Landscape Photography Review 2023
looking back at my year in photography
Hey everyone! How's it going?
As I review my landscape photography of the admittedly doleful year that was 2023, I'm compelled to ask myself 2 questions...
Where have I come from?
Where am I going?
I suppose I could then also add a third question to that list which would be Where am I on my journey right now? But that question then begs a further two which would be How far have I come? and How far have I left to go? Neither of which I can or want to answer because as a photographer the hope is that I am always growing and that the journey is endless.
My hope is that in answering these questions, it will reveal that I have grown and developed as a photographer and that there is scope to continue growing in the future.
Join me in my landscape photography review of 2023 and let me share the ups and downs of what has been a strange and interesting year with you.
Bamburgh Castle during a rare sunset in 2023
a challenging year
As I review my work, I have found that two aspects have shaped and dictated my landscape photography throughout 2023.
The first is that 2023 was a year dominated by a lack of photogenic weather.
As someone who once used to consider himself a weather photographer before a landscape photographer, this aspect has proven to be challenging in more ways than one.
The second aspect is that 2023 has also seen my photography dominated by a car that has remained stubbornly, relentlessly unfit to chase.
Snow flurries falling over Glencoe, March 2023
weather or not
The weather always plays a major role in my landscape photography. Whether in and of itself or its transformative impact upon the landscape, the role of weather is always front and centre.
My preference has always been to chase the weather and photograph specific instances of it in preferred locations. This would either be by chasing the weather itself to a location where I think it would really transform and enhance the view or by having previously scouted a location, thinking it would look great under a certain condition and just waiting for that right condition to come along.
2023 was having none of that...
a gentle beginning
The year started kindly enough as a couple of inches of snow transformed the North into a winter wonderland. On a whim, I drove out to Routin Linn; a waterfall I had yet to explore buried deep in the far north of Northumberland.
This was followed shortly by a trip to College Valley in the Cheviot Hills where a dense hill fog retreated up the valley to create an intensely atmospheric scene resplendent under a blanket of deep, impassable snow.
snow and more snow
With another round of snowfall forecast to fall over the Scottish Highlands, I made the impulse decision to spend the weekend in Glencoe and Fort William.
Sadly, the snowfall was mostly of the wet variety, but the frontal system that arrived that evening brought with it some wonderful moody lighting that transformed the light dusting of snow into an almost luminous glistening powder as the cloud bases caressed the mountain tops.
Snow would continue to be the bedrock of my photography as a phenomenon known as Sudden Stratospheric Warming would deploy an early Spring cold snap which swiftly cut across the north, burying it overnight under a foot of snow.
Given the time of year, regardless of how deep the snow, it wasn’t going to hang around long so I crammed as much photography into that day as possible, some of which was the best I took all year.
So far, the year was proving bountiful with a decent show of Winter weather. I couldn’t get enough.
Shortly after though, disaster struck!
Whilst on a reccy deep in the valleys of Coquetdale one early April evening, my car was written off on an isolated single track country road, the rear axle succumbing to what can best be described as a small crater.
My photography career undeniably pivoted on this moment and it would be over 6 weeks before I was back on the road again with a replacement vehicle.
Ironically, photography teaches you patience and, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have waited longer. The frustration of not being able to get out and explore however got the better of me and I settled for a car I should have ran a mile from.
In terms of cost, repeated downtime and endless frustration of trying to keep it on the road, my trajectory was (and still is) impeded with all plans shelved.
Which, strangely enough, brings me back to the weather again...
no nature's fury
Every Spring, circumstances permitting, I travel out to the Midwest with my buddies over at See Nature’s Fury and spend a few weeks chasing down a bunch of big spinning clouds.
2023 however ended up becoming a fallow year as one of our number welcomed his newborn son into the world and I have to be grateful for this for 2 reasons.
The first is that the severe weather on the Plains stank that year.
The second is that I wouldn’t have been able to fly out there anyway due to the overwhelming cost of the car and its repairs.
Inbetween trips to the garage, I was afforded the opportunity to grab a clutch of the traditional Springtime photos of bluebells and flowering garlic.
This was met with a mix of fruit and frustration in 2023 as both garlic and bluebells flowered at different times in different locations. This was compounded slightly by the fact I’m still exploring the best locations since my relocation to the North East.
My storm chasing throughout 2023 was very below par.
Though I felt my forecasting was on point, errors and frustration crept in to my decision making due to an unhealthy car which had a habit of failing mid-chase.
What made it more frustrating was how organised and highly electrified some of these storms ended up becoming, occuring over some very pretty open country.
The North Yorks Moors and the Peak District were each visited on more than one occasion with one trip even taking me up to the Trossachs and Glencoe.
The precip dump across Ranoch Moor ensured there were some riotous inversions the following morning.
As Spring gave way to Summer, so too the weather gave way to an increasingly prolonged theme of overcast and wet conditions which would persist through to the end of the year.
This would further alter the trajectory of my photography in an unexpected way.
With ‘traditional’ photographic opportunities at a premium (blooming canola fields in late Spring, heather clad hillsides in late summer, haybales in autumn), I found as the year wore on that the weather was literally shaping my photography.
That statement may sound a little odd so let me explain…
but it pours
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the weather plays a major role in my photography in the sense that I prefer to seek it out and capture its different guises in situ or photograph a location that I feel would tell a better story under a certain condition.
There are few instances however where unphotogenic weather would apply in this respect, but the one side effect of all the rain that fell in the latter half of 2023 was the increased swell and flow rate of the North's waterfalls.
Again, the persistent gloom allowed few opportunities to capture Nature’s glory but thankfully a few perfect days availed themselves and I snapped at the chance.
The early weeks of Autumn saw me exploring forests not just for their transformative colour but also for the presence of ancient trees that would look appropriate in the coming Autumn mists.
Said mists never really materialised in this part of the world though. On one hand I feel compelled to mention how this added further frustration to an already trying year but on the other it feels entirely churlish of me to do so; this same season also delivered the spectacular results of Storm Babet alongside some stunning aurora displays.
transformative by nature
My photographic year ended as it began; under a blanket of snow which this time saw me scurrying around a couple of local ruined castles. As is persistently thematic in my photography, neither event was planned - Edlingham Castle was a last minute decision born of desperation and Mitford Castle was an accident because I happened to unwittingly drive past it.
Of all weather conditions, I feel none are as transformative as snow.
lessons be learned
Where have I come from then? And where am I going?
As I review my landscape photography, I feel the weather - so often the centrepiece to my work - has forged my photography in unforeseen ways throughout 2023.
Instead of chasing the mesmeric around preferred locations, the unphotogenic gloom shaped unexpected opportunities. It corralled me, forced me to adapt and therein lies the difference between chasing the weather I’d prefer and utilising the weather I’ve got.
Like storm chasing, you take what you’re given.
As a consequence, my landscape photography has become more intimate in style and scope. Sweeping vistas and soaring mountaintops have been substituted for cloistered waterfalls and twisted woodland.
2023 tempered my ambition and taught me to be adaptable. I may not have come away with the photos I'd envisioned at the start of the year, but the lessons I've learned are arguably more valuable.
Walk before you can run and all that.
There have been instances where I wondered if my photographic journey is to be a short one such was the level of frustration that grew from a relentlessly unfit car, the failure of my main lens, the failure of a hard drive that took down entire projects and the stubborn refusal of any sales or social media growth.
Do it for the love they say, but what is the point of art if no-one sees it?
Have I progressed then as a landscape photographer in 2023?
I feel I have.
In terms of composition, I feel I am closer to my goal of capturing the romantic essence of a scene and grounding the viewer in it even if those scenes lack the grandeur I'd hoped for.
The two images above, taken almost a year apart, demonstrate the same eye but I feel the image on the right is a far more accomplished image than the one taken the previous winter.
My two biggest influences in the art world are John Martin and Caspar David Friedrich. Though their subject matter is different, their scenes share a sense of romanticism with theological influences. Martin paints the apocalyptic sublime with a detached objective eye. Friedrich paints the romantic sublime on a sweeping yet intimate level that feels subjective. With Martin I feel like the dispassionate observer. With Friedrich I feel placed within the scene.
The end goal is to be a photographic blend of the two and though 2023 has forbade the desired sweep and scope of the sublime, I feel its helped me to achieve a sense of inclusive, subjective intimacy in my work.
What plans for the future?
At this moment, none, though my flights are currently booked to once again chase down giant storms across the Great Plains.
Other than that, after the lessons learned from 2023, for now I’ll simply go where the wind takes me.
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