When I first got started in landscape photography, I would flood myself with images from other photographers and all the beautiful places they would see. By only seeing the final realization of their vision, I thought landscape photography was going to be so easy. I picked up my camera and fully expected to produce amazing work in no time.
Walking through photography galleries on Park City's historic Main Street, I had grand expectations that I would be opening my own gallery soon. Little did I realize that some of these photographer's have spent many decades honing their skills under completely different expectations. Only after years of success in other realms of photography did they decide to open a gallery to show off and sell their work.
After so many outings and so many failed attempts to capture something amazing, I started to wonder why my photos didn't invoke the same reaction in me that the work of others did. I posted my work all over 500px and was met with tepid results. I looked at the pages of other, more popular photographers, and saw their "lower quality" images (I thought my stuff was better, of course) getting way more attention than what I had posted. I thought to myself, "I bet if this photographer posted this image of mine, it would blow up in 2 hours." I was probably right. But the superficial nature of 500px or any social media platform is the wrong place to learn about success and fortune. I simply cannot post "ok" work online and expect to get a movie deal out of it. Beginning photographers set themselves up for failure at alarming rates by expecting huge returns on little effort. When their photo of a sunset taken from their backyard doesn't get 200 likes, they get discouraged, thinking they aren't a good photographer. Too many people never realize their full potential because they expect greatness from mediocrity. And the Internet gives them a cold, hard slap in the face.
The good news is that you don't have to wait 20 years before you start taking the best photographs of your life. All you need to do is get out there and start taking pictures. Fortune favors the bold photographer. You won't be taking amazing photos if you are just sitting in front of your keyboard or phone scrolling through an endless conga-line of beautiful images. You have to actually lace up your boots and get out there.
When I first started in photography, I was thinking with a small mind, like almost all early photographers I see. By simply going to a small creek near my house or walking along a heavily trafficked hiking trail, I would expect to find the next Ansel Adams best seller. Pointing my Canon Rebel T2i and 18-55mm kit lens at the water, I'd drag the shutter and smooth the flow. "This is going to look so amazing," I'd think to myself.
The problem I didn't understand, the same problem the overwhelming majority of new photographers don't understand, is that there isn't anything bold or impressive about a little creek running through a park at 2:00 in the afternoon. There was no planning. There was no scouting. It was just me picking up my camera one afternoon and thinking I was going to get the image that will make my career.
In order to take bold photographs, you have to be a bold photographer. Do something you've never done before. Travel someplace you've never traveled before. The very first time I tried to take a panorama was in Capitol Reef National Park with my wife and 2 kids. We went for a small walk along an overlook trail and I was looking for a cool place to take a picture. I found a beautiful backdrop of rocky red buttes and scattered sage brush with a little dirt road. I couldn't fit the entire thing in one frame so I thought, "Let's try a panorama." I put everything I knew about panoramas (almost nothing) into practice and snapped away.
What I walked away with that day is one my favorite images ever. I have it printed and framed on 20x60 metallic paper and it hangs up in my office. I took it with only a couple years of relevant photography experience. Did I get lucky with that photo? Absolutely. The sky was perfect. The light was perfect. The scene was perfect. All I did was show up. But I was out doing something, being bold, instead of wallowing in self pity that my photos aren't as good as Joe Photographer on Instagram with his 300,000 followers.
When you decide to wake up early and drive out to catch a beautiful sunrise is when fortune will smile on you. When you decide to try something new or go someplace new, you'll be surprised at what happens.
I was at Lake Powell to photograph the lunar eclipse in January 2018. I only thought I would get a lunar eclipse photo but I stayed for the sky-on-fire sunrise in the morning and captured this amazing image. I was trying something new and I got lucky. The more you try, the more success you will have. And from your failures, you'll learn more about planning, preparing, shooting, and editing. This will make you an even more capable photographer for the next time you go out.
When you are ready to stop taking pictures of that one waterfall or stream by your house that's pretty look at but never turns out as a really good picture, you will start the next phase of your maturity as a photographer. Find a place you've never been to before, plan the best time to visit it, grab your camera and go there. Then show me the image you got from it. I'd love to see it.