Food for thought...

06/10/2012 - 00:06

It seemed to me recently that one could look at landscape photography on occasions as being like cooking a meal. …

There appeared to be three main options:

Option 1:


The quick snack/ fast food/ microwave meal approach of pointing one’s camera on some ‘automatic’ mode and ‘snapping a picture’/ ‘grabbing a shot’ or any of many other such terms – led by a compulsion to ‘take a picture’ of some grand vista/ intriguing weather event in front of the person holding the camera. They hope that their ‘snap’ will later remind them of what they photographed (after letting the camera take complete control of depth of field/ focus/ contrast/ sharpening/ colour, etc) – which, by having no involvement in how the camera responds to the view, makes it rather unlikely to have any emotional depth. Its where we all start and many are content to stay with their relationship with the camera.



Option 2 :


The Recipe Book Approach – the person holding the camera has an interest in going beyond the quick snack.


The person learns ‘The Rules’, e.g.:



  • "don’t place the horizon in the centre of the image" (unless it is reflection into water);


  • "don’t put the main element in the middle";


  • "always try and use the rule of thirds";


  • to explore hyperfocal focussing;


  • to always using leading lines/ S-curves/ C-curves, etc.



They learn Photoshop or Lightroom skills such as: RAW development/ Hue & Saturation/ Curves/ Levels/ Layers/ Sharpening. Maybe they dabble with plug-ins or standalone programs to experiment with HDR/ Black & White processing/ Textures/ panoramas and so on.


This is a building block and one can learn much from this, especially if one is willing to be reflective on one’s learning and development and humble enough to listen to constructive feedback from others who view their images.


The downside to the adherence to ‘The Rules’ as gospel within the ‘recipe book approach’ is that it is easy for images to become formulaic and as such not warrant lasting appreciation beyond the technical prowess of the composition/ lighting/ exposure and so on.


The great UK landscape photographer Joe Cornish noted on a workshop I attended last year that the ‘Rule Of Thirds’ when made into an acronym that spelt ‘rot’ – and as such, following the formula in every photograph one made would potentailly lead to each work becoming a pastiche, especially when making photographs at classic locations from identical 'honeypot' viewpoints, following predictable compositions (only the light, season and weather would be the major variants).


The third stage is, I suggest, like training to become a chef (a journey from Commis Chef to Masterchef).


Tim Anderson - Masterchef UK winner in 2011
*(renowned for mixng ideas and not entirely following the classical 'rules')



It is the stage when aiming to elevate one’s photography, that the photographer starts to imbue some of who they are into the photo (looking here at creative landscape photography, rather than documentary photography). The photographer understands the ingredients that make for an interesting image but they want to develop their culinary skills, to add their own signature to their dish and create their own twist on a classic or bring to the table something new


The landscape images that strike us most powerfully and which hold longevity of interest are those which have an essence of the soulful connection to the landscape that the photographer had at the time they made their photograph - the passion and reverence for their surroundings are noticeable.


I like the term ‘made’, as though it may sound pretentious, I feel it defines that some craftsmanship and soul went into the production of the photo – the phrase ‘take a picture’ I feel maybe lacks the reverence for the natural world, as though somehow this 3d scene was like a ‘ready-meal’ waiting to be put into shopping basket. Sometimes we see images that are technically perfect yet somehow lack the emotional element that elevates them to art – despite the occasional pretentions that such work is a ‘fine art photograph’ merely on the basis that it is presented as a finished print on archival paper and in a conservation grade mount and frame.



“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”

Paul Cezanne



“The camera looks both ways, in picturing the subject, we also picture a part of ourselves” is a classic quote in photography and one I feel is very true. It alludes to the idea that in some almost intangible way that through the act of creating photographs, that the photographer distils some of the uniqueness of themselves into the image.


We are all different and even with shared passions of a reverence for the great outdoors – we have all had different experiences within outdoor activities. We all will have looked at and may have studied the works of artists in a variety of genres and been subconsciously or consciously beguiled by the artist’s use of light, form and texture. We have been brought up differently to one another; have differing sets of value; find differing things beautiful or fascinating; some are more alert to things that would be unnoticed by the majority. Some can see connections between elements more easily than others (composing woodland photography and looking for connectivity in physically unrelated elements is a major headache for example for some people).


The master photographers’ work will include elements of things they have learnt from ‘The Rules’ but they are often adapted, mixed and morphed into something that goes beyond the obvious – yet still leads us on a fascinating journey through a landscape. They truly envision the multitude of possibilities within a scene to create harmony, tension, dynamics, conflict, juxtapositions and so on.


This creative vision or style is not apparent in one image from one photographer, but after looking at photographer’s work over a period of time the essence of the photographer's style starts to become more apparent – even though the photographer may well produce images of a range of subjects. The creative photographers portfolio may well be varied yet one can see something in each image of how the photographer felt about the subject – they invite us to grab the corner of the frame and step into the picture in the way Kay Harker did in John Masefield’s book ‘The Box of Delights’ - to feel the texture of the rocks, the moorland heather, the shingle on the beach; to feel the breeze racing over the hill; to hear the rustling of the leaves in the wood; to smell the heady scent of the bluebells…. to feel as though we were there standing next to them when they pressed the shutter button at the ‘defining moment’. That is a philosophy I embrace, there is so much to learn still for me but I am enjoying developing the recipes.


Below is my reflective deconstruction of my recent ‘Sussurus’ image from an early morning exploration on Mel Tor on Dartmoor. I have analysed now some of the things that fit ‘The Rules’ and some things that are a bit naughty maybe, yet somehow still work...


At the time of making the composition, under a groundsheet for protection from the rain, it was based on a feeling that something special might happen with the transient light (and subconsciously from an awareness of all that I had learnt up to this point) and somehow I knew both when the composition felt right ( I didn't conciously set anything on 'thirds') and emotionally when the ‘right moment’ was to press the shutter to record the beautiful early morning light as it graced the wonderful Dart valley with its golden cloak.




For examples of things that are much admired and highly regarded, check out the lack of adherence to 'The Rules' as a manual for how to photgraph then look carefully at some of the images by Master Photographers, such as - Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, Michael Kenna, Chris Friel, Art Wolfe, Michael Frye, Marc Adamus and Galen Rowell....


I leave you with the thoughts of the great 20th century American photographer Edward Weston ( a man who may well have admired the cheffing of Tim Anderson I reckon!)


“Consulting the rules of composition before making a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.”



'Gold Rush'









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