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What is the Intention for this Photograph?

Holly Higbee-Jansen
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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Holly is a passionate photographer, photo workshop leader and instructor for Jansen Photo Expeditions.
Holly Higbee-Jansen
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Latest posts by Holly Higbee-Jansen (see all)


We arrived at our morning shooting location in Big Sur just as the first color of the morning light was disappearing. As the red light began to fade, the clouds in the distance started to have more definition and the contrast of the sun began to highlight the rock that the lighthouse was perched on. What did I see here and how can I be more intentional with my photography?

As the sun continued to rise over the hill behind us, we noticed the beam of light from the lighthouse as it rotated. Then the sunlight is traveled down the beach highlighting the ocean and the waves. The light continued to move up the hillside in front of us, giving a warm glow to the whole scene.

What we thought we might have missed at sunrise was actually an amazing scene unfolding.

That is what good landscape photography is all about. It’s about the combination of being at the right place, at the right time, in the right light. But that isn’t always possible. That’s why it’s so important to continue to return to the same place over and over again to investigate the location and decide why you really want to make an image. And sometimes it requires patience to wait to see what may enfold in a scene. We have been to this location many times, and it is always beautiful, but not this spectacular.  We had some amazing cloud cover that day.

Too many people use the “spray and pray” technique when photographing. That would be taking 50 pictures of one subject without having any real thought as to what the subject is and what their intention is for photographing this location. When they get home and look at the pictures on their computer, they forget what originally interested them in this scene.

A better approach would be to think about what interests you. What do you want to include in the picture, what do you want to exclude?  Why are you taking this picture in the first place? What might you do in post processing later on? Take some notes, so when you open up that image in Photoshop, you’ll remember what inspired you in the first place.

If you ask yourself these questions first, you will cut down on the number of images you take or need to rework in Photoshop when you return home. As a result you will have a more concrete solid body of work, rather than a collection of random images that don’t have any meaning to you.

If you want some help being more intentional about your landscape photography, we can help you with a variety of private and group workshops in California, Iceland and Cuba. Learn to be a great photographer with Jansen Photo Expeditions where we give you photographic inspiration, exploration and adventure.

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