Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video What is landscape photography?, part of Enhancing Landscape Photos with Photoshop and Lightroom.
- [Narrator] Even if you don't know them very well, you've probably at least seen some of the dramatic black and white images that Ansel Adams shot. Those are critical images in the history of photography and defining images in the history of landscape photography. But is that what landscape photography is? Taking dramatic black and white photos in national parks? Who knows. I do know that there's no answer to that question that will satisfy everybody. I think this shot in Death Valley is plainly a landscape photograph.
As is this photo from Prince William Sound, both of those places are big, beautiful national parks. But what about this? This is cultivated farmland. This farmland is also big and expansive, but there's nothing wild about it. How about this? Does a landscape have to be empty? Devoid of human artifacts? If that's the case, then where are you going to draw the line? Because Yosemite Valley only looks the way that it does because it was sculpted and husbanded by the Native American tribes that lived there.
They ascribed their own aesthetic and sense of order to it. How about this? Is this a landscape photo? Most people would say, no, that's a cityscape. I shot this from my roof. This is the landscape that I live in. If I can't call this a landscape photo, does that mean that I don't live in a landscape? That's a problem, because humans inflict great damage on most of the landscapes they live in. If we don't allow ourselves to consider our cities and homesteads landscapes, then we will continue to be able to inflict great damage upon those spaces.
Damage that we call development. Is this a landscape photo? I think so. And I shot in a state park. But there's no landscape in the picture. We kind of think of big, dramatic lightning strikes in trees and things like this as something wild, but I grew up in a suburban town and our house was once struck by lightning. Again, this brings up questions of our relationship to landscapes. Does it have to be land to be considered a landscape? Because no place is more wild than the ocean.
Getting back to the question of whether a city can be a landscape, how about a cotton field? It's no less a manipulation of the landscape than a skyscraper is, so is this a landscape photo? Or this? At this point, you may be thinking, why do I have to answer this question? And the fact is, you don't. But as I mentioned in the introduction, when it comes time to edit and correct your landscape photos, you do need to know why a particular landscape was compelling to you in the first place. Without knowing that, you don't know what to accentuate in a photo. What to hide, what to exaggerate. What you want the viewer to feel.
There are a lot of things to take from this photo. And if I sit here and try to remember what I was feeling when I took it, there's a lot going on. The sky was spectacular, but it was a menacing sky. I was on a motorcycle and it was about to rain, so it was even more menacing. The big empty space was very appealing. But then there's this train car there on it's side, which is not only emblematic of a certain kind of abandonment and desolation, it's also just weird because there aren't any train tracks around. So what's it doing out there? Which then maybe leads you to the question of, what am I doing out there? What is the train car emblematic of being lost or something like that? There are many ways you could take this image.
You could choose to play it for the absurdity of a train without train tracks in the middle of nowhere. You could choose to take it as abandonment and kind of some of the things that have happened in this part of the country as economies have gone bad and things have been left alone. So I could choose to play the sky not so dramatic, which might lighten the image up a little bit. I could desaturate colors which might make it less intense. There are many, may ways to interpret this image. And so I need to think really hard about what I was feeling when I was compelled to capture it and what I might want to relate to someone else when they choose to view it.
I find these questions interesting, both to mull and discuss. And if you don't that's okay. It's also okay is what guides your landscape images is nothing more than a sense of pretty. I like this light, I like this color, I like this texture, I think they're pretty. You can make a lot of nice photos that way. And very often, it's not possible to make someone feel what you were feeling simply by showing them a photograph. But we live in a time where the landscape needs our attention. It needs us thinking about it. It needs us talking about it. And it needs us thinking about how we relate to it.
As a landscape photographer, you're in a position to make people ask those questions.
- Making global adjustments
- Cropping and straightening
- Global tone and color
- Making localized tone and color adjustments in Lightroom
- Moving from Lightroom to Photoshop
- Thinking like a painter