How bad do you want it?

Though this is a blog about photography, “how bad do you want it” is a question that applies to just about anything and everything, but I digress…

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Austin, Texas under a clear starry night. This shot made it all worth it.

You may be thinking, Jason, what the hell are you talking about… well. “How bad do you want it” is a question I ask myself just about every Friday before my head hits the pillow. For those of you who don’t know, much like many many other landscape photographers, I have an “adult” job. Not adult like an adult film star or anything, but a full-time job that has nothing to do with photography.

After working over 40 hours a week, at times away from my lovely wife and all the comforts of home for several days, there is nothing more I would rather do than sleep in, relax and marathon Walter White as he Breaks Bad. So,  I have to ask myself, “how bad do you want it“? And for me, “it” is that one banger shot that makes you smile when it pops up on the back of the camera after hearing the shutter click. It could be vivid colors of the Milkey Way arching over Enchanted Rock or a beautiful smile beneath piercing eyes in dramatic black & white.

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The beautiful Austin, Texas skyline from the boardwalk along Lake LBJ.

Being a photographer in a digital world is, in many ways, so much easier than it was when I started shooting film. In an instant after freezing time, you can know if you captured your vision. The leaps in technology have, for sure, brought with it benefits that I can’t imagine living without. However… with all those wonderful leaps forward there is bound to be an equal and opposite reaction, according to some guy that goes by the name Issac.

Social media is without a doubt a huge part of what I do as a photographer, as it is with just about every business these days. It is still possible to do well without social media, but when you can reach 100K plus people with one banger image, well,  that’s a large audience and you would have to be a little crazy to pass that up. But,  with social media, there is a constant pressure to produce great content. That could be a single image, a video, tutorial, or a blog post like this one. And, contrary to what some people think, pumping out content and posts that will actually catch the attention of an audience is a large dedication of time not to mention a lot of work.

My office for the night

One Friday night, a few weeks ago, after a very busy week at my “real” job, I had to ask myself “how bad do you want it“? The weather forecast that night called for zero clouds, which can be great if you’re into shooting nightscapes like I am. It also called for temperatures in the upper 30’s. I know what you’re thinking, upper 30’s isn’t cold. Well if you live in Central Texas and are going to be standing lakeside on a breezy night, its cold.

For several weeks that I had been waiting for a clear night on a weekend so I could get what I hoped would be Star Trails above the Austin, Texas skyline. But that meant waking up at 3:30am, driving for over an hour, walking for about a mile with 38 pounds of camera equipment on my back, just to stand in 39° temperatures for several hours. Gotta want it pretty bad to go through all of that after the week I had.

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This is a combination of 24, 2-minute exposures. There are very faint star trails in the upper right corner showing the rotation of the earth.

So it was cold… really cold… But I think I mentioned that. My fingertips and toes were numb and the filters I was trying to use kept getting condensation on them, which really sucked because it ruined the shot I wanted so much. Originally I had a grand plan of making a video out of the trip with some great aerial B-role as the sun broke the horizon and illuminated downtown Austin. Though I did piece together the video below, there isn’t any epic drone. I couldn’t feel my fingers by the time the sun started to rise. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. But, the video doesn’t do it justice and I loved every minute of it.

So, that brings us full circle. How bad do you want it? What are you willing to do to get the thing you want most? Next time you think you would rather sleep in or not get out and make it happen, ask yourself that.

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Get Out There…

One of the most difficult aspects of landscape photography for me would seem to be a very simple part of the process for a lot of you, getting out there

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Typically, the best times to shoot landscape photography is in the early morning just before and during sunrise, and late in the day before and during sunset. At these times you can not only capture some of the most beautiful natural colors in the sky caused from the light breaking through the atmosphere, dust and water vapor along the horizon, but the side light shadows created by the sun being low in the sky can create depth and dimension in the scene. And if your lucky and get some thin and high altitude Cirrus clouds, the sky just seems to catch on fire with a pink and orange glow.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to get fantastic images during the middle of the day though. Depending on the conditions it is very possible to capture something amazing. Personally, I like shooting black and white at these times, the dark shadows can create a lot of contrast. But as a general rule, during the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky, everything can appear to be a bit flat due to the harsh light and the lack of dimension in the shadows.

Of the two prime shooting times, I normally prefer to shoot in the early morning hours. There are normally fewer people out which helps me have a scene to myself, take my time, and not worry about missing the perfect light due to distraction or an unintentional photobomb.

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Though I am a morning person and rarely sleep in, planning on a morning landscape shoot can be a big investment in time. Unless you are lucky enough to live in one of those areas where you are just surrounded by amazing scenes, this means you have to wake up at 3:00’ish, drive 1-2 hours, walk in the dark to get to your location, set up and wait for that magic light to “Hopefully” happen.

There is a lot of planning, pre-scouting locations, watching the weather, and even then you can’t be sure what exactly you are going to get once the sun starts to break the horizon. Clouds, wind, humidity, rain, light… There are so many things constantly changing and can’t be predicted that all the planning and preparation can seem to have been wasted. It’s easy to get frustrated after driving for several hours, hiking for 3 miles while carrying 30-40 lbs of gear, just to have the clouds close in and shut down the excitement of getting that hero image you were chasing.

Just taking the step to get out there and put yourself in the places and situations needed to capture an epic image is something I struggle with on a regular basis. Photography is a huge part of my life and as much as I love being out in nature, life isn’t that one dimensional for me and there are things that conflict with getting out there. Family, friends, dinner, drinks, cookouts, movies… It isn’t always easy to cut your fun short on a Saturday night because 3:00 comes so very early, especially if you are fortunate enough to have someone like Mrs. Red 5 in your life that loves the nightlife.

Hamilton Pool

That being said, there are only 2 times I can think of that I actually regretted taking a step out the door so early in the morning. The process and journey are always rewarding not to mention the sense of accomplishment from setting and crossing a goal off your list. The real reward is given in the fresh air, being away from all the thoughts of bills, meetings, and normal day to day stresses.

So be sure to take that first step. Find a place and situation to put yourself in that will elevate what you do. Challenge yourself to go a little farther, try something new. And most importantly, Get Out There!

You’re not going to get it every time…

There are a lot of Great photographers out there, a few that I follow regularly on YouTube for inspiration. Professionals like Thomas Heaton, Nick Page, & Brendan van Son are putting out some great content, if you haven’t heard of them, I would recommend checking them out.

One of the downsides of following top-notch landscape photographers is they can unintentionally make it seem like getting an awesome shot is as easy as hopping in the car and going to the park, and well, that just isn’t the case. One reason I enjoy the three photographers above is they share the bad along with the good, so you don’t just see that epic hero shots.

Taken at Bob Hall Piel, Padre Island, Corpus Christi Texas
Taken at Bob Hall Piel, Padre Island, Corpus Christi Texas

Getting discouraged or stuck in a rut is a pretty easy, it happens to me about the same time every year as a matter of fact. It’s really important to remember that landscape photography isn’t just about getting that shot. And that isn’t just my opinion, a lot of the great landscape photographers out there have said the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I want and almost expect to get a somewhat decent shot when I go out, but its also just getting out there that is part of the overall experience. For me, it’s the clouds, the river, trees, stars and so many other things that you just can’t find in a studio. Something I think a lot of people forget or just don’t understand.

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Canyon Lake, Texas

For instance, when was the last time you enjoyed a sunrise or sunset? And I don’t mean enjoy seeing an image of one on Facebook or Instagram. When was the last time you got up before the light starts to silhouette the clouds just to drive to a location, have a hike with 30 pounds of gear so you could be at a specific spot that in your mind, you think would be an EPIC place to watch the sunrise? By the way, sunrises & sunsets can be just as epic in your backyard, sometimes even more enjoyable if you change out the 30 pounds of gear for a cup of coffee or a frosty cold margarita.

Just off the top of my head, I know of 6 times just this year that I have done just that, and not even taken the camera out of the bag due to weather or conditions that can’t be controlled. And you know what, I don’t regret a minute of it.

It is important to remember how often exceptional photographers, that you & I admire, are out making images. The more you put yourself in the environment you want to photograph, the better the chances that the sky with light up, the bird will look your way, or the clouds will clear on a dark night…

Having realistic expectations is extremely important in anything you do, especially when there are so many factors that are out of your control. So even if you have triple checked the forecast, planned your route on a map, prepped all your gear…, know that you may just have to enjoy being outdoors and making the effort. Starting out with that frame of mind really helps me appreciate the entire experience and leave me with a smile on my face.

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Taken in Driftwood, Texas