Why So Many People Love Landscape Photography


Ever hear about (or see) one of those popular landscape photography locations that’s absolutely packed with people? Ever wonder why everyone is standing there taking the same exact photo that maybe tens of hundreds of thousands of photographers have taken before? If you haven’t witnessed it personally, then you’ve probably seen it. And if you haven’t, then just check out the photo above taken at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Believe it or not, you’re not even seeing the other 50+ people that were to the right of me in that photo. So with crowds often like this, and so many photos looking similar to each other, why do so many people love landscape photography?

This all leads to something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now, but just haven’t found the right context to talk about it. Basically, as a landscape photographer I often hear two things said about shooting landscapes:
1) Some one will say landscape photography is kinda like photo collecting – meaning you simply walk up to a location and “collect” a photo (implying you’re not doing anything creative or photographic-like since you’re just snapping a photo).
2) The other thing I hear a lot is people wondering why anyone would sit at a location like you see above, knowing all of those other photographers are there taking the same photo and yours is going to look just like it.

Years ago, it used to bug me a little but I’ve gotten over it. Mainly because I realize it’s just personal taste. Everyone likes different foods right? So why would photography be any different? But there’s a little more to it that I think reading on will help you consider…

My Buddy RC And A Recent Trip Out West
Last week my friend RC Concepcion was teaching a workshop with Bill Fortney and His Light Workshops. I’ve always wanted to shoot Monument Valley so I figured it was a great chance to head out there and enjoy some time with friends while I was at it. Well, one of the things I’ve always known about RC is that he kinda had that “photo collecting” mentality about landscapes. Now, he was never mean about it and never did anything to belittle my photography. In fact, he was always very quick to recognize a nice photo when he saw it. But landscape photography just didn’t seem to be his “thing”. But I think that changed a little last week.

It All Started When RC And I Had To Go On Separate Sunset Shoots
This all begins with RC and I going on separate shoots. See, part of the ride to the sunset location he was going to, involved driving down an extremely bumpy dirt road for about 30+ minutes (we’d gone to a similar location for sunrise so I knew the drive). It was seriously like being on one of the Deadliest Catch boats ;) Little known fact about me: I get REALLY motion sick. And when I say REALLY I mean REALLY bad. If I’m not the one driving a car then I’d better be sitting in the passenger seat or I start to feel ill (and even that doesn’t always help). And I knew from the sunrise shoot earlier that day, that I couldn’t take another one of those trips. So I bailed out and shot something different for sunset.

The Moment I Knew It Changed
Later that evening RC and I are sitting in the hotel room looking at photos from the day. RC looks over at my laptop and says “Dude, where was that!!!???”. He then proceeded to mutter a few expletives about me getting a cool shot that he missed. It’s not that he was mad at me or anything. And it’s not that his sunset shoot was worse than mine or anything. It’s just that he loved the shot and wished that he had been in a similar place. It was at that moment I knew RC got “it”. What is “it” you ask? It’s that feeling of creating a a beautiful photo of a beautiful place that no conversation, debate, and no amount of discussion between us would ever make him see.

(here’s the photo I had up when RC looked over – click to see larger)

Here’s What It All Comes Down To
We actually talked a little about the topic during our trip. What I explained to RC was that saying landscape photography is like photo collecting, is devaluing the actual process of taking the photo. Look at the Story Behind The Photo posts I’ve been doing. They’re some of the most popular posts, and it’s not because everyone likes the photo. It’s the story behind the photo, and the journey that it took to create the image. We’ve probably all been to crowded photo locations where several, if not tens or hundreds of photographers are trying to take the same photo. So why don’t we just skip that location and look at, buy, or admire their photo, instead of trying to make our own? Because making our own photo of a beautiful or memorable place is part of photography. I’ve personally seen many great photos of Monument Valley. And honestly, I’ve seen many greater than mine. But I consider my trip an absolute success because I got to shoot Monument Valley the way I wanted to. I can still admire other’s photos of the area, but now I also have my own – and that means a lot to me. I was there. I got to feel what it was like. I got to experience the scenery, the air, the beautiful color in the sunset/sunrise, and the feeling of taking my own photo there. Plus, I got to put my own spin on the post-processing (which regardless if anyone admits is a HUGE part of landscape and outdoor photography).

That’s what it’s all about and that’s why I have absolutely no problem walking up to a location that’s been photographed a million times before, and taking my own photo there. Do I love hiking out into the wilderness and capturing places few ever get to see? Sure I do. But a beautiful place is a beautiful place – whether I had to hike for hours and camp overnight to get it, or I walked 15 feet out of my car and set my tripod next to 10 other photographers.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a good one! :)

  • http://www.ruilopes.ca Rui Lopes

    Hi Matt, I absolutely loved the way you “phrased” this topic hence your analysis on the subject. The term ‘Photo Collecting’ sounds very touristic to me, where a passionate and creative landscape photographer will always try to put its own spin into any image, regardless how many photographers he is surrounded by. A decade ago I was in a similar situation down at Canyon de Chelly, photographing the ‘White House’ and surrounded by 4×5, 8×10 and even an 11×14 shooter (amazing). I decided to grab the largest telephoto I had and went strictly for the details that everyone else seemed to be missing – it worked well for me. Soon after I was surrounded by a few wondering what the heck I was seeing?? It was kind of funny, actually.
    I love your work
    Hopefully I will see you in Toronto shortly.
    Best

  • http://tampabandphotos.com Russ Robinson

    “Plus, I got to put my own spin on the post-processing (which regardless if anyone admits is a HUGE part of landscape and outdoor photography).”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking from the very beginning of this article. Capturing the raw image is AT MOST half of the process. The post phase is where you really bring an image to life. So who cares if hundreds of other photographers begin with essentially the same canvas….in the digital age, it’s how you apply the brush strokes of creativity that will truly distinguish your work.

    Nice post, bud.

  • http://williambeem.com wbeem

    My own phrase for this sort of thing is going for a Trophy photo. However, I don’t mean that to belittle it. Put it in a sports context. Is the Stanley Cup any less valuable to the next team that wins it just because many others have won it before?

    Of course not. As you mention, everyone has their own journey to get that and that’s part of the story. Also, those folks who visit a location won’t all come home with the exact same shot. More times than I can recall, I’ve been on group shoots and we get together to compare shots. Each of us ends up somewhat envious of the shot that someone else saw and captured, but we didn’t.

    So I’m fine with it. Go collect your trophies. You’ve earned them.

    • http://www.goodsmithstudio.com/denver-wedding-photographer/ Matt

      Love the Stanley Cup line! If only they’d play for it… :)

  • Dave

    Really a great piece, Matt. I have read other articles in which the author disses photographers who take travel photos or tulip photos or whatever with a comment to the effect that “the world doesn’t need another tulip (or whatever) photo.” Well, I would not presume to speak for the world, but if you want the photo, that’s a good enough reason to create it. Maybe the world won’t beat a path to your door to admire it, but if you are happy with what you created, chances are at least some of your friends and others who see it will be, too. If the admiring audience is just you and your mom, that’s good enough. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • http://gravatar.com/sarch99 Sunny

    I very much enjoyed reading this article. I may well be one of the Photo Collecting photographers, but I tend to think of myself as Memory Collecting. If I’m at an amazing site, I’m thrilled to work at getting a photo that I will love, but I’m most thrilled to actually BE in that place at that particular time with like-minded friends. Iceland is at the top of my bucket list. I hope I will get there someday, and I will certainly make photographic memories. However, the fact that I get there and actually get to visualize in person the wonder that is Iceland, will be enough if I don’t get that iconic shot.

  • Randal Jaffe

    Very well said. I know these famous sites have been photographed to death but it is still my picture of the same thing that gives me great pleasure. That is what I was there for and what I take pictures for. To enjoy these great sites and have the memories that are uniquely mine.

  • http://www.docmilesphotography.com Doc Miles

    Great article. You are absolutely right. The exciting thing about landscape photography is that, no matter how many time you shoot the same place, it is never the same. Whether it is the light, weather or your interpretation of your vision at the time, it will always be different.

  • http://www.georgehendrix.com George Hendrix

    I’ve got a friend with a sizable collection of what one of the commenters called “Trophy” photos. I tease my friend that he’s working from a master checklist. And when we talk I usually ask him if he’s added any checkmarks lately. What I think I’ve figured out about him is that he likes hanging out with the many other photographers he usually encounters at the major landscape attractions. They talk about gear, motels, food, and sometimes end up telling stories over beers at the nearest local bar. He gets great memory landscape shots and as an occasional side bonus, a new friend.

    What perplexes me are the people who don’t seem to stray much from the list. I live half-an-hour’s drive from the Maroon Bells and a couple of hours from Moab, so I know both areas fairly well. At dawn and again at dusk on a prime September morning at the Bells sometimes so many shutters are firing that it sounds like a roofing crew nailing shingles. Same at Delicate Arch in mid summer. People shooting serious gear. But both of those iconic landmarks are surrounded by mile after mile of random magnificence that doesn’t seem to draw much photographic attention.

    Oh, and yea, I’ve got my own collection of trophy shots. So I surely do understand the urge.

  • Stan K

    I know people that have asked me the same question – “Why bother when so many others have already taken this same shot”? And my response is the same as yours Matt, “Because this is MY shot. I was here and I took this shot. I can frame it and tell others I took the shot, and this is what it took to get it!” If all I wanted was photos of landscapes I could have saved a few thousand bucks and just bought some prints someone else took!

  • http://500px.com/spalla Andrea Spallanzani

    I love the shot from the View Hotel in Monument Valley. I have an identical one.

  • Tim Abramowitz

    To add to your comfort of having not made the second trip into the restricted access area… Dude, it was worse the second time around. My kidneys still hurt!

    • http://mattk.com Matt Kloskowski

      Too funny! Thank God I skipped it! ;-)

  • Steve

    I love landscapes, and was lucky enough to shoot a little with Trey Ratcliff and Tom Anderson last week. When you see what artists like that create, it just inspires me. Its not about getting the same shot as everyone else. Its about getting MY shot, and doing the best I can with it.

  • http://www.1107photography.wordpress.com Deb Scally

    Loved the post, Matt, and I think the sentiment is well understood and shared by many photographers, pros and amateurs alike. It’s the journey not the destination… as the saying goes. I know when I post on my own photo blog, it’s the story behind the photograph that really captivates, as much, if not more, than the photograph itself.
    Having said that… I’d like to see RC’s shot, now, too… with the picture of his ride to get there etched in my mind… ;)

  • http://twitter.com/robertrath Robert Rath (@robertrath)

    What a thoughtful post Matt. This idea is so much bigger than just landscape. I see it in underwater photography, especially great white shark photos here in South Australia. I see it in water droplet frozen motion images. I see it in almost all the clichéd image genres you can imagine. Photographers want the actual experience of creating the image, be it recreating the image or idea or some place or some work they like. This process of ‘creating’ is I think what really matters and why we all love it. Landscape or otherwise! Again, thanks for your thought provoking post.

  • http://mry.cz Martin

    Nice post, Matt, and interesting comments, too. I like hiking, and there is a BIG diference when I take my camera with or not. The impressions are much stronger with a camera in hand. Maybe because shooting is more than looking only.

  • http://blog.jfwphoto.com John F. Williams

    Matt, Thanks to you and RC for your posts about this recent trip to Monument Valley. In fact, It inspired me to finally take some time away from work, use up some frequent flier miles, visit friends in Phoenix I’ve been promising to visit, and make the trip myself. So during the second week of December, I’ll be there capturing memories. I’m especially looking forward to experimenting with star photography.

  • http://david-doucot.fineartamerica.com/ David H Doucot

    I had the same experience back in September when I took my first trip to Yosemite. Everyone, including myself, have seen countless photos taken of the magnificent landscape that is Yosemite. All I thought before the trip was “How am I ever going to take a photo that will be different from all the rest?”

    Whatever doubts I had vanished as soon as I pulled into the park and looked at the beauty of nature displayed before me. What I saw with my own eyes through the lens of my camera looked nothing like the photos that I had seen of the park by other photographers, even though I was shooting the same places that they had.

    And talk about the story behind the photos… on my second day there I took a tumble off the amphitheater at Glacier Point, breaking the middle finger (end joint) of my right hand which is my shooting hand of course, as well as “smooshing” (official medical term used by the doctor at the ER) my right shoulder. I ended up taking a day off to recuperate but went back to the park on fourth day and continued shooting photos. I can’t wait to go back to see what else appears through my lens.

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  • http://www.officesupportonline.com.au Marie Chandler

    When I was talking to a photographer at his display many years ago, he actually advised me to avoid scenery shots and landscapes because ‘everyone does them’. But I disagree with him. As you point out Matt, it’s the story as well as the result. I love landscapes, waterfalls, etc because of how they make me feel. To look at a great shot and know that I was the one that shot it just makes me feel so great. I don’t advertise or sell my shots at this stage – they are my personal items and I love to share with friends and see their ‘oh wow – YOU took that?’ face when I show them :-)

  • Stephen L. Kapp

    Matt,

    Good points. We just want to experience the place and process “directly” ourselves, and have those memories to look back upon to build our “memory albums.” I wanted to comment that after reading this, my analogy to your story was sports (music, etc.). Millions of people play the same sport you do each day (soccer, sailing, tennis, skiing) – so why would you want to do the same thing as everyone else? Simply – to experience it and grow from it.

    Happy New Year…

  • http://www.facebook.com/agallia Al Gallia

    Well spoken…addressed my feelings and thoughts on the ‘why’ in such simple terms. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.smithjr.35 Richard Smith Jr

    Shooting the scene personally allows us to attach an emotional experience and a sense of the ‘space’ by viewing the scene in the 3D, thereby increasing (at least for us and regardless of the photo as a work of art) the value of the shot to us.

  • cpleblow

    I really enjoyed the last sentence in the second to last paragraph about post processing!