A self portrait under the milky way galaxy.

Stepping out of Your Comfort Zone

One thing I’ve noticed is that photography, especially landscape photography, can feel repetitive. While I’m primarily a landscape photographer, I have noticed myself experimenting a bit more with my work than I have before. Stepping out of your normal comfort zone can often be a rewarding and refreshing change to your own work.

Just this year, I noticed myself adding the human element in a few images and, more recently, incorporating the hand of man in terms of city and roads. I had never worked on such an image before where I felt I needed to incorporate city lights. On a recent trip to Tucson, I found a location that allowed me to expand my creativity while still giving me the landscapes that I love and enjoy. For the image below, I took note of the long road winding around the mountain and the city lights off in the distance. The added bonus here was that the Milky Way would rise above the horizon. Using long exposures to capture the streaking car lights of vehicles heading up and down the mountain, it made the road pop and connected the lights of the city to the light trails on the mountain road. The lights on the road guide the viewer’s eye across the image to the city lights, which drown out part of the Milky Way allowing for almost a split difference in the time of day.

Cars drive up and down Mount Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona as the milky way rises above the bright city lights.

Cars drive up and down Mount Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona as the Milky Way rises above the bright city lights

In addition to including man-made objects, I found myself including… well… myself in a few images. Adding a human element can give more emotional impact and tell more of a story. It can also provide a sense of scale. The image below is a self-portrait I created while camping above Lake Powell. I took note of the Milky Way arching over the lake and obviously made an image of the spectacle for my portfolio. However, after taking that photograph, I decided to play around a bit and make a self-portrait. When I had my finished product, I felt as if I created something more than simply a self-portrait. This was also my first time working on Milky Way panoramic images. When I took the series of images, I had ran back and forth to the small rock to make sure I could get a still image of myself. When processing the image, I noticed that the stitch had omitted me from the entire frame. Thinking I only had a plain and generic Milky Way panoramic, I thought quickly and took that frame to mask into the panoramic image. This definitely added more appeal to the image and allowed the photo to tell a story.

A self portrait under the milky way galaxy.

A self-portrait under the Milky Way galaxy

Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t must mean shooting different subject matter. Perhaps you take minimal steps for your post-processing to get to your final image. Consider playing around with various techniques and see if they add or subtract to your workflow. I utilized a number of techniques from layer masking, focal point blending, and advanced color work to achieve the final product with the sunset image below. This allowed me to present a more painterly and artistic impression of the scene and, more importantly, helped me create an image which I truly enjoy.

Waves crash on the shores of canyon lake during sunset.

Waves crash on the shores of Canyon Lake at sunset 

Other ways to step out of your comfort zone may include using a zoom lens or telephoto lens on the landscape rather than wide angle. Try focusing on the more intimate details and shapes within the scene. This can be more challenging, but I often find the risk is worth the reward. Some areas might not offer this type of opportunity, but it never hurts to look.

  • Light filters through buttes and spires within the grand canyon.

    Light filters through buttes and spires within the  Grand Canyon

  • Varied shapes and textures of the Utah badlands.

    Varied shapes and textures of the Utah Badlands

Got any idea or examples of your own? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

About Author Peter Coskun

I am a professional photographer based out of the Sonoran desert of Arizona. I've been fortunate to explore and wander the southwest for the majority of my life. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as a child, I wasn't quite familiar with the outdoors or nature for that matter. Aside from flipping through Nat Geo magazines during class, I wasn't sure if any of this stuff actually existed. After moving across the country to the desert I soon found myself exploring the desert landscape. I became fascinated by the flora and fauna as well as seeing the rugged mountains for the first time. Soon enough, I picked up a camera and began to document my explorations. I began to look at the scenery in a different way, studying how the light and weather worked with the landscape. It became more and more enjoyable for me, and one day someone asked to purchase a print. As they say, the rest is history right? I've been fortunate to have my work printed in such publications as Arizona Highways Magazine and Digital Photo Mag UK as well as many online publications.