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Make It Your Own

There are a lot of photographers in this wide world of ours, and standing out from the crowd has never been more difficult. It seems that everyone is doing everything all at once, and trying to keep up can be overwhelming. If you are looking for a way to escape the rat race and get noticed, try focusing on a specific location or subject and make it your own.

Making a place or subject your very own involves hard work and dedication. Chances are, you're not the only photographer taking images of your chosen subject, but you can make yourself the one person who photographs it the most. Sony a7RIV camera, Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/100 second.

I think this is something every photographer should do, and it is the best thing you can do to quickly enhance your photographic skills. Find a particular location or subject that inspires you, and then make a commitment to photograph that subject as much as possible. It can be something or somewhere in your local area, or it can be a favorite place farther afield. You can still photograph other places and things, but make the commitment to photographing your favorite place or subject as much as possible. Make that place or subject your very own, in the sense that you have better and more compelling coverage of that subject than anyone else.

To make a place or subject your own, you need to focus on the subtle details that other photographers overlook. Sony a7RIV camera, Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/30 second, focus stack blend.

The place I have chosen to make my very own is Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Although I visit exotic photo destinations all around the world, there's something about this twisted and colorful landscape that inspires me. I end up spending a lot of time in the Badlands every year, running several photo workshops during the summer storm season when the chances of getting amazing sunrise and sunset light are at their best.

With every visit to the Badlands, I challenge myself to find new ways of interpreting the landscape. My most recent "self-challenge" is to find effective compositions shooting into the light. Sony a7RIV camera, Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/16, 1/15 second.

Many other photographers come to the Badlands, but I doubt that any other photographer knows the place as well as I do. I've worked very hard over the years exploring the park, getting off the beaten path, leaving the comfort of the park loop road behind and immersing myself in the landscape. I've explored miles and miles of wilderness looking for the best locations and compositions that the park has to offer, and although I've found many amazing spots, every visit leads me to new discoveries.

Every time I go to the Badlands, I explore a little bit farther, asking myself what the view might be like if I climb just one more hill, or how I might change my perspective and reveal something different about the character of the landscape. It often leads me to unexpected new discoveries. Sony a7RIV camera, Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/13, 0.6 seconds, focus stack blend.

As a result, over the years, I've developed a unique (and hopefully compelling) Badlands portfolio. Finding a place or subject that inspires you, and working it harder than anyone else, is not only incredibly fulfilling, but it is critical to your development as an artist. It forces you to think creatively, as you need to challenge yourself to reveal the compelling story of your subject in a way that no one else is doing. Nothing will improve your photography more than engaging in this process.

Some of my favorite photos result from exploring somewhere new, and just reacting to the scene and weather conditions. Sony a7RIV camera, Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 0.5 seconds, focus stack blend.

Finding a place or subject that inspires you is just the first step. Once you have settled on a subject that is special to you, then you need to dedicate yourself to expressing it in a way that no one else has. It can be a challenge to find new perspectives, and it takes a healthy mix of patience, persistence, and passion to return to the same place over and over again. But, you will be rewarded with a portfolio of photos that is unique—and second to none.

This photo of a stunning thunderstorm, and all of the other photos in this post, are recent images from the 2022 summer season in the Badlands. These are just my latest interpretations of this amazing place. Sony a7RIV camera, Venus Optics 12mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/22, 20 seconds.

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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