As a nature photographer, you’ve seen a lot of my close-up work (“Ice is Nice,” “Fungi Fun,” “Moss is Boss,” “Mothography 101,” “Flower Power,” etc.), but now we turn to Landscape, where for me at least, the greatest challenge is how to go beyond Post Cards (i.e. “pretty pictures” or “super snap-shots”). Not that there’s anything wrong with post cards, but there’s enough of them “out there” already and I have no desire to replicate what’s been done before.
Over the years I’ve had the great good fortune to travel to various parts of the world including: Antarctica (Operation Deep Freeze ’66), the Galapagos, Japan, Costa Rica, Madagascar (first cruise-ship circumnavigation ’86), New Zealand, Iceland, Europe, Canada, and the States.
Landscape photography is no different than any other kind of photography in terms of there always being a question of how much you want to include / exclude. Basically you want to include as much as possible that contributes to the final image while eliminating as much as possible that does not contribute or is distracting; sounds simple on paper, not so easy in practice. Therefore, when composing through view-finder or screen, consideration is given to “right limit,” “left limit,” “upper limit,” and “lower limit.” Not surprisingly, this kind of deliberateness is aided by the use of a tripod. But rather than a rendering of cold-hard technique, which can readily be accessed elsewhere, it may be more illuminating instead to consider my general philosophy.
Skeptical of formulaic rules (aren’t rules “meant to be broken”), I’ve never really understood this “Rule of Thirds” business, preferring a “Whatever Works” approach. Keep in mind however, that “whatever works” for you may “not work” for someone else. So, if you’re serious about your photography, somewhere along the line you’ll have to think about whether your work comes from within, or is a matter of trying to please others. Of course the ideal situation is where what you do for yourself DOES please other people. Often, for example, there is the question of horizon placement; sometimes low is best, sometimes high, or anywhere in-between. Remember what Weston said: “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.” And it’s my contention, that If you’re sufficiently “in tune” with your subject, IT will guide you. Sometimes I believe no horizon at all works best and think in terms of “Full Field” to describe these situations. It’s all a matter of BALANCE, and when done successfully, your image will exhibit an ineffable sense of rightness.
When photographing the landscape, one also has to take into account the weather. Oftentimes “bad” weather makes for “good” images; misty, foggy conditions (“Atmospherics”) can contribute to surreal results. So along with the quality of the light, factor this into your picture-making decision process.
The inclusion (or not) of human figures in a natural landscape is another question worth considering. Certainly for purposes of scale it makes sense, but sometimes can be a distraction. Once again it’s a question of “whatever works.”
Finally, if you have year-round access to an intriguing scene, consider photographing it in different seasons and / or varied light conditions for a series or sequence.
(For a lot more “Tree-scapes,” be sure to check out “Trees Please”).