Explaining landscape photography is rather difficult. The more I think about, it the broader the definition seems to become.
A landscape photo can be a wide-angle image of an impressive pristine area, a lake, an ocean, or a simple image of a flower in a pond. If the area, the lake or the winter pond tells something significant about the place, its inhabitants, the circumstances or brings a certain emotion to the viewer, it works.
Large or small, a landscape is not so much the object itself, but it is about “a place in which the subject exists or space where the feelings or emotions originate”
The landscape can be a spectacular view or nature. It can simply be the game of light and shadow, the abundance of the fields and bushes in the summer. Don’t forget the wind-swept sand dunes. These subjects can be seen both from close by and from afar (using a wide-angle or super-telephoto lens). In addition, landscapes can also be real, fictional, existing, manmade or even abstract in nature.
The landscape artist can opt to reflect the reality or create or evoke a certain emotion he experienced at the time he released the shutter. The fact of seeing a landscape and the joy of making the image is a twofold bonus of landscape photography.
For all these reasons, there is no strict definition of landscape photography. Every photographer may have his own definition.
Landscape photography is certainly different from travel photography. Travel photography is, in my opinion, often more documentary: about what people saw and/or experienced at a certain moment in a certain place. That does not preclude that one cannot photograph beautiful landscapes while traveling.
However, travelers usually do not always have a conscious choice of when they take a picture. In many cases, they have to be satisfied with lesser results. When the circumstances at that particular moment turn out to be less favourable, many will take the picture anyway. This is mainly to record a memory and probably not for a portfolio.
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything” – Aaron Sidkind
There is one thing that we do find in most definitions as a common denominator. It is that landscape photography is capturing on a digital sensor the (natural) environment that can be seen from a certain point of view at a certain moment. This immediately adds the dimension of time. After all, you can only observe “at a given moment.”
Point of view and timing
Ansel Adams described the landscape as a set of geological, biological and cultural-historical elements that all together form a whole, in a given area, is visible at once and is closed by the horizon. Personally, I think there is absolutely no need to include the horizon in a landscape photo. Based on the weather or light conditions I will decide on the spot, case by case, whether or not to include the horizon. And secondly, I will consider the placement of that horizon somewhere in the picture. Look also at my blog on the horizon in landscape photos
The landscape is not limited to the natural living environment of plants and animals. Human activity and its consequences are explicitly part of (many) landscapes. Most landscapes, all over Europe and also in many other areas on our planet, are nowadays man-made or at least influenced or disturbed by human activities. Industry, housing, towers, roads, canals, bridges, power lines, windmills, agriculture will impact the view all around.
Extra dimensions of a landscape
In the first place, a landscape is, of course, a visual concept. In my opinion, however, while being in the landscape it goes even further and with good reason, smell and sound can be considered as part of the sensation of the landscape. Therefore I believe that landscapes have also a sensory notion.
However, most of that is lost in a 2-dimensional picture. A nice landscape does not automatically give you a nice photo. There is a lot more effort to be put in the ‘creation’ of good landscape pictures. With the help of leading lines, colours, light, foreground interest, composition, framing etc… and I haven’t mentioned yet the art of leaving things out of the picture.
Framing the picture
Assuming that the photographer knows his camera and settings he/she has also lots of other choices to make. Will he/she focus on a perfect representation of the real landscape in front of them? Will he/she stop time in a long exposure. Or will he/she even go for the more abstract and minimalist approach and maybe wander into the field of fine art photography?
There should be room for all of those approaches and there will always be people loving or hating one of those. In the first place, the photographer should be happy with what he or she has created. When he or she is able to pass this same feeling or emotion to the viewer, then they become a real photographer.
I hope that this does not discourage people from continuing taking landscape photos. I also hope that some of my pictures in my portfolio might inspire you.
Most probably I will elaborate on some of these themes in a future blog.
Let me know what you feel about my thoughts and keep looking around!