So goes the question that presents itself sooner or later to every discerning photographer. Given you are reading this magazine, it’s fair to assume you are committed already (at least in part) to a genre, i.e. landscape. Yet this just may be the beginning of a gradual whittling of options that will help shape, hone and define your creative vision, marking you out from your peers and fellows. Both conscious and consequential decisions have to be made through hard-earned experience that hopefully, in time, will lead to a formation of your personal stamp. With the advent of digital technology and manipulation, rapid advancements in sensor quality, pixel counts and lens refinement, not to mention the current upsurge in film and even home darkroom kits, perhaps we have never had it so good. The opportunities for self-expression are more complex and exciting than ever before.
The lure of committing to sensor or celluloid something which resembles that seen with the human eye is hard to resist, and often is the first (and sometimes last) step many of us pursue. This is a fine art in itself and the balance and necessary restraint can be a tough act to master. However, not content with this representational style, some seek to expand upon that which can be captured by current camera technology, either by means of bracketed exposures or HDR rendering. The best results here, arguably, are those subtle enough to bridge the gap between technology and biology in tricky exposure situations; or more simply between the camera and the eye once again: although I’m sure we are all aware of examples which push this beyond commonly accepted extremes. Paradoxically, in fact, we were told an untruth when informed the camera never lies, and the more garish HDR photographs at least adhere to the impressionistic aspect of landscape imagery, which is itself an important area often ignored.
There are photographers who reveal to us skilfully aspects of the landscape we could scarcely imagine: abstract fragments suggesting recognisable elements arrived at by intentional camera movement, severe tilt and shift manipulation or inventive processing. It is clear, rules sometimes are meant to be broken, and, as with a painting, a photograph should not necessarily have to give up all its secrets at once. Do you seek to include a human aspect in your work; perhaps the effects of man upon the landscape, whether it be in the form of architecture, a building, bridge or viaduct, or even man himself adding context and scale to his environment? There is an increase in gritty urban landscape imagery depicting our towns and cities, skate-parks, shopping complexes and so forth, limited only by one’s imagination. Naturally, more familiar and traditional imagery would concentrate on what might be termed generically ‘green and pleasant land’: undulating fields caught in the early morning sun, misty woodlands enshrouded with moody atmosphere, or brightly lit snow-capped mountains reaching high into the sky, blanketed with high level lenticular cloud.
Crucially, you may decide to follow in the founding footsteps of the black and white master landscape photographers, eschewing colour all together in order to simplify the scenes before you, emphasising shape, pattern, line and light without distraction. Despite the advent of colour photography and the subsequent once popular belief that mono imagery would die, nothing could be further from the truth. Fresh creative avenues can be realised via selective colouring, split toning, sepia treatments and so forth; once again the possibilities are culled only by your personal vision.
Do you favour the traditional landscape aspect ratio, or perhaps a more unconventional vertical frame? There is no need to adhere to one particular type (unless you choose to), and with the recent viewing rationalisation of several online photography sharing sites, panoramas are enjoying a resurgence. Then of course there is the bold square, the unbiased and base geometric frame.
I am yet to meet a photographer who has not pondered the question, ‘How do I find my own style’? It’s one that will keep you awake at night if you are not careful, nag at you and cause you falsely, and perhaps irrevocably, to alter your stance if you do not take care. If this sounds like you, then you are trying too hard. So, what is the answer? It’s quite simple really. Shoot whatever you like; do it as often as you can and allow your heart to guide you in creating those images that you will be proud to showcase on your walls. If you have passion, vision and the desire to create beautiful photographs then your style eventually will find you.
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