Article by Spencer Elliott
The differences between a nature photographer and a studio photographer are like the differences between a jazz band and a rock band; the same art but with vastly different styles, techniques, and even equipment. Many studio photographers use artificial lighting and backdrops, they shape the environment to fit their vision. For outdoor photographers, everything is grounded in the natural. And it isn’t just the differences in style and technique that separate the outdoor photographer with the indoor, there is also something existential. As nature photographers, we feel a sense of wonder and boundlessness in our photography, and there is a certain spontaneous energy that can only be found outside. The thought of taking pictures in a small studio seems stunting and claustrophobic. While we are beholding the majesty of nature, with mud on our boots and sunburns on our arms, it seems the studio photographer is confined to a box. It can feel as though they are restricted while we are free, tame where we are wild, limited where we are infinite.
Now, being a photographer that heavily prefers shooting outdoors, I’m biased, but I am also a zealous admirer of studio photography. So, I had to take a step back and try to see what I could learn from my indoor comrades, and I found myself ignoring equipment and techniques, instead finding value in something more abstract. While digesting the differences between outdoor versus indoor photography, I was met with a fundamental issue every outdoor photographer has to face: the fact that we are at the mercy of nature. The lack of control the nature photographer possesses can be frustrating and even disheartening. Are we not artists the way that indoor photographers are because we can’t control our photos the way they can? Are our pictures beautiful because of our envolvement, or just because nature is innately beautiful?
As many other outdoor photographers facing an identity crisis, I turned to Ansel Adams, who once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” When I first read that quote, I didn’t fully understand it. Yes, it sounded nice, but did I really feel as though I was creating a photo as opposed to just clicking a button at the right moment? Especially when I compared myself to an indoor photographer, who seemed to have a vision of what they wanted before they even shot a frame. The lights had to be set up just right, the perfect filters applied, the subject posed in the exact desired position, everything was at the will of the photographer. There seemed to be something more artistic, more conscious in the way they shot. But then I thought, why can’t I do that? It is true that a nature photographer is going to have to make adjustments based on the environment, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t produce the exact picture we had envisioned. This means that the outdoor photographer has to be proactive instead of reactive. Think before you shoot.
Ansel Adams would sometimes only take two photos, with one being a backup incase of darkroom mistakes, meaning that he was patient and meticulous, only taking the photo when he was absolutely sure. I, on the other hand, find myself many times taking hundreds of pictures without stopping to engage with my photo, to understand the play between camera and environment. Just as an indoor photographer uses equipment to achieve their vision, so must you. Even before you take your camera out, you should know what shutter speed and aperture to shoot at. You need think about what areas you want and don’t want to stand out and what settings
you need to use to accomplish that. You should know the picture will look like before you even take it. Don’t wait for nature to produce the perfect picture, make the perfect picture.
In this way, indoor and outdoor photographers should be one in the same, because a truly artful photo is one that is centered in consciousness, even at its most spontaneous. Both types of photographers must be patient, they must have a fierce desire to only accept a photo when it is just as they had envisioned, and they must make a great photo, not just take one.