The title of this discussion might evoke a feeling that this is yet another mundane and clichéd discussion on the topic of tips and tricks of landscape photography. It is not. There is not dearth of such discussions on the internet and I would not be burdening you with another one. Instead, this discussion is about how to see an image in a scene and then to capture it for those who were not there. I am going to discuss about how you see beyond the obvious and right through the clutter of mundane.
Landscape photography is no doubt a very difficult genre of photography, because often you are faced with the challenge of making compositions out of a scene that may have been photographed a million times before and yet create a fresh perspective which others have not been able to do before you. Challenge yourself to shoot a unique image of the Taj Mahal and you will understand what I am trying to get to.
The question is how are you able to do something like that on a consistent basis? How you, as a landscape photographer or an aspiring shutterbug, are able to create images, like a magician who seemingly pulls a rabbit out of thin air? You want to know a secret? There is no magic in it. It is all about how you choose to look at things, how you see order in chaos and how you choose to bring together the different elements that make up a good image; lighting, composition, color and most importantly your vision; so that they add up to create a compelling image. At the end of the day it is your personality that shines through in your images, more than anything else.
What you see as a landscape photographer, to a large extent, dictates the kind of images that you make. By, ‘what you see’, I mean how you choose to interpret a scene. Some photographers use the word ‘visualizing’ in the context of landscape photography. It is the same thing as interpreting, but a subtle difference does exist.
When you visualize something you imagine how you want to see and photograph it. It is unlikely that the scene will present itself in the way you had envisioned it. It is the same thing as planning, except that your plans have an equal chance of succeeding or failing. When you interpret something, you see through and identify what is going on. You choose to show the world that what you had seen and how you had interpreted it. This is how you differentiate yourself from someone who merely takes a snapshot. Your interpretation of the scene and its final presentation goes a long way to make the audience, who were not present when the image was taken, understand what was going on.
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”
Your personality and how you choose to convey what you interpreted can go a long way in creating the actual image. Some photographers talk about the mood of a picture. That could very well be interpreted as the mood of the photographer, which distills into the picture. A lot of times photographers fail to convey anything in a landscape image. If you are an average Joe with a camera, you would simply point and click, without giving any thought to a scene and certainly without giving attention to the colors, think about composing or bring any of the basic elements of photography. You would, in all probability, be thinking about pressing the shutter release even before finishing admiring the scene. These are photographers who never get to ‘look’ at a scene with their eyes. They almost always go home and only then see the place they visited at the back of the LCD.
Using simplicity in your compositions
One of the keys to become a successful landscape photographer is to be in love with nature. Growing up I always heard my dad say this to me, “It’s simple to be happy, but so difficult to be simple.” Though he didn’t invent the quote, it kind of stuck with me. Nature photography is like that. The best nature photographers are those who are in awe of nature and at the same time are desperately in love with it. This is a sort of a pre-requisite for someone who wants to be a nature photographer. If you are not in love with it, you would never be able to make great images of it.
There is a definite quality in simplicity that is beautiful and attractive. Landscape photography is one genre that thrives on simplicity. Just like a sonnet or a beautiful composition that is rhythmic, landscape photos where the underlying meaning is simple to understand can be a very powerful composition.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
Landscape photographers have to deal with complexity all the time. As a landscape photographer you would envy a painter, because he starts with an empty canvas and that means he can start simple and just put the essential elements that would make his composition meaningful, simple and compelling. As a landscape photographer you start with a clutter, see through it and then click the shutter release. You are pretty much in the back foot right from the onset when it comes to landscape photography.
While I do say that simplicity does make a compelling story, but simplicity in itself means nothing. If you tend to overdo it you run the risk of leaving out elements which are important. That is why composition and your vision is so important in landscape photography. If you don’t know for sure what’s adding to the image, you are probably going to leave them out of the picture.
There is term in landscape photography which goes like this, “Leave out what’s not adding to the image.”
This is probably the most under-stated of all elements that contribute to making great landscape images. Inspiration comes when you are in love with something that you are doing. Of course you love photography and that is why you are reading this. But are you passionately in love with landscapes? Are you a nature-lover? Can you sit in front of an ocean for hours together, admiring its beauty? Think of it. If you are not someone who loves nature, it would be an uphill climb for you to make great landscape images.
Inspiration comes from different aspects. I’ve known photographers who found nature to be a sort of release from the complexity of urban life. For others they admired the raw beauty that came with it. I for one have an inquisitive mind. I love to explore and that sometimes lands me in the middle of the trail. Not that I don’t love nature any less. It is worth the time and the risk of getting there and finding myself away from all material comforts. At those moments when I am truly outside my comfort zone, I find myself at the mercy of nature and take the best of images.