My name is Scott Davenport, and I’m a landscape photographer. And I’m part of a crazy lot. I had this realization during a sleep deprived afternoon. My hazy mind was trying to get me through the rest of the day. It was also trying to comprehend how I arrived at the miserable state I was in.
It wasn’t hard to come 5 reasons why we landscape photographers definitely have a screw loose.
Reason 1. We Work Crazy Hours
Good light happens when it happens. Unless you live at the extreme upper or lower latitudes of our planet, that means sunrise and sunset. Sunrise shots are rough if you like sleep. A 5 AM sunrise might mean getting up at 2 AM to reach a location. On the good days, we get 30 minutes of excellent light on either side of sunrise. Then trudge out of wherever it is we trudged in. We’ve put in a full 8 hour day before most folks have had their second cup of coffee.
Getting to that sunrise location might include a significant hike. In utter darkness. Over uneven terrain. On a narrow path along a cliff edge. In coyote or bear country. That’s a smart place to be when you’re half awake, right?
The sunset shoots don’t deprive us of sleep. Instead, they deprive us of food. While most others are enjoying dinner and drinks, we are laden with gear and out at a location. Our stomachs remind us how long ago lunch really way. And our tongues promises to declare mutiny if we reach for another energy bar.
What about astrophotography? The best of both worlds. We are sleepy and hungry. And usually cold. If you’re a night owl, maybe you’re just hungry and cold. It’s kinda scary, too. Every stray sound is surely a wild animal that wants to eat us.
Reason 2. We Travel Vast Distances for Brief Moments
Landscape photographers will travel hundreds or thousands of miles for brief moments of light. That travel may include multiple planes, trains, and cars. Throw in a physically exerting hike in extreme cold or hot temperatures… you get to wondering pretty quickly “Why am I doing this?” That’s of course if we have the mental capacity to compose a sentence due to the sleep deprivation.
Did I mention we are carrying some serious gear all the way? Good glass is heavy. Solid tripods are heavy. Of course, we have a backup camera body. You brought water and energy bars, right? Water is heaviest when it’s not in our bodies. Surprisingly heavy. Depending on the weather, we might also be hauling camping gear.
Astrophotography is almost a guarantee of a long day’s journey. We have to get well outside of any city for a dark sky. And I use the term “city” loosely. The lights of a small town are enough to ruin a night sky photo.
Have you ever felt you’ve found The Middle Of Nowhere? I have. I also think landscape photographers are mapping the areas of the planet not covered by mobile phones. I’ve pretty sure I’ve found half of the 3% of the United States not covered by AT&T.
Reason 3. We Get Uncomfortable for Our Photos
Getting out of bed and getting to the location is just the beginning. We want unique angles and strong compositions. We want our own unique take on the landscape before us. Sometimes we push ourselves hard to achieve that.
As a seascape and water lover, that means getting wet. To capture the photo above, I was in rushing ocean water with surges about thigh deep. I was wearing denim. Why? It was January. It was cold on land. It was raining just 40 minutes before I took the photo. I hadn’t planned to get in the ocean that morning. However, that’s where the photo was. I left cold and damp (and grinning).
The truly dedicated spend several days off the grid for the epic photo. Bug bites. Inclement weather. Blisters. Sunburn. Cuts. Scrapes. Standing still. Yeah… standing still. That’s a lot harder than it seems. We find a perch that has the composition we want, set up all the gear, and… wait. Sometimes we wait hours for the light to be just so. I have a deeper appreciation for the unsung folks in museums, banks, and shops that simply stand the majority of their day.
Reason 4. We Invest Hours in a Single Frame
The planning, travel, and field time alone are hours of time invested in a photo. There is a bunch of learning we do up front. Countless hours spent learning our camera system. We toil over endless frames to determine the sharpest focal lengths and apertures – for every one of our lenses. We learn filter systems and specialty gear, too.
For our very best work, we invest another large chunk of time in front of our computers post processing. We pixel peep. We root out dust spots. We squint as we adjust tone, color, contrast, and sharpness. We selectively brush in effects. We mask. We unmask. We round trip through plug-ins. We blend layers. We retouch again.
How many post processing tools have you learned over the years? I can rattle off close to a dozen without breaking a sweat.
Reason 5. We Can’t Wait to Do It Again
After the planning, the learning, the traveling, the hiking, the sore muscles, the cuts, the bruises, the joys, the disappointments – the hours invested in a single frame… we cannot wait to head out again for another adventure. When the soreness has left our bodies and the chill has left our bones, we begin planning again. The cycle repeats.
Even after the most dreadful shoot that tests our will and yielded no keeper shots, in a few days we want to try again. Perhaps it’s the chase of the next great photo is the thrill. The next amazing frame is just around the next bend in the trail, over the next peak, around the next rock.
I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way
Landscape photography is a labor of love. Outings can take days, weeks or even months of planning. Our muscles ache from an arduous journey to reach our chosen location. Mother Nature may or may not cooperate. Some days we leave with no photographs to show for our efforts. Although I’ll argue we always leave a shoot with something more. Experience matters in my book.
Landscape photography has hurdles and challenges – like any genre of photography, really. There are pain points. A hefty investment of time is required. It takes focused effort to learn the craft and create a great photo.
We are landscape photographers. We are crazy. We may be certifiably mental. We are genuinely nutty. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
About the author: Scott Davenport is a landscape photographer and photo educator based in San Diego, California. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This article was also published here.