Listen to the Inner Voice
The influence of social media can have a significant effect on our work as landscape photographers. We are told about popular and easy to photograph destinations, what subject matter we should be looking for, proper times of day, how to compose, and which special effects are cool and hip. In a nut shell, social media is great for telling us where, when, what, and how.
But that isn’t necessarily bad. As beginners, we often need a lot of direction and instruction, and social media is full of exotic locations and pretty pictures which are easy for even inexperienced photographers to access. But that influence, if not corralled and controlled, can hinder our creative growth. We can become addicted to the shallow praises of upped thumbs, red hearts, green clovers, orange stars, and maybe even yellow moons.
Social media’s external bias and undue influence are strong adversaries, and they will fight us for creative control. If we are not attentive and strong they can, and will, force us into generic, Borg servitude. Our creativity hindered. Our identities masked.
Resistance, however, is easy. We all have that little voice in our head—our creative conscience, if you will—and we just have to make it loud enough to drown out the external influences of the Internet.
That inner voice has served me well.
In 2014 I did a short winter trip to Grand Teton NP. It was cold—well below zero—and I thought I would have much of the place to myself. It was a full moon, so I was out the door of the Jackson, Wyoming Motel 6—I’m cheap and Jackson is expensive—at 4 a.m. to photograph the moonlit landscape. Near sunrise, I watched the setting moon start to drop between the mountain peaks, and thought it might make a decent photo. I pulled into a parking lot with a good angle, and got set up. Soon, another car pulled up and spit out a photographer. Okay. Then another, this one with two tripods. Interesting. Then a third, fourth, fifth, and I saw more headlights heading our way. Preposterous!
I could only deduce that my newly discovered, secret, setting moon was, in fact, a well-known and documented phenomenon. And a photographer destination.
Social media voices begged me to stay because it was going to be beautiful (and I am sure it was). Even the guy with two tripods yelled, as I packed up, that I was missing the best part. But my inner voice was adamant that I leave. And I had learned to listen.
You see, staying would have given me a pretty picture, but it wouldn’t be unique. There were too many of us in too small a parking lot for any real creative potential . So I left.
A few miles down the road, shortly before sun up when the light is slightly direction yet very soft, I came across a small stand of dark conifers mimicking the shape of the ice fog shrouded mountains in the distance. It was perfect. A moment of utter clarity and surety. The kind of moment landscape photographers dream about, yet happen all too infrequently I hastily set up and made the image mere seconds before the sunlight hit the peaks, and ruined the scene.
Was it luck? Sure, at least in part. Most good landscape photography requires varying levels of luck, where everything comes together—light, atmosphere, subject, mindset, etc— But it was also made possible because I was willing to listen to my inner voice and leave a sure thing.
I have learned to trust that voice. I just wish it didn’t sound so damned old.