Landscape Photography with Laurence Parent

The Austin SMUG group held its July meeting on Thursday, July 26.  About 40 photographers attended the meeting at the Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Austin.   This month's presentation was by Laurence Parent, a well published landscape and travel photographer based out of Austin.  Laurence has 41 books published to date, his latest being "Photographing Austin, San Antonio, and the Texas Hill Country."  He contributes regularly to Texas Highways, Texas Monthly, Texas Parks & Wildlife, New Mexico Magazine, Backpacker, and Down East.  His commercial clients have included Southwest Airlines, Trex, BBVA Compass Bank, and Temple Inland.

Laurence travels all over the country and the world to get his images, spending up to half of the year traveling.  He shared many of his images with us, along with some stories of how captured them.  He showed the group images taken from diverse places such as mountain tops, deserts, plains, and tight slot canyons and caves.  Astonishingly, many of his images were shot with large format 4x5 cameras.  He dragged a heavy load of equipment over great distances, many times in inclement weather, to get his shots.  

Weather conditions are a big part of Laurence's experiences.  Being a landscape photographer, he has to accept what nature gives him to work with.  In his view, the weather makes the shot and he has braved heat, cold, rain, snow, and dust to get the shots he needs for his clients.  "Blue is boring" was one of his talking points as he shared dramatic landscape scenes that were captured in less than favorable conditions.  If you want to shoot landscapes, you have to "just get out there," Laurence admonished.

A variety of shots taken in rain, fog, snow, haze and dust were shown.  Laurence demonstrated that is possible to get a stunning shot even when all you have to work with is a drab overcast sky.  His experience has taught him how to scout out an area to know where to be and at what time to catch the right light.  Even a small sliver of light cutting through heavy cloud cover can make a huge difference.  It takes patience and a lot of waiting around for the light to be right sometimes.  It is also quite possible for nature to not cooperate at all and there is the real possibility of leaving empty handed after considerable effort and braving extreme elements.

The beauty and majesty of a good landscape shot often comes at a great price.  Laurence's speciality is not an easy path to follow for aspiring landscape photographers.  He gave the group some insight into the behind the scenes life of a traveling landscape photographer.  The reality is that he spends a lot of his time stuck in airports and on planes, driving for hours on highways and bad roads, and hiking through all sorts of terrain.  Getting to the location for his shot can mean climbing hills and mountains, repelling into a cave, and wading or swimming through deep water while keeping his gear dry.  

Laurence fielded a lot of questions from the group.  It was particularly interesting to hear that that he does very minimal post processing work.  An outdoorsman at heart, he would rather be shooting than manipulating pixels on a computer.  He does not employ any HDR or extensive Photoshop techniques.  During image capture, he does use filters at times.  The main two filters he uses are circular polarizers and split ND filters.  When it comes to printing he outsources to a local printer, again because he would rather be out shooting.

I think it is safe to say that everyone walked away with a new respect for how challenging landscape photography can be.  Laurence's experiences provided eye opening insight into the making of those perfect landscape photos we are accustomed to seeing in calendars or coffee table books.  His images are stunning and he was kind enough to give out some calendars that feature his images to those in attendance.