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