Ian Plant was one of the very first photographers I started following. In many ways, it was his photos that convinced me to purchase a wide-angle lens. It’s been more than a decade since I first came across his work, and it amazes me how his work keeps evolving. Year after year, he’s able to create new and inspiring work, even when the bar is already set so high.
So, it’s an honor to present Ian Plant as this month’s featured photographer. In this interview, you’ll learn more about him, his journey as a professional photographer, what inspires him, and much more. He’s even kind enough to share some valuable advice on how to become a better photographer.
Start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got into photography.
I used to be a normal guy with a normal job and a normal life. Then I bought a camera, and everything changed. I was instantly hooked, and I knew that photography was going to be my passion and, eventually, my career. I took the plunge almost twenty years ago, leaving behind my comfortable job and comfortable life, and I have been a full-time pro since then. And I’ve never once regretted my decision! Being a professional nature photographer is so much better than… well, just about anything else I can imagine.
What were some of the challenges and rewards of quitting your job to pursue photography full-time?
Learning to run my own business was very challenging, and the photography industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past twenty years; it seems I must reinvent my business model every few years. I spend at least as much time chasing business opportunities as I do chasing the light.
Getting a chance to pursue my passion and see and experience some of the most amazing places on Planet Earth.
In what ways, for better and for worse, has the industry changed since you went professional?
When I first turned full-time pro, photographers made most of their income from their photography. Now, most photographers make most of their income from teaching and leading photo workshops and tours. But the biggest changes have been to the art of photography itself. With aggressive computer manipulation becoming more and more popular, a trend that will likely be accelerated by AI, it seems that the traditional approach to photography that I started with is fading away. And I think that something important is being lost along the way.
What inspires you to keep creating new work?
The astonishing beauty of nature is all the inspiration I’ll ever need, but for me, what inspired me the most is the pure joy of those moments when the random bits and pieces of our world spontaneously and fleetingly assemble into something meaningful and photogenic.
As a photographer, I don’t feel like I am chasing beauty or light or anything like that. I’m chasing those moments when it all comes together to make the perfect photo. The world around us is a visual puzzle, and I feel that my job as a photographer is to solve the puzzle, creating order out of chaos and finding meaning in the mayhem.
Talk us through some of your processes in planning and capturing a photo.
It really depends on what I am shooting, as the process might be different for different types of scenes or subjects. But generally, I am looking for something that reveals the story of my subject, that shows what makes the subject unique and special, and above all, something that shows my creative vision. Photography is all about seeing what others do not see, and then translating what you see for the viewer so they can see the world through your eyes and share in your artistic vision.
You’ve stated that composition is a critical part of a photograph. Why is it so important, and what can other landscape photographers do to become better at it?
Composition is the artistic arrangement and placement of visual elements within the picture frame, and for nature photography, it is the only thing that is solely the creation of the photographer. Composition is the artistic structure imposed by the artist, and it brings together everything else, as it unifies subject, mood, light, and moment in a photograph. An effective composition commands the viewer’s eye, and the primal visual response evoked by a skillful composition cannot be ignored. A poor composition of a beautiful subject will likely yield a boring photo. But a skilled photographer can use composition to take a beautiful photo of even a seemingly boring subject.
Composition, above all, is how you share your artistic vision. A snapshot shows the world what your camera sees, but when you create a composition, you show the world what you see. I spent years thinking and writing about composition, culminating in my ebook “Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition,” which is now part of my Ultimate Photography Composition Course. There’s a lot to learn about composition, but if I were to pick one general lesson, it would be this: pay attention to the shapes created by objects in the landscape. Composition is essentially learning how to arrange shapes in a way that captures the attention of people looking at your photos. Shapes are the key to unlocking the secrets of making compelling visual designs.
What role does post-processing play in your photography?
I use digital processing to subtly enhance and optimize my raw files, and I use digital workarounds for technical limitations, such as focus stacking and exposure blending. But I’m not a big fan of using the digital darkroom to significantly alter the reality of the scene or subject as captured through the photographic process. Personally, I think too many photographers rely too much on the crutch of digital manipulation to make their photos look much more amazing than they were in real life. My advice is to do the work, learn how light and composition work, and put in the time in the field. Trust me, concocting something on the computer will never be as meaningful as personally experiencing something amazing and successfully capturing a photo of that place and moment!
You’re known for both awe-inspiring landscape and wildlife photography. How do you manage to stay at the top of the game for two quite different genres? Or are there more similarities than one would think?
I think you become a better photographer when you explore different genres and find ways to synthesize techniques across specialties. Trying a different type of photography, especially one that you aren’t comfortable with, will force you to see more creatively and to push your artistic boundaries. Techniques can cross over and give your work a distinctive look. For example, I approach my wildlife subjects much the same way I do landscape photography, which makes my wildlife work different from most other wildlife photographers. And the focus on the moment, which is so critical to wildlife photography, has made me a better landscape photographer.
What is one piece of equipment you always have in your camera bag?
My camera, of course! But I’m assuming you mean besides my camera, and the answer would have to be my wide-angle zoom lens. I absolutely love the way the world looks with a wide-angle lens. By zooming out, you can make your background subjects look small, and by getting close, you can make foreground objects look relatively large. By playing with the relative size of objects (this is called “forced perspective” by artists), you can challenge viewer perceptions and make compelling compositions.
What is your best advice for beginning landscape photographers?
I mentioned before the importance of learning composition. Of equal importance is to learn how natural light works. Light acts in mysterious ways, and if you really want to make landscape images that stand out, you need to know how you can creatively bend light to your will when taking photos. Pay attention to light and push its boundaries. I always try to shoot on the edge of light, such as the moment when the sun pierces the clouds and illuminates an important part of the landscape, or at the edge of twilight when light is barely perceptible to the eye. The results can sometimes be otherworldly.
What’s next for Ian Plant?
In this digital Internet age, we’re overwhelmed by photography and photographers. There are just too many people photographing too much of the same stuff. As for me, I’m on the hunt for the places and subjects that the Internet hordes have overlooked. I’m looking for the hidden beauty that others aren’t noticing. That’s what I want to do more than anything, to be on the cutting edge of creativity, revealing the things that no one else is seeing or even looking for.
Anything else you want to add?
For anyone looking to take their photo learning to the next level, check out my Photo Masters website. I’ve got a mix of free and premium resources, all designed to help photographers advance their skills and explore their personal creativity. Start by registering for my free photography webinar. https://www.photomasters.com
You can also see more of my work and learn about my photo workshops and tours on my personal website: https://www.ianplant.com
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