“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.” — Ralph Hattersley I recently came across an article called Landscape Photography and the Meaning of Life. The author, Kas Stone, did admit that the title is “wildly pretentious,” yet eye-catching. It certainly caught my eye as I wondered how someone would make such a lofty connection. I have now read the article a few times as it is a weighty essay on the relationship between being a landscape photographer and our sense of self.
Fueled by her own passion for 'wild scenery and moody weather', the author delves deeply into why photographers might choose landscape photography above other forms of photography, and, within that, why photographers choose particular types of landscape over others.
It may not be the depth of reading that we would normally veer towards when looking for tips to improve our landscape photography, but I found that the article prompted me to look at why I feel drawn to landscape photography and to certain types of landscape photography in particular.
First off, I can say that the pull towards landscape photography is not because I have top of the range landscape photography equipment, because I don’t.
Neither is it because landscape photography is easy to do, because it is not always easy to achieve something unique in landscape photography in the way that might be possible in street photography or portrait photography.
The draw of landscape photography is not even because it tends to be a common genre in snapshot, or tourist photography (if there is such a thing!) as I want more from my photography than just to take snapshots, however amazing the landscapes might be.
If these are not my reasons for choosing landscape photography, then why is it a form of photography to which I feel more and more drawn?
Landscape photography is a form of photography to which I am becoming more and more attracted
Stone’s article has inspired me to think more deeply about the relationship between what I photograph and who I am. It has prompted me to ask these questions in relation to landscape photography –
Why do I keep coming back to landscape photography?
Why do certain landscapes attract me rather than others?
If you ask yourself these questions the answers will tell you a lot, not just about your photography, but about yourself.
In my case, I think that the answers to some of the questions may go right back to my childhood.
The pull of the landscape
I grew up in a small, rural village in the northern part of Ireland, a village surrounded by lakes and mountains and only 40 miles from the wild Atlantic coast. Many of my peers lived on the mountain which loomed over the village, their families having eked out a living from the harsh landscape for many generations. During heavy winter snows, they were often isolated from the rest of the village for days.
While as children we loved to walk through the mountainous landscape during fine summer weather, for many of the inhabitants it was often seen as a bleak existence. It was no surprise that young people wanted a better life than that of their ancestors, therefore a change in the local landscape, which saw the emergence of sand and stone quarries bringing new employment opportunities, was seen as progress by many even though these quarries created a blight on a beautiful landscape.
The proximity of my village to the coast meant that I frequently travelled there as a child, particularly during summers (which always seemed long back then). It was there that I discovered my love for the sea, for crashing waves, for cliffs and rocks, for small shingle coves and windswept cliff paths. As I got older, I loved to travel there at all times of year, and I particularly loved to be on a cliff in winter with the sea howling around me.
Taking time to think about my own relationship to the landscape in which I grew up has helped me understand why landscape means so much to me as an adult, and why I want to make images involving the variety of landscape elements in my country.
In her article, Kas Stone outlines a difference between our external motivation for making the images we make, and an internal motivation. We may be externally motivated when we are making our images for others, possibly as a commercial project or for a competition. According to Stone, our motivation is internal when our personal thoughts and feelings about the landscape guide our image making, when the experience of making the image is as important as the image itself.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling.
If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others
to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” — Don McCullin
I love ancient trees. To me they symbolise strength and continuity. They are a symbol of the past, often having stood in their place for centuries. They have grown and changed and weathered, yet they live on, part of our environment, an important feature of our landscape and a valuable part of our lives today.
In all types of photography, and certainly in landscape photography, the best photographs are photographs that have feeling in them. We are not likely to be able to put feeling into our images unless we feel something about our subject. Most of my landscape images are made in places that I know and love. They are places off the beaten track, places not visited by professional landscape photographers, but they are special to me. Because I choose these places, I have the internal motivation for making the images I make, but to produce good images also requires the photographic skill to translate what we see into images that will give us joy.
Conversely, photographic skills alone will not result in good images. Photography also needs passion and love for the things we shoot. When we see beauty and have the skills to compose that beauty into a compelling image, we are doing the type of photography that can make our heart soar. For me, that is the heart of landscape photography.
“Beauty can be seen in all things,
seeing and composing the beauty
is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” — Matt Hardy
I visit this place often, in all weathers. Often the sky is a dull grey but on this occasion I managed to get some light in the sky reflected in the water.
Do you have a particular type of photography to which you are drawn?
Is there a reason why you are drawn to this type of photography in particular?
Please share a comment below.