Not the usual landscape photography lesson…
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
Programmed to Recognise the Beauty of Creation
It is a belief of mine that the human race is intuitively drawn to creation and “programmed” to recognise the beauty of it. But more so, we want to be in it. We want to experience it with all our senses. Some of us like vast open landscapes for the quietness and stillness. Some of us climb mountains to see the landscapes from a high vantage point. I love the feeing of the sun on my skin. Most of all I love the smells…. the earthy smell of the soil when raindrops pelt down on it (the ancient Greeks called it “petrichor” which literally means the fluid that flows through the veins of the gods); the scent of savannah grasslands in the morning; the undergrowth on a forest floor and most of all the warm herbaceous tones of a Karoo landscape.
Landscapes – A Favourite Subject of Artists
Since the birth of humanity landscapes have been the favourite subject of artists and it is no different for photographers. So many of my new students tell me they want to learn photography to photograph beautiful landscapes and to create visual momentos of the beautiful places they have been to while others want to tell the stories of their experiences. Many more say that no matter what they do or what settings they use, the photograph and the landscape they “saw” is just not the same.
How do I make Beautiful Landscapes?
Many authors have written on this subject. The internet is jam-packed full of great blogs, articles and tutorials on how to photograph landscapes. So much has been written about equipment, the rules of composition, how to expose for a better dynamic range, foreground interest, the golden hour and so forth. The mere fact that so much had been written and I am writing even more, supports the fact that landscape photography is not as easy as we would think it ought to be.
The Essence of a Landscape
I believe the first thing we tend to overlook is that our experience of a landscape is often a full sensory experience…. We see (in 3D), we smell, we hear, we physically feel temperatures and textures, sometimes we even taste and we certainly have some or other emotional response to the landscape or scene we are experiencing. We then record all of this on a two dimensional medium and experience a sense of not having captured the essence of what we had seen.
Ansel Adams said: “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment.” I cannot recall if I ever knew the context in which he made this statement and I will not make any assumptions relating to that, however I would like to borrow this quote to bring across the point I am trying to make. We often are left feeling disappointed with our landscape images because we have failed to capture the essence of the landscape, the essence being that very “something” that inspired us to make the image in the first place.
Don’t hunt… Wait – Being at the Right Place at the Right Time
We are intuitively drawn to the beauty of the landscape but we cannot “hunt” the image. We should allow the landscape to reveal itself. Charlie Waite explains it very eloquently in his book The Making of Landscape Photographs that sometimes it is necessary to return again and again to a particular landscape because the photographer can sense there is an image lurking, waiting for it to reveal it self, but then sometimes you get to a place and the moment is just perfect, “here and right now” to make the image. He describes the former as “making the moment” and the latter as “taking the moment”. He says: “so be both: both make the moment and take the moment, be acquisitive and absorbent, be patient and be quick”. All of that having been said, here are a few considerations to ponder which will make a difference in your experience of landscapes and how to capture the images…
Arrange all the parts
Compose your image for visual balance.
Exclude what Distracts from the Essence of the Landscape
So often in our haste to make an image we try to record the entire scene in front of us and in doing so we fail to capture the essence of the landscape. Using a longer lens to isolate detail from the scene can shed some light on what the picture is really about. “The other right answer” as National Geographic Photographer DeWitt Jones likes to call it. Using a longer lens brings our attention to the rarity of the running waterfall in the dry Namaqua landscape.
Allow some Movement
A hint of movement creates a dynamic image which often awakens the viewers sensory and emotional experience of an image. In the image below the movement in the wave alludes to the sound of the ocean.
Cropping for Impact
In the perfect world all images will be perfectly composed, but the 3:2 dimensions of the digital sensor can complicate matters a little. By cropping in post production we can improve landscape pictures significantly. The first of the two images below is the standard 3:2 frame. The second image was cropped to a 6×9 landscape ratio.
Slow Down Time
The tranquil water adds to the story of the ship going nowhere…time is of no essence here…
Take inspiration from the masters: Ansel Adams
Strip the colour to reveal textures, shape and contrast.