This article and photos were contributed by Dawn Lane
So you think you might be interested in doing a little landscape photography but the grand sweeping vistas of Ansel Adams Yellowstone tend to intimidate more than inspire?
Don’t despair. You needn’t lug around 30 lbs of camera equipment or scout the National Parks for suitable subjects to enjoy the art of landscape photography. It is within the reach of anyone who enjoys the outdoors and owns even the most basic camera equipment.
Defining landscape photography
Landscape photography is difficult to define. The more landscape photography I do, the broader my definition becomes.
For me, landscape photography is not so much about what is contained in the image, but what it portrays about a place.
While a landscape photograph might be a wide-angle image of a pristine lake or an ocean sunset, it might just as well be a dormant plant in a winter pond.
If the lake, the sunset and the dormant plant image each reveal something significant about a place, its inhabitants, or its conditions and evoke an emotional response in the viewer, they qualify as landscape photographs in my book.
Grand or tiny, a landscape is not so much about the subject itself, but rather about the place in which the subject exists and the feeling the subject and place evokes.
Camera equipment for landscape photography
You do not need to invest in a lot of expensive gear to begin exploring landscape photography. I like to travel light and concentrate on taking pictures rather than changing lenses, so my gear of choice is a high quality compact digital camera with a built in zoom lens.
A zoom lens will give you ready access to a wide range of focusing distances that will allow you to explore different compositions within a single scene with little effort. The one additional piece of equipment I would recommend is a lightweight tripod. A tripod will ensure a steady camera at any shutter speed and allow you to fine tune your compositions.
Landscape photography in your own backyard
What if the familiar places of the famous landscape photographers lay many states away from your own home? Who says these are the most worthy locations anyway?
Landscape photography is not about a specific place, but about seeing the significance of the natural world around you every day. Your own backyard literally can be a great starting place because you know it better than any other place. If you don’t have a backyard to call your own, a city or county park, a campground or even a drainage pond bordering the local shopping mall can provide a great starting place to explore landscape photography.
Most of my landscape photography takes place within a 20-mile radius of my home. I’ve created a list of places I like to visit and have come to know these places well. One you know a place well, you can anticipate things like how the light will cast a shadow at a particular time of day, or when a certain wildflower will be in bloom.
I have discovered that the greatest reward of landscape photography lies not in seeing one of my images hanging on the wall or gracing the pages of a magazine or website, but rather in the heightening of my ability to see and appreciate the natural world around me.
When you first take camera in hand and go out to shoot landscape photographs, you might very likely get out there and not see a thing that seems worthy of shooting.
In fact, you might have a hard time convincing yourself that the little stretch of woods in the neighborhood park could possibly be fodder for landscape photography at all. Trust me it is.
Here’s a little 4-step exercise to get you started:
- Select the place you’re going to visit.
- Take note of the weather conditions when you arrive and consider what type of mood it tends to convey or what feeling it gives you.
- Proceed a ways into your surroundings and stand still for a moment. Look outward about 100 feet. What do you see to your left? What do you see in front of you? What do you see to your right? What do you see behind you? Do this same exercise several times, decreasing the distance by about 20 feet each time. Finally, look around at the area within arms reach and beneath your feet. This exercise will help you begin to look at the big picture as well as all the little things that make up the big picture.
- Now, do this same exercise again only this time look through your camera as you view the areas around you.
Once you’ve completed the exercise above, you’ll begin to notice that the world though your viewfinder looks significantly different than the one seen without the aid of your camera.
Why? Because the image in your viewfinder is just that nothing more and nothing less. The image in your viewfinder includes all the little details that our human eyes and mind might tend to filter out. But by the same token, the image in the viewfinder does not extend beyond its boundaries.
Our eyes have the luxury of darting to and fro, back and forth, capturing detail and context along a continuum of various distances as we scan a scene. But when we press the shutter, we lock in a fixed representation of a scene. A good landscape photograph will appear complete even though it’s just a slice of a larger scene.
The next step is to start pressing the shutter in order to capture not what you see in a scene, but the essence of your subject and what you feel about a scene. You might find this easier if you start out small. Limit your scope to, say, an area of about 50 square feet to begin with. This will help you focus your attention and sort out the scene into what’s important to you and what is not.
It’s difficult to be objective about our own work, so begin sharing your images with others in order to determine if you have successfully communicated the essence of a subject and your feeling about a place. Online photography forums are good places to share your work and view the work of others.
Practice the Art of Seeing
In the beginning it will be more important to practice the art of seeing rather than the art of photography. The more images you take with your camera, the better you will become at seeing how your camera sees.
Study what works and what does not work in your images, and plan to revisit the same locations in order to improve upon earlier efforts. An additional benefit of revisiting locations is that you will come to know a few places well, and that knowledge and familiarity will come to be reflected in your work.