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Landscape Photography is Insanity

An important key to making effective landscape photos is persistence, which means trying the same shot over and over until you get it right. I recently put this philosophy to the test in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas.

I made this image after a rain storm which temporarily flooded the bottom of a colorful sandstone canyon. I knew this particular spot would be good for reflections, because I'd been there before. Going back allowed me to build on my previous experience, which ultimately led to a more effective shot. Valley of Fire State Park, USA. Sony a7r IV camera, Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/10 second, focus stack blend.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This quote typically gets attributed to Albert Einstein, although apparently there isn't any real evidence that he ever said this. Setting aside the questionable origin of the quote, this nugget of conventional wisdom quickly falls apart when you actually stop to think about it. There are plenty of things that change with repetition; for example, you get better at playing piano by constantly practicing piano, doing the same thing over and over until you get good enough at it to move on to something else. The same is true with photography, of course, as we all know that "practice makes perfect." (Actually, I hate using quotes to prove a point; according to Voltaire, "a witty saying proves nothing." Oops, I did it again.)

This is a "concept" shot that I am just beginning to experiment with involving a backlit cholla cactus at sunset. I gave it several tries while photographing the Nevada desert, and I am reasonably pleased with the results. But, I don't think it is quite living up to its fullest potential yet, so I suspect I will return and try this again. Gold Butte National Monument, USA. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/60 second, focus stack blend.

But beyond the inherent virtues of practice, doing the same thing over and over will allow you to make better photos. That's because with landscape photography, things that are completely outside of your control can either make or break your images. Weather is easily one of the most important variables of landscape photography, and the best you can do is to try to anticipate the right weather for the types of images you want to make. Even then, you are still completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.

I've photographed this particular composition maybe a dozen times. Although I've gotten some shots that I like, I don't really feel that I've yet gotten the perfect conditions. I guess I'll go back at some point to try it again. Gold Butte National Monument, USA. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 2 seconds, focus stack blend.

I spend countless hours scouting locations looking for interesting compositions. Once I find some that I like, I start the process of returning to those locations at sunrise and/or sunset, hoping for interesting clouds and light. If I don't get what I want, then I have to go back again. If I get what I want, sometimes I return anyways, hoping to get something even better. With some favorite compositions, I've repeated the process dozens of times, and still haven't gotten conditions that line up with my creative vision. When I find something good, I use the same process described on my shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, and repeat. I keep trying until I get what I want. Often, I'll identify two or three (or more) different compositions near one another, so I can pick one to focus on depending on conditions, and move on to a different one if conditions suddenly change.

Interesting weather is vital to successful landscape photography. When these storm clouds drifted over the desert landscape at sunrise, I knew I had the conditions to bring a pre-scouted composition to its fullest potential. Valley of Fire State Park, USA. Sony a7r IV camera, Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/125 second, focus stack blend.

So, if insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then landscape photography is pure insanity, plain and simple. Being relentlessly insane in the pursuit of the perfect image, however, is the key to making photos that stand out and get noticed. As a landscape photographer, you're only in control of your composition and when you trigger the shutter button. Weather, light, and other variables are completely outside of your control, so repeating the same shot over and over might be necessary to bring your creative vision to fruition.

LEARN MORE: Check out my Ultimate Landscape Photography Course. Packed with over three hours of field and digital darkroom instruction, you'll learn how to make the landscape photos you've always dreamed of taking.

About the author

Whether hanging over the rim of an active volcano, braving the elements to photograph critically-endangered species, or trekking deep into the wilderness to places most people will never see, world-renowned professional photographer Ian Plant travels the globe seeking out amazing places and subjects in his never-ending quest to capture the beauty of our world with his camera. Known for his inspiring images and single-minded dedication to creating the perfect photo, Ian has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the world in his mission to inspire and educate others in the art of photography. Ian is a frequent contributor to many leading photo magazines, the author of numerous books and instructional videos, and founder of Photo Masters.

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