Landscape photographers thrive on variety. It’s a bad idea to shoot the exact same image as someone else, and, while not quite as bad, shooting a very similar composition to an existing image usually isn’t considered much of an achievement. A good landscape photo should be original in at least one way, and finding a unique composition, a different, fresh look, is an important part of originality. But the photography world is booming, and every other photographer has images of iconic locations.

Year by year people shoot the popular destinations, metaphorically grinding them to photographic dust. Change the angle, catch different light, go lower, go higher – a rock is a rock is a rock, and unless you’re thinking about cryogenically freezing yourself to wait thousands of years for the landscape to erode – you’re pretty much stuck with it, and compositions will eventually be exhausted. One method of dealing with this is avoiding iconic locations. What good is a shot of rock arch that’s already been shot a million times, iconic as it is?

Perhaps you’d be better off looking for other features in the area, such as a less-noticed boulder, and shooting that instead.

A better solution is to shoot changing landscapes to begin with. Landscapes that change quickly with time and with the elements provide an infinite variety, effectively solving the originality problem one faces with constant landscapes. In contrast to slowly eroding stone that can take eons to change, some landscapes can take days, minutes or even seconds to change the way they look and contribute to your shot. My favorite examples are fire, sand and ice.

Lava shooting 70 meters high out of Baugur crater, Holuhraun, Iceland. Volcanic eruptions change the landscape very quickly, and sometimes quite dramatically. A lava river is a compositional element – and a pretty sensational one – in its own right.
An aerial view of the Holuhraun eruption. My pilot told me this new lava formation hadn’t been there on his previous flights that day – a perfect example of a rapidly-changing landscape. Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia contains a lava pool that keeps changing its face.

Fire, or more accurately volcanic landscapes, where lava flows and changes the earth constantly, makes for excellent subject matter. The greatest problem is the fact that lava isn’t the most user-friendly substance, and there’s no shortage of stories of people whose tripods (and sometimes boots!) began to burn. Lava is beautifully enchanting and very diverse, but take great care when shooting it. Don’t come running to me if you burn your feet…

Sand creates a myriad of interesting shapes, and it can move very quickly with the wind. Sand is also interesting in all proximity levels, from close-ups of the grains to long shots of towering faraway dunes. It sometimes changes too quickly (when winds are blowing, you can see ripples move right in front of you) or too slowly (it can take years for large dunes to shift significantly), and one should take extra care not to get those impossible-to-get-out grains inside one’s equipment, but all in all sand provides good variety.

Its biggest limitation is the fact that it can’t really form smaller-scale complex structures. Dunes can be very intricate and detailed, but on a smaller, foreground-relevant scale, sand is limited to ripples in all but very special cases.

The 300-meter tall dunes of Sossusvlei, Namibia shift slowly but surely. The closer you get to the sand, and the stronger the wind, the quicker the image changes. These ripples in Huacachina, Peru were shifting right before my eyes.
Sand gets everywhere, creating surprising photographic possibilities. Kolmanskop, Namibia Black and white sands mix and create curious patterns in Skagsanden beach, Lofoten, Norway. This is a wonderful example of rare non-ripple sand patterns.

Which brings us to ice. Ice is much friendlier than lava and can create more intricate forms than sand. Even better, ice changes much faster than rock, but usually doesn’t change too quickly to shoot. It takes days or weeks for a good-sized piece of ice to melt, and so well-spaced visits to icy locations can provide good variety with near certainty. On top of that, where there’s ice, there’s often melting water, and the combination can work very well and provide even more dynamics, variety and opportunities for unique shots.

Add to this the obvious photographic appeal of ice, and reach the conclusion that frozen landscapes are the best kind of changing landscapes, at least in my opinion. Just be careful not to slip!

This incredible ice cave in Breidamerkur glacier, Iceland was formed by the movement and melting of ice. Shot in 2011, it’s long gone and therefore this shot could never be replicated. The ultra-photographed Breidamerkursandur beach always supplies new shapes of ice. It can change completely for one day to the next, allowing for amazing variety.
Delicate ice flowers can sprout overnight when the weather is cold enough. They disappear when it gets warmer again. The Lofoten Islands, Arctic Norway. The snow covering the trees of Riisitunturi, Lapland, while not quick to change, is another example of how ice can strongly impact a landscape.

Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel.

If you’d like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you’re welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:

Land of Ice – Southern Iceland – view trailer
Winter Paradise – Northern Iceland – view trailer
Northern Spirits – Lofoten Islands
Desert Storm – Namibia
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Annex – Patagonia

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