This article discusses two traits you need as a landscape photographer if you want to take photos that stand out. And I’m not talking about a good eye for composition, a love for the outdoors, or a fitness level adequate to reach the photo locations you want to shoot. These are also important. But there are two key features that you need as a base.
Let’s look at a photo I took last fall. This is one of my favorite forest photos because it shows a single tree surrounded by soft mist and perfect fall colors. The icing on the cake is the light shining through the fog in the distance. Experiencing this fleeting moment that lasted no more than two minutes was one of my photographic highlights of the last year.
The question now is: what are the two features that allowed me to take this photo? The story begins in 2018 when I saw the first photo of this tree, taken by another photographer. This photographer lives in the area where I grew up, which gave me a first idea of the location of this tree. So from then on, every time I visited my parents, I also went into the woods looking for him. Also, I kept looking for clues as to where he might be whenever I saw more pictures of him. I’m generally not a person who asks for pitches. It’s much more fun to discover them on my own.
And in the fall of 2019, the time had finally come. I was exploring a beautiful, gnarled beech forest, and suddenly there it is, the tree that looks like an Ent surrounded by mist, what a beauty. But the leaves had already fallen, and despite the beautiful subject, I couldn’t take an exceptional photo. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the result I got. The gloomy atmosphere of the morning suits the subject well, making for a moody photo.
But having now seen this tree, I knew I could do better. There were more angles to explore, and I definitely wanted to see it in different seasons and weather conditions to identify what colors and light would work best for it. Over the next two years, I returned again and again. But, I never got the conditions I was looking for, so most of the time I didn’t even photograph that tree and instead focused on other subjects.
In the winter of 2020, I tried again. Heavy snowfall had created a fairy tale scene, and I think I got a good result. But as I stood in the freezing cold for a few hours in the morning and then again in the evening, desperately hoping for the sun to break through the clouds, I already knew that was still not what I wanted.
In the spring, I made a few more forays into this forest, but had no luck with the fog. These trips were therefore mainly devoted to further exploration and less to photography. Then, in the fall of 2021, just days after quitting my job as a software engineer to take up travel and photography full-time, I visited the Ent once again.
The fall colors were perfect, with just the right amount of orange leaves still on the tree. There was also fog again. Now the only missing ingredient was the directional light. I went to the tree, positioned myself, refined my composition and waited. After 90 minutes it suddenly became brighter as clouds and fog began to thin. Then, for less than two minutes, the sun illuminated the forest. It was as if someone had placed a huge light box in front of the sun, which gave the light an ethereal quality. I finally captured the photo I had been trying to take for two years – the one I show at the beginning of this article.
Perseverance and patience
Now, what are the two traits that helped me land the shot? The first trait is perseverance. It must have been between 15 and 20 times that I returned to this forest since I discovered it. Coming back to a photo location and persevering until you get the result you envision is essential if you want to capture that special shot. The same goes for the second trait, which is patience. Without it, I wouldn’t have stood there in the rain for 90 minutes, waiting for the light that might never have come through the clouds. I had already waited in vain for it on many previous visits.
But patience goes further. Often I have to wait for years before I can take a picture. On my first trip to New Zealand, I went to Tongariro National Park. My plan was to photograph Lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruapehu in the background. But during the days we were in the area, the weather was so bad that I couldn’t even see the mountains around me. As our journey progressed, I planned to return one day, then with more time and flexibility, so I could plan my visit around the weather forecast. New Zealand being on the other side of the world, it was definitely not a place I could go back to very soon. So I patiently waited and saved the money needed for a return trip. Several years later, during my travels around the world in 2016, I was finally able to visit Tongariro National Park a second time. And on this occasion, I obtained the conditions that I hoped to find.
Now, I’m aware that the example with the New Zealand photo might be a bit extreme. In addition to patience and time, there were also high expenses involved. I’m glad I got a second chance, but I also know that I may not always be able to go back to a shooting location. But, for me, it’s also okay not to get shot once in a while. The successes are then much softer.
At the end of the patience video, I show a few more images where I had to wait a long time before I was able to capture them. If you also have such photos in your portfolio, feel free to share them with a little story in the comments below.