Why is Landscape Photography Often So Boring and Predictable? Three Dot Lounge for Photography for August 23, 2015

Why is Landscape Photography Often So Boring and Predictable?

Geoff Harris at Wex Photographic wrote a thoughtful piece on Why is Landscape Photography Often So Boring and Predictable? This is something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been rebooting my photography our of the hiatus of the last few months. Combine that with An ‘Open Letter’ to Landscape Photographers: It’s Time for an Etiquette Check from High Sierra Workshops and there’s a lot of material to chew on.

One of the interesting responses I saw to that open letter on Facebook was noting that the people running that workshop were the ones likely to drag a group of 20 to some place like Delicate Arch where they were were all squeezing together to try to get the same trophy shot, while also squeezing out other individuals who happened to hit that same location for that shot that day. So etiquette goes both ways, and I’ve had enough shots ruined by workshops who’s members felt that because they were in a paid workshop they were entitled to push everyone else out of the way.

When I took my workshop with Michael Frye last year, one reason I took it was because I knew his philosophy on these problems; he didn’t plant us at a trophy shot location, he took us to various areas around the Eastern Sierra and he encourages (and as needed pushed) us to all work the area and look for our shots. With the exception of Convict Lake where there simply wasn’t much room to wander for the dawn shot, we were typically spread across a wide area and the variety of shots we brought back to show off were widely varying — it was quite a lot of fun.

I think too many photographers have been conditioned to chase trophies, which is were we end up with 40 people lined up tripod to tripod all taking the same shot at the same time — and some of that has been fostered by workshops designed to drag people out to take these trophy shots, and by workshop teachers (and their blogs) who’s writing innoculates new photographers with this trophy lust. To me, this is a fad and I hope like most fads it’ll fade over time, but only time will tell.

So I’m trying to avoid shooting trophies, whether by intent or by accident. And by saying that, I may well be walking into an area of photography that may well become the next fad, but I’ve really found the look of images taken with a big ND on the lens really attractive. Now, all I need is the time to go and actually experiment on this…

If you are, like me, thinking about how to move beyond the generic landscape and the trophy shot, here are a couple of people to read and listen to that can help: David duChemin and Guy Tal Both photographers have a large body of work that is far from the realms of generic or trophy, and both are skilled writers who talk a lot about the mindset and art beyond the technical aspects of photography, and I think both are worth your time. Not sure what I’m talking about? You can start here over on Luminous Landscape.

This Issue’s Special thing

Are Drones Better Than Telephoto Lenses for Spying? The Answer May Creep You Out— A followup on my previous notes on drones, this is an interesting comparison to the images you can get from a drone compared to someone stalking you with a 70-200 and a teleconverter.

All very true, but it ignores a couple of key issues why drones creep people out: one is that the camera rig requires line of sight for a photographer to take pictures, while the drone can fly into areas that we would normally consider private, such as back yards. The second is that we as photographers understand the difference between wide angle lenses and telephotos, but the people upset at all of this are getting their basic information from shows like Bones or CSI where these technologies have magical powers of magnification we all know is TV fantasy. To them, it’s not. It’s like those people who complain when police shoot someone instead of shooting the gun out of their hands (like they do on TV) — but good luck having that conversation with them.

So even though we know a good telephoto will beat a drone’s camera for stalking any day, the general public doesn’t, and they’ll continue reacting to them badly because of it. Oh, and beacuse of that loud, irritating whine of the drone engines you can hear from far, far away. There’s nothing quite like having your photoshoot ruined by the sound of a drone, followed by the drone repeatedly wandering into the landscape you’re trying to photograph because whoever is operating it is oblivious to all of the other people he’s screwing over with his flight…

Oh, and there are more and more stories of animals and birds fighting back and damaging drones or hunting them out of the air. And this is the first study checking the interaction of drones and wildlife, and guess what? Even if they don’t visibly react to it bears stress hormones shoot up when drones fly near them in the wild, so even if you don’t fly it badly enough to force an animal or bird to evade the drone or leave the area, it looks like the existence of the drone affects and stresses the animals out.

So drones seem to be at best a mixed blessing in wildlife areas, even when flown by a responsible pilot. Unfortunately not all pilots are responsible; we’ve had reports of one at one of the local birding area where someone was flying a drone, and when it was pointed out he wasn’t supposed to be there, his response was, well, not team building, and he then proceeded to strafe the area and flush all of the birds, including areas where there were active tern nests.

People like that are why drones are facing increasing push back and complaints and regulation, folks. If you’re a responsible drone pilot, you need to work with each other within the drone community to look for ways to get these yahoos under control before they ruin it for all of you.

Why I No Longer Display Creative Commons on my images

Why I am Backing Away from Creative Commons that I recommend all of you read if you’re at all interested in copyright or Creative Commons.

When I redesigned my sites this year and moved my images off of Flickr, I somewhat reluctantly made the choice to stop presenting a Creative Commons license on my images, even though I strongly support the concept behind the licenses.

My decision was based on on a few things. I was using a non-commercial license in the hope that for simple and basic uses, it would allow people to use the images without needing to clear that usage with me for every image. In practice, the groups and individuals that are using my images appropriately also have their own policies that require them to explicitly license and not depend on Creative Commons.

At the other end of the spectrum the casual copiers did what they wanted ignoring licensing anyway, with or without licenses and watermarks and copyrights and whatever.

My end result: it didn’t reduce my paperwork significantly, it didn’t reduce infringement significantly, and it created added complexity on tracking and workflow, export and image management. So I found very little upside and it added work to my life instead of simplifying it.

I also found, from talking to various people who’ve used images, that thsoe that did recognize creative commons made the assumption that no matter what license was on the image that it could be used as if it was public domain. I think this is an inherent problem with offering stuff “at no charge”, that the concept of “at no charge, with limits” those last two words get lost.

I’m not convinced the Creative Commons folks have done a good enough job educating people and explaining what the licenses mean. I don’t know that I have suggestions to do a better job, when the primary problem is people who either don’t know and aren’t interested in figuring licensing out (“I can copy it, so it’s okay!”) or are going to ignore the licenses and dare us to sue them over it. Which is slow, expensive and as one photographer found out the hard way if you don’t use Creative Commons properly, you can lose your case. By the way, I disagree with that article’s interpration of the photographer losing on a technicality — the photographer used the wrong license and the usage was perfectly within the scope of that license. That’s not a technicality, that’s a stupid mistake, and he should have lost that case. I’m rather suprised his lawyer just didn’t tell him to move on.

So ultimately, for me, Creative Commons was a really good idea that didn’t really solve any problems for me. It added complexity to my life for little real benefit, and that’s why I’m no longer using it. Potential unrealized.


About Three Dot Lounge for Photography

Three Dot Lounge for Photography is an email newsletter that collects interesting things that catch my attention having to do improving your craft with a camera and in the digital darkroom.

Three Dot Lounge is written and produced by Chuq Von Rospach, a bird and landscape photography based out of Silicon Valley who enjoys exploring the western united states in search of his next favorite image.

You can follow Chuq on twitter at @chuq or on Google+ or Facebook.