(© Ian Plant) Every landscape—every scene in nature—is different, each possessing its own unique magic. As nature photographers, our mission is to find that unique magic, to reduce it to its essence, and to capture it with our cameras so that we may share it with others.
Part of this process is learning to tell a story with your photographs, but this is only the beginning of the journey, not the end. A compelling story about your subject should always be a significant component, but photography is so much more than simple story-telling. To transform your subject, and to bring it to life to viewers, you need to capture mood and moment, and propel the eye into the scene using composition. The goal of all of this is to give viewers the feeling of being there, as if they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you when you made the image.
Of all the photos I took on my recent Patagonia trip, one in particular tells a story of the land more so than the others. Conditions were horrible—the wind was blowing with gale force, and each gust brought a blast of snow, swirling in the air but never touching the ground. Lenticular clouds built over the spires of Monte Fitz Roy, stacked one atop another, fueled by the howling winds. The mountain played hide-and-seek behind a curtain of mist, emerging for a few moments only to be obscured again as the wind shifted direction. In other words, it was classic Patagonia.
Every component of the image was carefully chosen to help tell the story: the wind-swept lenga trees (the only trees that grow in this inhospitable area); the granite spires of Fitz Roy, their obscure presence merely a hint of their full glory; and the gathering storm, looming overhead with hidden menace. Even the moment was carefully chosen: I waited for a particularly strong gust to carry back-lit snow behind the lenga tree on the right, framing it in silhouette with a halo of white and separating it from the background. To me, this image tells the story of this desolate and forbidding land like no other I have ever made.
As a nature photographer, your goal should always be to impart a sense of place within your photographs. In doing so, you can transport the viewer into a distant world, and give them the feeling of being there, by your side: shouting with joy at the oncoming storm, and delighting in the simple pleasures of the moment.