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Author Topic: What is Landscape Photography?  (Read 10919 times)
dreed
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« on: June 06, 2011, 08:26:03 PM »
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In another thread RSL said:
So you define pictures of storms, volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and animals as "landscapes?" That's an interesting twist on the definition, but I don't think it holds up very well. Weather, maybe, though there are thousands of landscapes that include weather, including many of St. Ansel's. But I'd define the others more as photojournalism or wildlife shots than landscape, especially pictures of bisons being attacked by wolves.

Which prompts the question of when is a photograph a "landscape photograph"?
Does a photograph of flood waters reaching a particular level qualify as photojournalism or landscape?
Or does it depend on the context?
And why should a photograph being a member of one particular category exclude it from others?
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bill t.
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« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2011, 09:51:13 PM »
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I define landscape photographs as being about place or space.  That conveniently lets me include cityscapes and large interiors which are things I like to shoot as well as scenes where the natural world is prominent.

Edit...and perhaps I would like to exclude pictures where things like flowers, rocks and trees are the subjects, those are pictures of objects rather than of place or space.
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theBike45
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« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2011, 06:38:42 PM »
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I'll suggest that it doesn't have much significance as to how the types are defined,
buy I'd offer the idea that  journalistic photos have a connection with a story or
news event, while landscapes do not.
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2011, 09:08:36 PM »
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... I'd offer the idea that  journalistic photos have a connection with a story or
news event, while landscapes do not.

I disagree.  Really fine landscape photographs DO have story.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2011, 08:27:38 AM »
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As with the definition of "Art," I believe the definitions of genres like "Landscape" need to be very fuzzy at the edge, because these names are intellectual constructs and the images we make or find don't always fit neatly into rigid definitional boxes. So, IMHO, "Landscape" is in the eye of the beholder.

Eric
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Rob C
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« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2011, 01:04:35 PM »
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Yes, Eric.

And that's not taking into account esoteric fields such as the 'interior landscape'! I think several very successful photo artists (there! I wrote that and survived) have delved into that world... artiste as nurse, as hitchhiker, as actress in a scene in an imaginary film... Usually, it requires the ability to wear certain clothes and not look too ridiculous in the process. One can go to classes for that.

There is truly no limit to landscape.

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2011, 02:16:17 PM »
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...IMHO, "Landscape" is in the eye of the beholder.

Right. And if that eye has had the pleasure of beholding some of Thomas Cole's or Albert Bierstadt's magnificent landscapes, looking at a photo landscape will be a lot like listening to the Hallelujah Chorus played on a kazoo. The notes will be there, but the effect will be somewhat underwhelming.

Is that "H" really appropriate, Eric? It certainly wouldn't be in my case.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2011, 02:35:24 PM »
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Is that "H" really appropriate, Eric? It certainly wouldn't be in my case.
I guess I could spell it with a Cockney accent:  "'U."
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2011, 06:17:50 PM »
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Right. And if that eye has had the pleasure of beholding some of Thomas Cole's or Albert Bierstadt's magnificent landscapes, looking at a photo landscape will be a lot like listening to the Hallelujah Chorus played on a kazoo. The notes will be there, but the effect will be somewhat underwhelming.

Russ, you keep making this same argument, and from the beginning it has had a serious and fatal flaw. It is that you compare painting to an entire orchestra, and landscape photography to a mere kazoo. Really? A kazoo? It's an argument purposefully exaggerated to prove your own point, thus contains little validity.

A more rational and honest comparison would be to compare painting to a piano (both considered quite traditional with long histories), and photography to an electric guitar. Each is musically popular and quite unique with certain virtues and strengths. More importantly, neither can be considered a good replacement for the other therefore one cannot be considered superior over the other. Still, even that comparison fails. It is, however, a far more fair argument.

The bottom line is that you prefer the romanticized, fanciful and falsified worlds of 19th-century painters such as Cole, Bierstadt or, perhaps, Moran over the "reality" of photography. That's perfectly fine.  It does not, however, rise to the level of "fact" as you would have us believe.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2011, 06:20:30 PM by ckimmerle » Logged

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust

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« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2011, 06:28:52 PM »
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...therefore one cannot be considered superior over the other.

You're right, Chuck, I exaggerated. And, as you know, I sometimes do landscapes. They're not nearly as good as your landscapes, and I have a lot to learn about landscapes, as Slobodan so ably demonstrated not long ago. If I really believed the extreme statement I made, why would I even think of doing a landscape? But, I don't entirely turn my back on the statement, extreme as it may be.

On the other hand, I CERTAINLY consider a piano to be far superior to an electric guitar -- sort of like the difference between a full choir and a kazoo.
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2011, 08:38:57 PM »
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On the other hand, I CERTAINLY consider a piano to be far superior to an electric guitar -- sort of like the difference between a full choir and a kazoo.

It is superior as far as Billy Joel goes, but does little for the Rolling Stones. Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2011, 08:22:03 AM »
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Besides offering workshops, I teach a course at a local college called "Landscape Photography" and every time students try to pin me down to a "definition" I fail because there are so many different aspects to landscapes, from portraits to abstract to everything in between.

To help focus students (and to avoid the inevitable "Is this a nature photograph or a landscape?" question), I narrowed down the concept to something I call a "Classic Landscape", a notion that I've attached three criteriato:
  • depicts the surface of Earth;
  • generally includes the horizon or a perceived horizon;
  • portrays 3-dimensionality by showing a progression from foreground through midground to background.
Ultimately… a landscape photograph is a portrait - portraying the features, characteristics and moods of the land, sea and sky.

I'm then asked "Can people be in it?" - Yes, provided they are part of the landscape and not the dominant element in the photograph. "Can buildings be in it?" - Of course; buildings exist in the landscape and towns and cities are landscapes unto themselves.

It's important to recognize, however, that this "Classic Landscape" definition certainly doesn't cover all aspects of landscape photography - it's a starting point. It's also a goal for students to work towards, particularly the third criterion where students must work towards creating three-dimensionality, which, in most cases for learning photographers is easier said than done.

We then go on to explore the benefits of using a wideangle lens to achieve this: finding a foreground anchor and making it prominent then building the composition from there with leading lines and pathways. I always tell them that once they nail down these techniques they can be applied to many areas of photography. As well, they can then branch out to all the other types of landscapes: realism, impressionism, abstract, etc.

Why a wideangle lens since landscapes can be done quite effectively with any focal length? Mostly because wide angles are under-utilized as a focal length, and poorly utilized by learning photographers. It also helps to reduce the tendency of students to stand in one place and zoom to compose. I may come across as a tyrant, but I don't want to hear "retro-justifications" for choosing this or that - I want students to clearly demonstrate sound mastery of a set of techniques before they go off on a tangent.
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« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2011, 08:38:20 AM »
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It is superior as far as Billy Joel goes, but does little for the Rolling Stones. Smiley

Chuck, I should have added: The only instrument worse than an electric guitar is an electric organ.

But non-electric guitar, now that's something else. I like classical guitar a great deal, though I prefer Chopin and Mendelssohn.

It's amazing to me that those stones are still rolling.
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2011, 10:31:17 AM »
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We then go on to explore the benefits of using a wide angle lens to achieve this: finding a foreground anchor and making it prominent then building the composition from there with leading lines and pathways. I always tell them that once they nail down these techniques they can be applied to many areas of photography.

...wide angles are under-utilized as a focal length...

I totally disagree about the whole 3D requirement for landscape images, complete with the requisite fore, mid and backgrounds. That seems to me just another all-too-easily-defined rule that does little more than restrict creativity by encouraging young or inexperienced photographers to emulate the teacher. There are numerous examples of photographers who eschew this definition. Michael Kenna is just one example of a photographer whose landscape images whose foregrounds and/or backgrounds exist only by his careful placement of the subject within the frame. In many of his more successful images, it's the two-dimensional quality that makes them compelling. As well, there is Mitch Dobrowner who uses very little, if any,foreground in his recent "Storm" series. Then there is Mark Citrit, Brett Weston, etc. and, much, much, much, much...further down the list, myself.

As for the use of wide-angle lenses, I've never heard anyone state that they're not used enough. As a matter of fact, I've heard, and experienced, that they're used too much. The juxtaposition provided by wide-angle lenses, especially ultra-wides, is often used as a crutch by landscape photographers to overcome less than stellar subject matter. If you ask me, it's not the wide-angle lenses that are underutilized, it's those in the normal range.
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2011, 01:43:18 PM »
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On the other hand, I CERTAINLY consider a piano to be far superior to an electric guitar -- sort of like the difference between a full choir and a kazoo.



Don't know about kazoos, but I like this sort of piano...


http://youtu.be/vB-WF4lvVhw

;-)

Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: November 30, 2011, 09:06:19 AM »
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Besides offering workshops, I teach a course at a local college called "Landscape Photography" and every time students try to pin me down to a "definition" I fail because there are so many different aspects to landscapes, from portraits to abstract to everything in between.

To help focus students (and to avoid the inevitable "Is this a nature photograph or a landscape?" question), I narrowed down the concept to something I call a "Classic Landscape", a notion that I've attached three criteriato:
  • depicts the surface of Earth;
  • generally includes the horizon or a perceived horizon;
  • portrays 3-dimensionality by showing a progression from foreground through midground to background.
Ultimately… a landscape photograph is a portrait - portraying the features, characteristics and moods of the land, sea and sky.

I'm then asked "Can people be in it?" - Yes, provided they are part of the landscape and not the dominant element in the photograph. "Can buildings be in it?" - Of course; buildings exist in the landscape and towns and cities are landscapes unto themselves.

It's important to recognize, however, that this "Classic Landscape" definition certainly doesn't cover all aspects of landscape photography - it's a starting point. It's also a goal for students to work towards, particularly the third criterion where students must work towards creating three-dimensionality, which, in most cases for learning photographers is easier said than done.

We then go on to explore the benefits of using a wideangle lens to achieve this: finding a foreground anchor and making it prominent then building the composition from there with leading lines and pathways. I always tell them that once they nail down these techniques they can be applied to many areas of photography. As well, they can then branch out to all the other types of landscapes: realism, impressionism, abstract, etc.

Why a wideangle lens since landscapes can be done quite effectively with any focal length? Mostly because wide angles are under-utilized as a focal length, and poorly utilized by learning photographers. It also helps to reduce the tendency of students to stand in one place and zoom to compose. I may come across as a tyrant, but I don't want to hear "retro-justifications" for choosing this or that - I want students to clearly demonstrate sound mastery of a set of techniques before they go off on a tangent.

Seems like far too tight a definition and approach to be really useful in all but a select, limited set of circumstances. 

In the end, what does it matter if a particular photograph is considered a 'landscape' or 'nature' or 'wildlife'?  If someone likes it, if it moves them, if it evokes an emotional response that's what matters.  What contrived category the image fits into is irrelevant.  Maybe for a competition it matters, but then the group/organisation/magazine running the competition is going to have its own criteria for what fits and what doesn't.  Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscape series wouldn't fit most 'traditional' definitions of landscape photography but it's a compelling project nonetheless, tells a strong story and there's no reason it can't be considered a type of landscape photography. 

Screw defintions, make photographs.
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: November 30, 2011, 10:17:57 AM »
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Screw defintions, make photographs.




That's good advice, but doesn't stoke the energy fires that much; as with all graphics that, by definition, require to be put down on paper (or a screen, in this instance) one still needs a good reason to produce them in the first instance. That's the part, really, that needs commercialization, needs the ultimate entrepreneur to sell a 'why to' course in place of a 'how to' one.

Or maybe not.

Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: November 30, 2011, 10:54:51 AM »
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Well, my energy isn't stoked all that much when discussing categorisations either.  Did the Impressionists or Cubists or Abstract Expressionists define themselves or did someone else (or several someones) do that?  Does the definition of one as a 'landscape' photographer or a 'nature' photographer really provide the reason to produce?  Putting aside commercial photography where the reason to produce is clear; when talking about the artistic side of photography the reason to produce has to come from within doesn't it?  And not from some external definition. 

Marketing and commercialisation are a different matter and while related from the standpoint that successfully marketing one's efforts and getting paid for them is good for the bank account, is it really the motivation to produce?  Does the art world need more Thomas Kincades?  I guess that brings to the table the idea that artists only become famous after they're dead which isn't good either.  But perhaps that old maxim was true in bygone days when ideas around marketing and selling weren't as refined or advanced as they are today.
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Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: November 30, 2011, 02:43:40 PM »
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“Putting aside commercial photography where the reason to produce is clear; when talking about the artistic side of photography the reason to produce has to come from within doesn't it?  And not from some external definition.”

Now that’s a bit of a doubtful premise, to say the least!

Unless I misunderstand, what on Earth do you imagine drives the better commercial shooters to start in the business if not the wish, the very need to make pictures, to express their artistic nature? Yes, I accept that there are also those for whom a toilet is as good as a palace (if I may quote my late father-in-law describe his thoughts on surveying, his business) but then that holds for pretty well all the things that man can do. The ‘artistic’ side of photography is all there is in photography that makes it worth doing at all; I find it difficult to separate the artistic concept from commerce as if only the non-commercial practitioners hold the key to it; on the contrary, it’s the commercial world that puts the higher demands on artistic ability – that’s what they pay you to supply, to bring to life their ideas…

The so-called art world has another agenda. There, the way to success is clearly to create a myth, a secret society of values that, somehow, only the very rich in need of spreading financial risk is able to comprehend.

For my buck, the working pro is probably the more honest, the more inclined to produce a realistic or more genuine form of artistic endeavour, if only because more people have to be swayed by it. A democracy of artistic measure, if you will, but not, I hope, a lowest common denominator!

I’ve just watched another docu, this time one on grizzly bears in the Cascades. Looking at it on BBC HD, on a fairly large screen and seated at the unusual (for me) distance of around four feet from it, the landscape photography (motion) was fascinating and so detailed. I think I came to believe, then, that the secret of landscape photography isn’t to be found in stills, that it requires the dimension of motion to make it truly impressive.

Now, that sort of filming is a remarkable marriage of art and commercial enterprise.

Rob C
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luxborealis
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« Reply #19 on: November 30, 2011, 03:50:45 PM »
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I totally disagree about the whole 3D requirement for landscape images, complete with the requisite fore, mid and backgrounds. That seems to me just another all-too-easily-defined rule that does little more than restrict creativity by encouraging young or inexperienced photographers to emulate the teacher. There are numerous examples of photographers who eschew this definition. Michael Kenna is just one example of a photographer whose landscape images whose foregrounds and/or backgrounds exist only by his careful placement of the subject within the frame. In many of his more successful images, it's the two-dimensional quality that makes them compelling. As well, there is Mitch Dobrowner who uses very little, if any,foreground in his recent "Storm" series. Then there is Mark Citrit, Brett Weston, etc. and, much, much, much, much...further down the list, myself.

As for the use of wide-angle lenses, I've never heard anyone state that they're not used enough. As a matter of fact, I've heard, and experienced, that they're used too much. The juxtaposition provided by wide-angle lenses, especially ultra-wides, is often used as a crutch by landscape photographers to overcome less than stellar subject matter. If you ask me, it's not the wide-angle lenses that are underutilized, it's those in the normal range.

I couldn't agree more - there is far more to landscapes than what I outlines, as I eluded to in the post! But when the course is "Landscape Photography" and not "Shoot whatever the heck your camera is pointed at", there has be limitations. As well, it's the students who are looking to build techniques based on good practice. I simply provide them with the tools to achieve what they want. Amongst professionals wide angles are used significantly, but the average learning photographer is unaware of how best to make use of a wideangle. They are often turned off of wideangle as "everything seems so far away". A simple bit of coaching on how to make best use of the equipment is what they are after and what I provide.
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Terry McDonald
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- visit luxBorealis.com.
Have a read of my PhotoBlog and subscribe!
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