I've been a journalist for nearly 50 years and as a young reporter, I often used my own film camera when in the field. Later, I moved into production journalism and my Nikkormat gathered dust on a shelf.

 

To celebrate my semi-retirement a decade ago, I bought a digital camera and lenses and set about "becoming" a photographer.

 

How hard could it be? I had won a number of national awards for my newspaper design work, and I had worked with many fine photographers, so I figured it would be a cinch. 

Dead wrong. And it wasn't just hard work, it was incredibly frustrating, making the same mistakes again and again. 

 

Gradually, I became more competent, but it would take much longer to learn the important lessons that have helped me make photos I'm proud of.

Here's two:

  • The best camera in the world will take lousy photos in the wrong hands and, conversely, the cheapest entry-level camera and kit lens is capable of outstanding results in the right hands.

  • A fiery sunrise or sunset means nothing without good composition. It's just eye candy.

I'm reminded of one of my favourite quotes by that autocratic French master of photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera … they are made with the eye, heart and head.”

He also famously said: "Your first 10,000 photos are your worst."

I don't know what my ten-thousand-and-first photo was, but I'm pretty damn sure it was a landscape.

The best thing about landscapes is that you don't have to talk to them, but they sometimes talk to you.

Leith Phillips, 2021*

*I'm married with two kids and two grandkids and live in the Perth Hills, Western Australia.

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TAKE IT, DON'T FAKE IT

 

I do a lot of processing. It's a big part of my photographic style.

I blend exposures, remove unwanted objects, modify tones and textures, and use a wide variety of techniques involving layer masking and specialist editing tools and filters by companies such as Nik and Topaz.

However, what I will never do is replace a sky.

It's commonplace these days. If you go out on a shoot and the sky is boring, just change it when you get home to your computer. Photoshop has now automated the process.

Some of the big names in landscape photography do it routinely. They probably justify it because they shoot landscapes for a living. Ker-ching!

But I, and many other photographers who believe we should "take it, not fake it", will never do it. 

It demeans photographers who are prepared to do it all again: getting up at 3am, driving hundreds of kilometres, and walking by torchlight across sometimes dodgy terrain.

To me, it's like fishing. If nothing's biting, you don't buy fish on the way home and pretend you caught them.