Alaska Alaska Life Photography Tips USA

Creating Impact in your Photography

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” (Don McCullin)

I have to admit, even though I’m living in one of the most beautiful places imaginable, I’ve been disappointed in my landscape and travel images I’ve taken since moving to Alaska over a year ago. When I’m out shooting a beautiful scene I am excited, but when I load the pictures on my computer I feel disappointed. The photos have lacked something, have lacked showcasing that feeling that I felt while physically being in that scene.

Landscape images are not just about capturing a scene, but more about capturing a “feeling”. The best photographs don’t just showcase what something looked like, but spark emotion in the viewer. When I photograph a scene, I want to be able to share the crazy excitement I feel when I see light do something magical when we’re in the right place. It’s not always excitement that I want to convey, sometimes it’s calmness, sometimes its nostalgia, other times I just want the viewer to feel like they’re walking through the scene.

Our First Alaska Trip

Last winter we took our first overnight road trip in Alaska to Healy, the town outside of Denali, when everything was still closed for winter. My husband had a friend who wanted to go ice climbing. The area outside of Denali is great for this. Having an almost 2-year-old at the time I understood I would not be able to partake in the activity, but I was happy to come along to see some of Alaska and of course take my camera with us. We rented an overpriced AirBnB for two nights. I only asked Mike to make sure we had some time for photography.

The weather during the drive south was overcast and dark. We could barely see the mountains that weren’t far off the road. Typical in Alaska, the weather was not good for photography. During one afternoon, the sky started to clear. We could see the mountains and the beauty of the surroundings. I completely geeked out, witnessing one of natures magnificent creations. There isn’t much in life that gets me that excited, so excited to both witness and capture the power of the stunning landscape. When we saw the Alaska train approaching, I got even giddier and tried to capture the scene as it felt.

The next day was overcast again, but with better visibility. I was mesmerized.

While I feel these pictures are pretty, I don’t feel like they portray the excitement and amazement of what I felt in the moment. That is always my goal, to transport viewers of my work momentarily to the world I felt at the time I captured the scene. Camera’s don’t capture what we see with our eyes. Post-processing your images is extremely important. How much we choose to infuse our imaginations in our editing is completely a personal choice, and it’s what makes us an artist.

Processing in black and white

So many of my images this summer were taken either mid-day or in a scene that just had “blah” color. These images have sat on my hard drive for months, disappointed that I didn’t think I could edit them right. They felt dull and lifeless. The other day I started going back through them, remembering how I felt in amazement watching the clouds in some of these moments.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t done it before, but I realized with such a strong sky or other elements, I could process them in black in white. I started my photography journey in black and white. Using film, in high school, where I began my love for landscape photography, and again in Monterey California, also with a film class at the local community college. Making an image b&w doesn’t fix it, but it can simplify it. The image has to be strong. Yes! I can finally feel these scenes. 

Landscapes are more than pretty places

The world and its beauty stun me every day, especially in Alaska. I realize this post is mostly me just rambling, but I wanted to share my thoughts. If you’re a landscape lover/photographer reading this, think about these things:

  1. Answer the question, why do you love capturing landscapes? What do you want your viewers to think and feel when they view your photos? When you first arrive at a scene you want to capture, take a few minutes to think about what you want to communicate to your viewer.
  2. Bring your camera with you, as often as you can. (I’m telling this to myself. Some of the most magical scenes I’ve witnessed here in Alaska were driving, without my camera). Also, shoot a ton, and improve your technical skills.
  3. Learn and improve your post-processing. With digital cameras, editing is a must. If you don’t know how to use any editing tools, make that your priority. Youtube, Google, there are SO many resources out there.

That’s it for now. I’ll be working on a post about the important elements that make a strong image, but that probably won’t be the next one published. As of now, I have twenty partially written posts that haven’t been completed so who knows what you’ll see next here 🙂

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