On Photography

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

On Photography

Why WePursueOur Passions

An Essay on Motivation

Why do we do it? Why do we find ourselves standing alone in the dark in cold and remote places, waiting for the sun to rise? Overnighting in cheap motels in small towns, or in isolated campgrounds, away from our friends and families.  Driving long distances, frequently alone, to unfamiliar places. What sort of compulsion is this?

Landscape, nature and wildlife photographers are a strange breed. Whether we do it for a living, as an art, or simply as a hobby, we spend large amounts of money on equipment, film and processing, and travel. Other people have similar expensive compulsions, including golf, skiing and fly fishing, to name several. But none require the frequent isolation and effort that many of us photographers expend.

Moon Over Brasstown, Union County, Georgia. October, 2000
Photographed with a Rollei 6008 Integral and 300mm APO Tele-Tessar on Provia 100F.

In the Fall of 2000 I found myself on a mountain lookout preparing to photograph sunset and a full moon. It had taken a 3 hour drive followed by a long and difficult climb to reach the summit, particularly with a 35lb backpack loaded with camera gear. At the summit when I got there was a young man. I asked if he knew that there was going to be a full moon, and he replied that he did and that’s why he was there. He didn’t seem interested in further conversation though, so for a couple of hours we shared this lovely isolated patch of ground in relative silence. 

He quietly read his book and I relaxed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. As the light faded toward dusk I busied myself setting up my cameras and doing my photography. It was a lovely sunset and 180 degrees opposite a full moon was rising. I enjoyed doing my photography and greatly enjoyed the experience of just being in a wonderful location watching one on nature’s great shows. As it got dark the young man started hiking down the hill, saying a quiet, "Good Evening", as he departed. 

Hiking back to my car a short while later, and throughout the evening, I wondered about that fellow and what the mountain-top sunset experience had been about for him. I wondered what it had really been about forme!

By the next morning what I had come to realize was that while the desire to create a strong photographic image was a major motivator, I had derived the greater pleasure from simply being there, just as my young companion had. He was there simply for the experience. What had broughtmethere was my art, but in reality that was only a small part of why I was there.

In fact, if you click on the above photograph’s title you will be taken to the section describing the locale and the shoot. What you’ll see is that in factthis photograph wasn’t taken that evening. It was taken insteadthe next morningat sunrise. Why? Because none of the evening’s images were to my liking. I’d expended a great deal of time, money and effort to get there and not a single good photograph had resulted. I knew it at the time.

But, it didn’t matter. I know that it was my love of nature and the outdoors that had brought me to that mountain-top on that evening.The experiencewas the most important thing, not the photographs. It also struck me that being free from the tyranny of having to produce a great image I had greater freedom to experience, and therefore ultimately to create. I now know that I value the experience more than the photograph that may results, and that frees me to be creative without anxiety.

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Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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