Managing my Expectations as a Landscape Photographer

It recently dawned on me that my own expectations of going out and capturing landscape images has been a frustrating experience of late.
In this blog post I try and detail these frustrations by working through the expectations I set myself vs the reality of what I encountered in the field.

Rutherford MonumentThere are numerous articles (online and offline, video and text) regarding expectations and photography, mostly regarding the expectations of clients in relation to the purchase of photographic services, very few (if any) regarding the expectations photographers set for themselves.
This is going to be a photographers PoV about how setting realistic expectations for his (my) own work is just as important as setting client expectations.

We all know the phrase “manage expectations”, or “exceed expectations”, but what does that actually mean?

A definition of expectation can be :

A strong belief that something will happen or be the case [in the future]

The word ‘expectation’ is closely related to two other words; ‘assumption’ and ‘prediction’, there are other synomyns but these two are important to this discussion.

Just recently I have posted two entries on this site that convey expectations that were exceeded and expectations which were not even met.

Sleeping Ferns

In the first, I talk about how the conditions weren’t ideal and how my expectations led me to assume that because the sky was clear blue with bright, direct sunlight, the photographs I’d capture would not be of any use to me, and the lack of drama I was ideally looking for from stormy, cloudy skies would detremientally impact the compositions I would have to select.
This ended up not being the case.
In this instance, I think my lack of familiarity with the locations actually contributed to exceeding any preconcieved ideas of what I wanted to capture. I hadn’t deeply researched the locations, so I never had any (well, I did have some, but not much!) assumption of what compositions I would be able to capture, from what angles the location looks best and how to be creative without being derivitave of other works.

In the second entry I lament about the lack of any dramatic light or cloud cover, both of which I failed miserably to accuratley predict over the course of four nights.
The assumption was that I’d go out and look for familiar compositions, but capture them with sunset light reflecting off clouds and getting that light bounced back from the sea. I never acheived any of these results.
In fact, the only time I captured anything close to what I had expectations for was on the final evening, when I wanted to capture a long exposure of a signal light – which I’d never photographed before – where the sea and sky blend together in an almost seamless backdrop.

I achieved only part of that expectation, but it was the photographic highlight of the week – it was nice to end that week on a semi-positive experience.

Stroan ViaductWhat all this tells me is that I seem to be better at managing my expectations for locations that are new to me, and for locations that aren’t I need to lower my predictions of walking away with a really great photograph.
For the locations I am familiar with, I need to perhaps step away from the research, to perhaps stop looking at what other people have captured of the particular location and leave more space for me to discover my own opportunities, my own perspective.

ViaductI think perhaps I also need to stop creating mental tick-lists of photographs I want to take from specific locations. These lists can be limiting and stop me from taking advantage of conditions as they present themselves, and not conforming to the ‘ideal’ I have in my head at the time; I don’t want my ideas to get in the way of something that could possibly be better at the time, but that I can’t see because it’s not what I wanted to see.

If, like me, you have struggled with the negative impact of going into a photographic experience with expectations for conditions or scenery only to walk away disappointed, try clearing your mind of any preconceptions before embarking on your next landscape trip, try looking at the landscape and seeing what’s before you instead of reverting back to the iconic composition, perhaps even try looking at the intimate details within the landscape first and then broaden your vision to take in the big vista.
I’m going to try and keep these things in mind for my next trip and I’ll be sure to let you all know how I get on.

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