Each of these forty example photos on this website represent a lesson learned in one respect or another. Under each photo is the title, location, story, and the exact settings I used. If you wish to capture a good image, you have to be lucky or put in a lot of hard work. If you wish to capture a great image, you need both!
The extent of the role that luck plays is much bigger than people, and even expert photographers may admit. Most photographers know the following things about landscaping luck.
1. The weather and other elements can be unpredictable. Everyone has witnessed the surprise ray of light through the clouds or a shockingly great sunset after a drizzly and gray day. People feel lucky when they see the unexpected.
2. Most people know that the good landscape photographers increase their luck by putting a lot of work into trying to be in the right place at the right time. They study weather charts, tides, and seasons. They look out the window and try to get to where the good light is.
3. Most photographers have managed to bag a few lucky shots that turned out much better than they had hoped for just an hour earlier.
However, luck goes much deeper than this.
When I first began to photograph the landscape, I did what many people do. I looked at the best photos I could find and I tried to imitate them. That’s a good way to learn. I also studied the great masters of landscape painting and wrote a 325 page book about learning from those masters. All of it is on this website! Only buy for offline reading.
Link to Amazon below, skip to continue.
Even though I might manage to capture a good image, my images could never seem live up to the original concept I envisioned when I arrived at the scene. However, I noticed that occasionally I managed to capture something perhaps nearly as good, but very different.
Early on as I was learning to photograph the landscape, I managed to capture a few images that people really liked. I made one picture of the Golden Gate Bridge that became the #1 highest rated landscape photo on the UK photo critique website ePHOTOzine.com. (A great place to learn by the way.) When I took the shot and processed it, I almost didn’t upload it for critique because I wasn’t impressed with it. But I got an overwhelming response. I gradually grew to like the photo a lot when I realized how many things there were to like and how rare the shot really was. Later I bought a higher resolution camera and I decided to ‘get a newer and better’ version of that photo. Then I learned about luck in photography!
I knew it might be a while before the elements converged in the right way, but I knew the exact time of day, time of year, direction of the clouds and wind, the quality of the light, the tidal level, you name it. I knew that a few times per year, those conditions would return. Or more accurately, I thought I knew! So for the next 4 years, I tried to duplicate that shot. And guess what? I didn’t come close! I do have a record of one of my near-death attempts called ‘Rust and Surf #2.’ People like it, and it has over 180,000 views on Flickr, but it’s not the same image I was going for.
I’ve tried many times to duplicate that image and several others that I captured early on, but I’ve failed. However, because of those attempts I now understand the role that luck plays.
The problem is that the number of ‘lucky’ factors that go into an image are far more than meet the eye. Here’s a breakdown of the element of luck in photography.
1. How many significantly different compositions can you get by moving the camera a few feet or even inches? Maybe 1000 significantly different ones.
2. For a given composition, how many types of different cloud formations can you have? Perhaps 100,000 different ones.
3. How many different types of light can you have near sunset for a given combination of the two variables above? I’ll say 1,000
4. How many variations of atmosphere (mist, haze etc.) can you have for each of the three variables above? 100 perhaps.
Multiply those odds and so far we have about 10 trillion significantly different photos possible at a given location! But there is so much more. For each of those 10 trillion different photos, each unique wave, season of the year, or shifting sand dune, etc. can also be a unique photo.
We’re talking quadrillions of different photos for any given small location in the space of a few years, at sunset!
Fortunately, perhaps trillions of those quadrillions of combinations could be a very good image that people will love to see. So you have a good chance of getting a one in a billion shot because there are millions of them!
Remember that even if you get that one in a billion shot people love, it won’t be the same as what you may have hoped for. I haven’t been able to reproduce any of my one in a billion shots, but I made others instead. And so can you.
So definitely plan, a lot. The best approach is to go out with a mind open to the nearly limitless possibilities that lie around the next corner. You stay in the moment as you search. You must make your own luck by noticing it when it happens. It’s good to go out with an image in your mind. And it’s also good to let go of that image when something better comes along!
You need to spend time and energy planning to be in the right place at the right time. In the examples below, you’ll see that a photographer must study the local weather and other conditions to know when to place that bet. You must know the good locations and when they are good. You must be willing to get wet or cold. The worst weather often makes the best photos.
Every effort you put into your craft increases your odds of getting that shot. The exciting thing is that you don’t know what that shot will be. You need to go find it!
Now, here are 40 images and the stories behind them. They represent ideal moments in time. A few minutes before and after I snapped the shutter, these places appeared different, even boring. Inspirational photographs capture an ideal moment in time. I didn’t use HDR for any of these photos, though it can be useful in many situations.