For those that don't know my story, I bought my first digital SLR camera in September 2014. Prior to this, I had no special interest in photography. I never visited photography web sites or read the magazines or had any real clue about how to use a proper camera. This was evident in the first few weeks where I ran about taking shots at random settings in the vain hope that at least some of them would turn out ok.
A year later, a lot has changed and the effect on my life has been quite dramatic. I thought it would be nice to write about some of the things I've noticed about landscape photography in my short time practising it.
Some early shots
So why did I suddenly decide to take up photography? There's two strands to this. The first was stress. I'm talking major anxiety producing stress that nearly drove me to the edge. After nearly 20 years of running a business that just got bigger and bigger, the stress finally caught up to me and I decided that my body just couldn't take any more. So I sold up - and that's a long story in itself because in the end due to some very dodgy characters, I never received most of the money from the sale. The business is still trading, but as I say, that's another story for another day. I had no idea what I was going to do next, but I needed something to occupy me whilst I figured it out and I choose landscape photography because of my love of the outdoors. Instead of moping around the house, I was now out every day soaking up some of Scotland's amazing scenery.
The second reason I picked photography was simply down to my frustration at never really learning how to use a camera. The things were an enigma to me. I had done a bit of darkroom developing (I even had my own home darkroom) whilst still at school. I also had a degree in Fine Art, so I felt I should have been able to master a camera. At least now with digital cameras, it should be easy. Right?
I soon found out how wrong I was, but I sat myself down, bought a few books, practised, practised and practised until suddenly what was hidden to me was now revealed. In the months since, I've travelled over 30,000 miles and taken over 60,000 shots and discovered within me a talent and passion for something that could hopefully be the next new exciting chapter in my life.
But more than that, I found almost instantly that whilst out, watching the light dance over the landscape, all my stresses and worries would be gone. That relief was palpable and very very welcome. For the few hours (or sometimes days if out camping at the top of mountains), all thoughts about money, stress or what I was going to do with my life would vanish.
So, on the verge of officially starting my career as a landscape photographer I thought I would share some of my story and comment on some of the things I've noticed.
People come in different shapes and types. And let's be honest, some folks are snobs. The same is true of photographers.
I'n the first few weeks and months of buying my camera I was out every single day, sometimes twice a day and hungry for new locations. I didn't know any photographers, didn't subscribe to any photography Facebook groups and hadn't travelled to too many locations around Scotland. I was completely naive about many of the places I was visiting. I'd often seen only one single image (if any) of the locations I was visiting before taking my shots. Sometimes I would be there on my own, but in some locations I would find myself surrounded by two, three or half a dozen other photographers jostling for the shot (with me feeling intimidated and like an 'imposter'). Only then or subsequently would I find out how wrong I was and would find myself seeing shots of the same location everywhere I looked.
'That' mountain and 'that' castle
But I didn't mind. It was still all new to me and I just wanted to take good photographs. I didn't care if it had been done before and frankly, neither should you. By all means find your own take on it, but never forget that sometimes the best shot of a location could very well be the same shot that's been done countless times. It was popular for a reason. Just know, that no one else will ever take the exact same shot in the exact same conditions at the exact same time. Yours is unique.
Increasingly I've seen more and more sneering comments from photographers about the road well travelled and looking down on those (that may very well have plenty of shots of more obscure locations in their portfolios) that have the brass neck to photograph one of Scotland's icons whilst driving bus loads of workshop attendees around the very same locations. They've either forgotten what it was like when they started out or decided for a photograph to be valid, it has to be of somewhere they hiked six hours to get to and they suffered greatly to get it.
Now, I sell prints and the one thing I've noticed since starting is that people buy photographs of locations that mean something to them. Either they visited the place as a child, lived there or have some other connection to the place. I too can be precious about some of the locations I've found and yes, the images can mean more to you if they're from or of a location that wasn't easy to get to. You know that not many others will be able to achieve the same. But I want to make a living and if that means interspersing trips with popular locations, then so be it.
So, can we go back to just appreciating a good photo for what it is?
Tying in with the above observations, a popular location can mean bus loads (and I do genuinely mean bus loads) of tourists and photographers turning up every day. Whilst I do wish that some of them would do more than just walk 200 yards, set up, take their shots and leave (I mean, spend a bit of time looking around for goodness sake), this isn't my main concern.
I love Scotland. I love every single bit of it, from the top of its mountains to the depths of its lochs. I chose to do photography because I love the landscape, the fresh air, the outdoors. So it pains me greatly when I see or hear about photographers destroying the very thing they came to shoot all in the name of getting a good shot.
'Till my dying day I will never understand the mentality of people who rip up trees, move boulders, destroy fields of crops, dump their trash and generally just act like arses for a photograph. Does it really need spelling out? Surely it's common sense to leave the landscape exactly (or even better) than you found it.
Like every 'club', the photographers club has its hierarchies. I don't know if I ever would have even started on this journey if I knew about the millions of people online calling themselves photographers. In general though, most of us are fairly decent people. But when starting out, it can feel a bit isolating. The more you learn about the top names, the more you can feel a bit left out.
In the end, talent will win out and over time you start to be included in what can feel a very exclusive club. It can be a bit frustrating at first seeing (what you feel is) mediocre talent getting a lot of the attention. I've even seen people leaving groups because they were upset they didn't get enough 'likes' or comments. But we should be producing work because we like to do it, not for the praise of others. If you produce work that makes you happy and not just to please others, then that will come through in the finished work and get you where you want to go faster than any pandering.
In the past year I've met some very nice and very talented photographers. We all have to start somewhere, so don't forget to offer up support and encouragement to those that may need it.
The number of professional photographers who make a living just from landscape photography could probably be counted on one hand. In this day and age, most folk are just happy to look at nice photographs online for free and move on to the next thing that catches their eye. Everything is disposable these days.
Another reason I may have never gone on this journey (if I'd known then what I know now) is the almost impossible challenge of making it pay. 30,000 miles of petrol is not cheap, then there's the gear, competition entries (if that's your thing - and possibly another blog post in the making), marketing and so on. In the past year, I've probably spent more than £10,000 on what started as a hobby, though you can probably call that an obsession now.
The next time you look at some photographs on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or wherever you may be, have a think about what went in to get that shot. It wasn't just that one moment in time. They've probably visited the location many times before and come away empty handed. They may have driven from one end of the country to the other, hiked for hours up a mountain through wind and rain with heavy camera gear (and in my case, camping gear, food, water and dog food!) or simply pitched out for hours or days waiting for that fleeting dance of light that makes it all worthwhile.
Without art, we would all be a lot poorer. Support your local artist in whatever way you can, even if it's just a thank you.
"The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude." Friedrich Nietzsche
Thank you if you made it this far. It's been the most incredible year and long may it continue. A BIG thank you to anyone that appreciated my work, purchased a print, booked photography tuition, or simply said thank you for seeing my work. It is very appreciated. I get so many nice comments every day (and that's not a boast) on so many different platforms that it is often impossible to reply personally to each one. I've been to some amazing places and met some very nice people. Yes, some were photographers too :-)
Neil Barr, NB Photography