Should Landscape Photographers Chase Light? or Creativity?
Do you chase light or do you chase creativity for your landscape photography? The simple answer is that you should chase light and creativity. However, that is easier said than done. There are many professional landscape photographers out there that advocate to chase the light. In fact, those advocates often believe that is the way to achieve a portfolio of stellar images. Chasing the light gives you the highest probability of getting yourself in the right location at the right time. There is absolute truth to that mindset. It clearly works for many. However, I’m quickly learning that these days that chasing light doesn’t work for me due to one, often overlooked, constraint. Time.
How my time to you have on Location?
My lifestyle is no longer one of endless travel days and freedom to drive across the state to stand in some insane approaching weather. There is a family and toddler at home whom, for the moment, demand my attention more than my personal need for photographic release. I imagine that many avid photographers find themselves in the same situation. We have our family, children, pets, and other jobs vying for our attention for the majority of the year. Then, certain times of the year, we are able to travel and focus solely on photography.
Those who chase light often do so to great lengths. It is an endless addiction of checking weather apps and frantically making calculations on where those tripod legs should land as the sun dips under or over the horizon. Light chasers have no issue driving for hours or rearranging their entire shooting plan (as if there even was one) at the drop of a dime. They live a life of almost constant travel. This method does pay. They do find amazing weather phenomenons, but the cost is time. Typically, light chasing photographers are able to spend ample amounts of time traveling and being away from “home.”
Slow Down to chase Creative Landscape Photography
So on my sacred photography outings, I need maximize my actual shooting time. I need less miles and more camera shutter clicks. So let me admit what might get me kicked out of the landscape photography community. At the very least, I’m going to loose my hardcore badge. I do not chase light. Instead, I work with the light within a certain driving radius. It doesn’t sound as sexy, but I have found this approach is giving me an opportunity. It allows me to slow down and actually chase creativity within my photography.
Let me be clear. This isn’t to say that light chasers are not creative. It is simply a different type of creativity. This working with the light around me method actually finds me less stress on choosing a destination and more relaxed. A relaxed me takes more time to see, to revisit, to experiment, to ponder, and to immerse myself in my surroundings. I find that is when I am the most creative.
This slower pace allows me to take in the grand vistas but also notice the small scenes. When you have the opportunity to spend ample time in a location, it is easier to see more subtle leading lines, s-curves, and symmetry. It emboldens me to hone my shooting skills and various techniques with the camera in hand because I spend so much more time shooting and tinkering with a composition and scene. Moreover, I find myself thoroughly enjoying every minute of photography.
How to maximize your shooting time
If this approach to maximize your shooting time sounds more like your cup of tea, here is what I advise. Research your destination before you go. It is nice to watch Youtube videos or read blog posts, but I find the best advice is in books. My secret is to actually go to the location’s tourism center or national park visitors center. They do their best to find the finest books to promote their location. If they do not have an online store, I’ll call and ask about their favorite hiking and/or photography specific location guides. I have found many amazing resources and exceptional photographers with this method. The largest bonus, I spend less time stressing about choosing where I should be going.
Next, I use apps like PhotoPills, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE), or googlemaps to determine the sun’s path for that time of year and potential locations to shoot. As I go through my information, I jot down my list of potential locations for sunrise, mid-morning, late-afternoon, sunset, and night opportunities. Last, I like to make my own map with all these potential locations that I can use on my phone for the trip itself. Oh yes, I research the best coffee and restaurants in the area. Having a few foodie spots is a priority in my book. Whether you’re camping, glamping, or hotel crashing, a good meal or a great coffee during down time are perks of the profession. Don’t let them go to waste.
It may seem like a lot of effort up-front, and maybe it is, but I find it to be enjoyable effort. In truth, it is simply a different type of work compared to the light chasing road warriors. They still do this type of research too. There are tradeoffs between the two approaches. I’m sure I’ve missed a few epic sunsets and lost a funny story about the chaos of getting to a location. However, I’ve gained diversity in my shooting experiences and portfolio.
Moreover, I find this slowed-down approach allows my photography to be more immersive, creative, and gratifying. What’s your method? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.