Last week I was caught off guard with a question from a friend that honestly, although I feel I know the answer to, in that moment, I had no words to truthfully say. The question asked was a simple one, yet with such a complex answer: "Why do you choose to shoot landscapes?" It's been a question that has kept me up at night the last few days. Quite literally; My bedtime has prolonged at least 30 minutes thinking about it. Finally, I believe I have an answer that I can put to words to agree with my feelings. To really give the full answer, I want to tell a story from a few years ago.
In 2019, I went through what I would consider to be my first real encounter with creator's block. For those unfamiliar, this is a time in which no real inspiration, motivation, or creativity seems present in what someone is passionate about. For me, my creator's block was photography. I had still been considering myself a passionate hobbyist at the time, yet slowly transitioning over the term "professional" when it felt right. I was addictively shooting at any waking moment of free time I had, regardless of conditions, the state of my bank account, or even remotely considering what other errands I should've been doing.
Towards the end of July that year, I noticed myself in a rapid decline of enjoyment when out shooting. I would go out for a sunset and simply be upset to the point where I was coming home and formatting my SD card without even copying over the images. Nothing seemed up to my own personal standards, and I couldn't understand what my struggle was. I was being met by my own mental walls thinking, "This will be different," or, "I'm feeling better now." For weeks this went on, and nothing changed.
Once August arrived, I was no longer just frustrated with how ill-creative I was feeling, I was angry. I wanted to enjoy photography so bad, yet no matter how hard I seemed to force myself to like it, it seemed to be counterproductive. I was terrified, and began asking myself a similar variation to the question that I was asked just last week. Concerningly, I wondered, "Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you even trying photography?" I wasn't sure, but I needed some answer. I'm still unsure what led me to this decision, but I chose to go camping. I told my family and friends where I was going, and proceeded to remove the SIM card from my phone. Zero distractions.
Just me, my camera, minimal supplies, and nature.
Racing sunset, I found my hammock spot just as dusk fell on the horizon. I didn't want to focus on what my camera was going to be used for- rather I decided to keep it packed away until the time felt right. I laid in my hammock for a few hours, read a book, and waited patiently for the stars to come out.
Around 11pm, I decided I would set my camera up for a time-lapse. Letting it run continuously at least gave me the reassurance I wasn't going to not use it, but I wasn't going to feel the need to race around in the pitch black forest looking for new compositions of the Milky Way. Once things were set up alongside my makeshift hammock-bed, I dozed off for a few hours, checking in periodically on the camera doing it's thing. In the meantime, I allowed myself to be still, and soak in the fresh air of the outdoors.
Around 5am the following morning, I woke up to the first glimmer of blue light in the sky. The sun had a ways to go, but I didn't care. I was too distracted by the dense layer of fog that had developed along the river, leaving me speechless and racing to pack up my gear, sprint to my car, and prepare to fly my drone for the first moments of light. As I ran the trails with my bags crashing into each other across each shoulder, I felt my creativity flooding back. I was finally excited to shoot again, and it was the greatest feeling in the world. I hadn't been able to answer the questions I was facing just yet, but as the morning light arrived, I realized words weren't the answer. My photos would be.
I put the drone up, and proceeded to witness the greatest sunrise of my life.
That morning was the first time in nearly a month that I felt the sensation of why I chose photography. In fact, once I rejoined society and reinserted my SIM card later that day, I ordered a new camera and lens, knowing that I'm going to be in this for the long haul willingly. Three years later, and I still feel like I'm in the infancy stages of landscape photography, and I love that.
Now don't get me wrong, I've learned much about this craft since I first picked it up. I've traveled far and wide staring at clouds, searching for fleeing moments of light, and those deep lush greens of the forest that I adore so much. No matter how much I've learned, I've accepted the fact that I'm never going to master it. At the core of photography and art, we're told it's subjective, which is true. Not everyone is going to appreciate my images the same as others, and that's okay. It is simply a privilege to discover more of myself through art.
So circling back, why do I continue to choose landscape photography? At the very core, it's my outlet. It's my safe place to abandon the harsh realities of life. I don't feel faced with my traumas, I don't stress about the challenges of what nature has to offer, and I don't allow myself to live with regret when I have my camera in hand. As long as I try, I am content with that - the rest falls into place when the time is right, which is why I continue to reminisce on a phrase I was told a few years back that I believe perfectly encompasses why landscape photography is not just challenging, but extremely rewarding.
"Nature doesn't pose for us."
At first, this phrase confused me. In fact, I didn't think it was true. I've stared at towering waterfalls that seem like something out of a painting when in reality, this is when the phrase rings true. It's not posing for me, that is just nature being nature. I can't command the sun to move to the left, or a mountain range to face towards me for better lighting. I have to surrender any ability I have to control, and make things work with what is in front of me. The challenge is there, it pushes me to adapt, and I love that. Allow nature to do the heavy lifting it is so good at doing, and I'll do my best to be there to capture that moment and share it with the world. Whether it's ripping winds in a desert, turbulent skies in the Central Plains, foggy mornings in the Pacific Northwest, I crave that challenge of capturing this place we all share in calling home.
I'm sure there will be more moments of creator's block that plague me down the road. I'm far from perfect and I know I'll have days where I cannot find the motivation to take my camera out of my bag. When those times come, I'll be excited to discover a new moment that the world reassures me why I chose landscape photography, and all of the feelings that come with it.