What Is Landscape Photography?

And how does it differ from other forms of photography? What’s so difficult about pointing your camera at a scene and snapping a picture?

Those are all good questions.

Landscape photography is at the same time one of the easiest and most difficult subjects to approach. It is easy because landscapes are so familiar and accessible – they are all around us, and by now most of the obvious scenic views are cataloged tourist attractions with established viewpoints. In addition, landscapes are pretty permanent; they don’t move, and so all that is necessary is to get there with a camera. Finally, for the simplest shot, there are no extreme technical difficulties.

Tree in fog Tree and natural rock bridge

A tree in fog taken on the high slopes above Osooyus in Canada. © Gary Nugent

Somewhere in British Columbia, Canada, lies a natural rock bridge across a wide river. The bright green of the young tree growing from the meagre soil caught my eye. © Gary Nugent

Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment. – Ansel Adams

Despite this, there is an outstanding difference between the ordinary “postcard” views and the finest creative results of landscape photography . Many casually-conceived photographs of interesting views that stimulated the photographer turn out to be disappointing, failing to capture the essence of the scene. This is precisely because landscapes are such familiar, accessible subjects. Many photographers do not put a great deal of effort into a shot, yet to lift a landscape photograph out of the ordinary requires considerable perception and technique.

Icelandic landscape

In the middle of the barren Icelandic landscape, low clouds and mist roll over the far-off mountains. A panoramic image composed of three stitched images. © Gary Nugent. For more panoramic images, go to the Panoramic Landscape Photography page.

Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and the wonder surrounding him. – Ansel Adams

The first major problem is that most people react to a scene in an intuitive way – without being able to pinpoint exactly what elements appeal to them, they form an overall impression of which the visual element may be only a part. The wind, the sounds, the smells, the relationship of distant mountains to nearby rocks – all these things are the landscape, but the task of the photographer is to isolate the important ones and somehow convey them in a purely visual way.

A casual snapshot usually fails in this. Apart from any other faults, it may include too much in its frame, cluttering up the scene, or it may exclude elements that forethought would have indicated were crucial.

Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me? – Ansel Adams

The first step in landscape photography is to decide precisely what it is about a particular landscape that characterizes it, defining the nature of the subjective impression – what Ansel Adams, probably the finest of landscape photographers, called “the personal statement”. Here there are no rules. It may be the inherently spectacular nature of the view – the Grand Canyon, for instance – or it may be simply the play of light and shade. It could be the lushness of fields and copses in summer, or the transience of a spring shower over the desert. What is important is to maintain a logical approach. In most cases, the scene is not going to change in a few minutes, so it is worth taking time to think about it; Adams emphasized the importance of what he called “visualization” – anticipating the shot even before setting up his camera.

A misty morning in Glendalough

A misty morning in Glendalough in Ireland.
© Gary Nugent.

In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice. – Ansel Adams

Look around this site for tips and techniques for improving your landscapes. Some are simple like selecting the best f-stop or aperture for the image you want to capture. Some require accessories like a Polarizing Filter or Graduated Filters while others fall into the post-processing phase where you manipulate your images using your favorite photo editing software, straightening a sloping horizon for example.

Ever thought of selling your photos for a bit of extra money? If that idea appeals to you, then read the Sell Your Photos For Profit page.

Landscape Photography Videos:

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