A response to “Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up?” by Ugo Cei.
As one of the photographers of those “popular” photos that left the author of this post “cold as a stone“, I have to say that not all photography is aspiring to be high art. Sometimes a photo is just a memory, or a moment, or in the case of my photo of Antelope Canyon, an attempt at taking a sweet photo of a cool location. I took that photo 2 years ago when I was just learning to how take landscape photos. I actually thought I hadn’t gotten a shot of the canyon because I was such an amateur at the time and I was completely overwhelmed by the location and trying to shimmy through the canyon with my tripod in tow.
I recently revisited my photos and discovered this shot. I was pleased as punch after I worked on it for a while in post and discovered that my attempts to shoot an incredible location weren’t completely amiss.
I certainly aim to tell a story with my photos, or to emote something. I definitely feel something when I take them. But, I’m not a true artist yet. That takes years and a commitment that I have not been able to give because like most aspiring photographers, I have a a day job. One day, I might be good enough to emote something with a fish-eye shot of a canyon. For now, let me just say, “Whoa, this is super cool”.
For me, this photo was an early triumph in my landscape career and I wanted to share it with my followers to inspire them. With every post I feel like I’m saying, “Hey you can do this to — here are the settings I used, here’s how I did it, now go out there and get it for yourself!” The aim for me in posting an image is not to become more “popular”, but to inspire others. I receive hundreds of emails from people who are inspired to become photographers because they like a photo of mine, and to me that is the real benefit of reaching a huge audience on 500px.
I think what is really making the author rant, is the state of photography on the web. I’m not a fan of the fake photoshopped hot air balloons in neon coloured skies either, but hey, they look cool on my iPhone. And that is what the majority of people are doing. Scrolling through thousands upon thousands of images on their phones in between conversations and iced lattes. If you want to be viewed in such a sea of media, you have to go big, or go home.
You don’t have to play along with your own work. Just because the cool kids are doing it doesn’t mean you have to too. Many don’t. Even some of those popular 500px photographers remain true to their vision by posting moody, dark, deeply emotive work. But those are the professionals. These people are full-time, hard-core, bad-to-the-bone landscape photographers with several books and gallery showings under their belts. The rest of us are just landscape photographers-in-training.
Every few months, I too feel the pressure of conforming to the bright and shiny epic shots that are so popular these days that I hide away in my cave of disillusionment and stop posting online. I vow to only take artsy black and white photos that “mean something”. After a few months of this depressive behaviour which frankly results more in me watching every sad documentary on Netflix, than producing true art, I get over myself. I realize that trekking through a crazy slot canyon in Arizona to take a stunning, glittering, awe-inspiring is pretty freaking cool. Everyone with the means and ability should go to that exact spot and experience that incredible place and take their own amazing shot.
I’ve been fortunate to be a guest editor on 500px this month and I’ve spent hours looking at thousands of images each day. I say embrace it all: The good, the bad, & the ridiculous. A bunch of over-saturated sunsets aren’t going to ruin the art form of photography. It may hurt your eyes a little, but as a photographer you are constantly learning and growing. Everyone starts their journey into Lightroom and Photoshop by over-saturating their sunsets and cranking the clarity. But, sharing your work in it’s development stages is how we get better. These “popular” photos may not all be “art”, but every single one of those photographers is creating something. And to me, that deserves respect.
In today’s world, everyone has a camera in their pocket. If I can help even one person get off their couch and go take a photo that they are so proud of that they share on 500px and it’s so good that it gets thousands of views and as a result, they feel encouraged to continue their journey as a photographer, well then I’ve done my job as one of the “popular” photographers on the web.