boring. But trying to figure out how to do a bracketed shot in front of a fleeting rainbow is very stifling to creativity. You will know you understand your camera enough when you forget that it’s in your hand and it becomes just another way to see! I remember the first time this happened to me, I was amazed at how different everything felt. The camera disappeared, and I was just seeing and feeling. That is when creativity soars!
Can’t go shooting? Learn something new in Photoshop!
If you want to add to your creative toolbox and you can’t go play with your camera, get out the computer and learn something new in Photoshop or Lightroom. Post-processing is a major component of creative landscape photography and there is always something new to learn. I spent some time recently learning how to add frames to my images so that they pop when they show up on social media. I was so happy with the result that I taught myself to write my own action in Photoshop! If it’s cold and rainy and you are stuck inside, look up some tutorials here on Visual Wilderness and expand your creative post-processing toolbox.
Protect Your Creative Spirit
Once you develop a creative landscape photography style, be sure to protect it. We are all vulnerable to criticism and can have our unique artistic voice shouted down by traditionalists. Just because someone doesn’t “get” your work doesn’t mean it has no creative value. We can all be open to critique and there is a lot to learn from critical analysis. But be sure you are only listening to those who have earned the right to be constructively critical. If you want critique, seek out qualified photographers that can give you honest feedback on your work.
Of course, the same thing applies in reverse! Your doting Aunt Mary will always think you are the next Ansel Adams! Be careful who you listen to and protect your hard-earned creative spirit because it is what sets you apart and makes your work uniquely yours.