Mike Green's thoughts on landscape photography

Musings on: meeting my own expectations

About a year ago, thirteen months to be precise, I wrote about my ‘need’ to return to the Atacama Desert and the Bolivian Altiplano. To grossly summarise that article: I went there two years ago, before I’d started making images in any way which could be described as ‘serious’. Then I learnt a lot more about photographic image-making and felt that – it being an entirely spectacular location – I needed to return armed with my new knowledge about things photographic. To some extent I meant that in terms of technique but, far more importantly, I shall return with a different and, I hope, improved vision.

So, I booked myself a trip which will take me to all the same places that I’ve been to before, but with the specific, primary intention of capturing images, rather than general tourism. Not only that, but it’s in winter, so things should be different (notably, about 50C colder, it seems…. ). That trip is now imminent and, over the last couple of months, I’ve had a few fears of the journey failing to meet my expectations; I’ve had doubts about what I can bring back from South America in terms of images.

I’m pleased to say that those feelings are now resolved; at least, they’re not noticeable, so either I’ve resolved them or they’re now reassuringly suppressed :-) This article is about how I removed the anxiety.

Layered sunrise

So what was the problem?

When I went to the Altiplano a little over two years ago, I was just wandering about playing with my then-new, first, dSLR camera. I was merely travelling, looking at things, and pointing a camera at them. Yes, I was certainly trying to point the camera at interesting things and operate it properly, but essentially I wasn’t ‘a photographer’ at the time, simply a tourist with a camera. This time, I’ve set myself up to go there as ‘a landscape photographer’, with the specific intention of making images which improve on the first set I captured.

Not only that, but this time I’ll be using a better camera and lenses, I’ll be on a trip designed for photographers, and I don’t expect to see anything, in the big picture sense, that I haven’t seen before. All of that can add up to a combination of high expectations and a modicum of self-induced pressure to ‘perform’.

My niggling concern – I’d not go so far as to give it the title of a real worry, but it was certainly something which had come to nag at the back of my mind over the last few weeks…. my niggling concern was that I’d come back with the same shots, or even shots which aren’t as good as the first set. Bolivia from the UK is a fairly long way to go to reproduce something you’ve done before ;-)

And how did I resolve it?

Let’s assume that I have resolved the issue and that I’m not simply suppressing it. I’m sure the latter wouldn’t be a good thing, though that knowledge admittedly comes from watching films and television where ‘suppressing stuff’ is generally not seen as desirable!

The best aspect of this is that I sorted out my worries by re-reading a few of my own blog items!

Firstly, I read the Altiplano one to remind myself why I’d been so committed to going back. It re-established in me the feeling of just what a spectacular place I’m visiting. In that context, I actually don’t care if I fail to produce any new images: even if I had no camera, I’d still be more than happy to go on the same trip and watch the light change in those stunning locations. This time, I’ll be in the same places as before, but at dawn and dusk; the light will be different from last time, and it will change (unlike the previous visit, when it was effectively bright, unmitigated sunshine all the time, with very few exceptions). I’m entirely happy to sit and watch varying light in beautiful surroundings, whether or not I also use it to make images. That said, if it’s as cold as it might be then it’ll be more of an ‘experience’ to be there, rather than unequivocal ‘fun’, I suspect!

Secondly, I read my several Lofoten and US South-West desert ‘Locations for photography:…’ articles. For each location, I was reminded that I came back with shots which were, for the most part, markedly different from those I’d expected. True, I’d not been to either of those places before, but the point is that, once you’re in a place, what you see is generally different from your expectations and is affected by all sorts of factors; things like your mood, what you’ve seen photographed before and how it’s been photographed, the particular weather conditions, the time of year, and doubtless many other things. I’m confident that ‘vision’ is one of those factors, and since my vision has developed, so should the images I make from the Atliplano landscape.

Thirdly, I read a handful of my own ‘musings’ and could see how my thinking on image making has developed in the last couple of years. I’m not the same person now, in terms of my attitude to capturing light and making images from it, as I was in Chile and Bolivia in March 2010. Whether those changes which have occurred are for the better or not is irrelevant: I’m different as a photographer now and hence what I see in the landscapes of the Altiplano and Atacama can safely be expected to be different too.

Finally, it doesn’t really matter if I produce identical images. If I were professional, reliant on making new, saleable images to live on, then I think I’d quite rightly be somewhat trepidatious. I am, however, at a stage with my photography where I’m still very much developing the skills and attitude that are required: I can’t be certain of going to a place and making worthwhile images. Yes, I do expect to, but there’s no guarantee. Not that there ever is, but I suspect that many people can be more confident than I have a right to be at this stage!

Salar de Uyuni at dawn

And the point of this post really was?

This piece started out as a musing on performance anxiety (of a sort!), but my more significant, personal, learning point is that writing this blog is genuinely useful to me.

I said about eighteen months ago, when I first started putting my thoughts out in this form, that part of the idea was to have something to refer back to; to enable me to see how I’d changed. Re-reading those few articles I have, I can see that there are certainly developments over the period.

There’s more to it than that though: by reading my past thoughts I’ve been reminded of various things which have all fed into my experience as a photographer and which have proved specifically useful right now in allaying the minor ‘fears’ I had. Doubly useful then, and perhaps next time I go back and read some of this I’ll find another broad category of usefulness?

A suggestion

I’d therefore like to suggest that the activity of writing a web journal / blog, or even just keeping a personal diary of thoughts and attitudes to photography as you progress, is a really rather good idea, if only for the wholly selfish, but compelling, reasons that it can serve as reassurance, as reinforcement, and as a record of development. Only the last of those things was more than a vague concept when I started, and this is the best instance so far to prove to myself both that the original idea was valid and that there are other benefits too. And if anyone else finds value in these musings and location commentaries, then that’s even better!

The images in this article are, of course, from my first trip. I’m now looking forward to seeing how different the next set will be!

Shadowed peaks

5 Responses to “Musings on: meeting my own expectations”

  1. kevinallan

    Well, those “first trip” images are a pretty good starting point from which to develop, Mike. For myself, I do wonder whether it is possible to take the best images you can on a first trip to any location. I feel that it helps to spend some time in a small area in order to work out what’s really special about that location, and let it “soak in” before making images. The “soak time” might vary from a few hours to a few decades …

  2. Bev

    impressed Mike ~ stunning pictures that really must reassure you that you are gifted with an eye for beauty of the world around you, in particular here of course ! sometimes it is good to return to a location and take more pictures and of course having gained more experience with photography make “better” pictures, I think as with changing light there is a change in what we see at different times as with the seasons of the year and so I think you
    can return to these places and be inspired all over again to capture the magic that first
    captured your eye and imagination ~ I loved reading your thoughts here and viewing the
    beautiful images ~ bev ~

    • Mike Green

      Thanks very much, Bev; that’s very kind. I’m pretty sure I’ll come back with something different, even if it’s largely the same base material at different times of the day and year, with different light. Either way, I’m happy to be going back to such a beautiful place!


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