Landscape photographers tend to chase the perfect light, the light that will lend to the scene a sense of glory that otherwise would not be there. We all think we know what those perfect conditions are. We have al heard the call of the splendrous sunrise or sunset, we have all checked weather apps religiously for the best possible times and conditions and many times we have come home feeling disappointed because the fog did not manifest, sunrise was hidden behind clouds or sunset was cut short by rain showers.
A couple of weeks ago I started teaching individual workshops again and soon everything felt like I have never even stopped due to the pandemic. I simply love teaching. We started very early in the morning, just after sunrise, just because in a forest harsh light is difficult to work with. We did not have any real fog though, which is something forest photographers crave. In workshops you need to work with the conditions you get and on one occasion, the light was very harsh and on another it was pouring down with rain for hours and hours and hours.
These were not what we would call perfect conditions, but fact is : they kind of were the perfect conditions, because these were the conditions that we had to deal with. An early start ensures soft light for at least a little while and admittedly it is my favourite part of the day. The forests are waking up and they still belong to their animal habitants. Bird song fills the air and it feels like the most alive moment of the forest of the day. Everything is calm and there is usually not another living human soul out there. These are my perfect conditions...
A spring forest in the pouring rain. Lumix S1R with Lumix S Pro 70-200 F4 at iso 2000. The conditions were very far from what one would call perfect, yet this is one of my favourite images of this year
Photographing in pouring rain raises challenges and it is certainly hard on workshop attendants, because it is hard enough as it is to learn forest photography, let alone if you need to constantly watch out for water on the camera, on the lens and shoot at ridiculously high iso's because it is so dark. At other the sun is harsh and this brings challenges of its own.
I am guilty of chasing the fog, I used to drive miles and miles to where the fog, ever elusive, was forecasted to be. Most of the time, the forecast was wrong and I would drive on hoping to find it. In the mountains I would drive up and down when low clouds would drift into the forest only to see it dissipate before my very eyes as soon as I arrived. Of course I often succeeded in taking pictures in the fog, but I would feel rushed, because I wanted to make the most of these fleeting misty moments. I know all too well that in a blink of an eye, it will disappear.
Generally speaking it is believed that the best conditions help produce the best pictures. As time went on I came to disagree with this. I take my best pictures when I take my time, not when I am rushed. Sometimes I get lucky and can work in the fog for hours, but most of the time this does not happen. Fog however is just one of the ways to reduce chaos in the forest, it is not the only one. It is also not the only way to get atmospheric images.
Another picture taken during a workshop just after sunrise in very windy conditions which is always challenging in a dark forest and calls for very high iso settings to accommodate a faster shutter speed, which still did not freeze all the motion in the leaves. Lumix S1R with Lumix S Pro 70-200 F4
The true splendor of a spring forest can get lost in the greyness of mist. Mist dulls colour, reduces contrast and saturation and this might not at all be the best way of telling the story of a Spring forest. Pouring rain might in fact be a perfect condition for photographing the lushness of a forest in spring. Rain can also bring out lines that would otherwise look like distracting elements.
On days when the sunlight is harsh, you usually get a few hours of warm and softer light after sunrise. Who is to say that this light could not be just perfect for a scene?
By limiting yourself to the rare occurrence of fog, you deny yourself hours and hours of practice, you also deny yourself the act of working in a slow and focussed way, going beyond the surface. Chasing the perfect conditions might in fact be the worst thing you can do for your future enjoyment of photography. If photography is your hobby, than the act of photographing is what it is all about. If you photograph landscapes, it is all about the act of photography and spending time outside enjoying nature. I assume that landscape photographers, amateurs and professionals, should love the landscape, nature. When I see stressed-out photographers pass me by in a forest where I am prone to hanging around on a few square meters, I do wonder however if these people with this hobby, are actually enjoying themselves. It seems to me that many are just happy when the conditions are right and the result is pleasing. This of course implies that many times they will be quite unhappy photographers.
The happy photographer is one who does not feel like he (or she) and Mother Nature both have to give a top performance whenever he shows up. A happy landscape photographer is one who is happy in the landscape. It sounds so simple when I put it like this, but nonetheless I regard this to be becoming quite rare amongst photographers. The genuinely intrigued photographer, not thinking of possible social media success, but totally immersed in making images of something he or she is passionate about, knows that time spent in nature is never in vain.
No fog on the early spring morning in May 2021, but a picture that would not have looked so intriguing in foggy conditions. It would have been impossible to retain any depth without a vanishing point of the little stream. Lumix S1R and Lumix S Pro 70-200 F4 and B+W Polarizer
Teaching has taught me that photography happens when you show up with the intention of enjoying yourself and a craving to learn new things. The learning itself is enjoyable and is a necessary step in the process of improving. Excellent conditions don't necessarily make excellent photos or photographers. Excellent photos start with the willingness to learn, to practice and to enjoy the process. They start with a deeply felt relationship to the subject, they are rooted in passion and commitment.
It all starts with joy and passion, not with forcing your will onto the landscape and being frustrated when things don't go according to plan. This is nature, this is the landscape, it does not bend to our expectations, it just is and it is perfect in so, so many ways that there is always an opportunity to seize. Don't limit yourself to deeming situations as impossible to work with. Start to think in possibilities rather than limitations. The knowledge gained by showing up in spite of the conditions is very valuable and it opens up possibilities that you might never have thought of.
With this said I leave you till the next essay, which is in the pipelines already. I write these essays to be of value to you and I feel I can add more value to you spending my time writing and photographing than being on social media. If you'd like to support me writing these essays and if you'd like to learn more about forest photography I humbly suggest to you my eBook The Magic Of Forest Photography. Your purchase helps me putting out free content like this essay and tutorials.