We’ve all seen endless attractive scenery working as backdrops, scenery, and perhaps even your computer’s screensaver. These images are everywhere, and yet, we tend to scroll past them because they’ve become somewhat generic in our over-saturated media age. We have become numb to what should be extraordinary: the endless surprising natural beauty of our planet. Particularly as this difficult year closes, we should be more sensitive than ever toward amazing imagery of our natural Earth.
It is easy to find beautiful landscapes in the world. It is also easy to take pictures. But creating great landscape photography is not quite so simple. In the first place, you have to actually get out there and personally discover the landscapes and vistas that inspire, awe, and move you. Because so much work has already been done, it isn’t easy to make a mark today as a scenic natural landscape photographer.
But people are still accomplishing that, bringing us fresh jaw-dropping imagery. Take Lizzy Gadd, the photographer subject of the short video, The Nature of a Self-Portrait Artist. She effortlessly combines the necessary ingredients: a deeply held reverence for nature and a life-long love of artistry. As a child, she dabbled in various artistic mediums, but it wasn’t until the age of 12 when she picked up her dad’s new camera, finding her true calling.
There was a 365-project popular on Flickr that she found when connecting to other artists about the challenge of taking a self-portrait every single day for a year. After a few days, she ran into the most obvious difficulty: these would quickly get boring! So, she engaged her imagination and began experimenting with different styles, poses, and backgrounds. Lizzy admits, “I grew the most that year out of any year from the constant practice and feedback,” mostly from the supportive Flickr community.
This was the necessary background that pushed her to envelop her love of nature into her life as a photographer. For a self-portrait, a person must decide where she feels the most alive, the most composed, the most herself. Delving farther and farther into the fields and the wilderness, she discovered her own center.
Lizzy does not venture out into the field expecting to find particularly moving subjects or shots. She works from the ground up by exploring natural lands that inspire her personally, irrespective of photography. She says, “More often than not, I won’t take photos. I tend to enjoy being in the moment and connecting with nature. That’s always been my first love.” One of her mottos is, “Don’t be afraid to not take the photo.” You record an image when everything is right, or not at all. Truly the words of a genuine artist.
And that’s the necessary mindset to capture a truly moving experience – first, be sincerely moved yourself. Before ever unpacking her camera, she has to know everything is right in her mind. “I have to feel it first. Be in the moment.” Otherwise, there is no photoshoot, no recording, just another nice hike through the wilderness, bringing back only memories.
The Scottish Highlands have become a touchstone for Lizzy, particularly the remote wild Isle of Skye. While there is an extremely long history of human habitation there, stretching back to the Mesolithic Period, Skye today is more known for its rugged barren aspect than for people. It is a windswept scenic masterpiece of lochs and huge rock formations, wide open moors, and lonely stony beaches. Even though tourism is the biggest industry, it’s on a smaller scale, reflecting the difficult terrain and isolated location. Wild salmon continue to be a draw for the hardy, adventurous fisherman, as well as for the golden eagles that hunt alongside them.
The Isle of Skye certainly is an impressive natural landscape, and it’s honestly more difficult to imagine taking a bad photograph in such a surrounding! So obviously, the challenge is not to take a nice photograph there, nearly anyone can do that with almost no effort. Instead, the real difficulty is to take incredible shots, photographs that we would actually remember having seen. The first step is done. Now that an amazing locale has been settled on, the focus next turns to the artist herself.
Lizzy’s approach is to first find the proper feeling within herself. Luckily, she comes equipped with a strong natural affinity for the wilderness, the raw beauty of such a place. “Being in the wilderness brings a sense of calm that I just can’t find anywhere else.” As she feels these emotions swell, she knows she’s getting herself into the right space to be able to share these feelings with her audience.
But exactly how does she do that? We’ve all seen a million beautiful views, and no matter how awe-inspiring they are, it’s still nothing like being there ourselves. This is the puzzle a nature photographer wrestles with: I feel this all within myself, but how can I share such private experiences to a broader public?
Lizzy solves this conundrum by adding the human body into the natural environment. A person’s image instantly brings focus, scale, and an immediacy that a completely natural scene lacks. Of course, placement and color are all important, and she explains how “my imagination really starts to soar when I add the human element.” Hidden away in her gear are an array of colorful flowing dresses that she uses to lend a certain contrast to the scene, allowing the viewer to imagine being there personally, yet without distracting from the larger drama of these enormous Scottish vistas.
Take a moment to recall Lizzy’s primary desire: not to take photos but to simply immerse herself into the environment. Simply explore the terrain, feel the natural sensations. Find out if anything special is there. So she climbs the fantastic rock structures. Wades out through the shallow fjord. Peers over the crumbling overlook. If – and only if – it seems right, she then decides on a natural focal point for the self-portraits to begin. Setting her camera on auto, typically very close to the Earth itself, she enters the scene and channels the energy that brought her there in the first place.
With typical self-effacement, she describes it all as, “Simply put, I hike out into nature, set up my camera, and I take selfies… But with an artistic spin.” Quite the understatement. “Inspiring,” “encouraging,” and “beautiful” are several of the adjectives you hear over and over when people attempt to describe her work. The single human figure, in simple flowing colors set against the majestic natural beauty of northern Scotland, accomplishes its purpose in providing a focal point to imagine ourselves being there alongside her.
There is always something new to discover in our natural surroundings. No matter how familiar they seem, there is always another sight, another corner to turn, another vista to explore. So it is too as an individual. Lizzy Gadd knows that every day there are always unplumbed depths to delve both in herself and her surroundings, and while appreciating her photos, viewers will sense the same potential within themselves. There is always a new horizon to aspire to, a new life to live, just around the corner.
Want to see more? Check out Lizzy’s incredible photography and learn more about her journey as a photographer over at her photo galleries.
Want a Lizzy Gadd print of your own? Check out her print shop at https://www.elizabethgadd.com/prints.