Epic landscapes

Started Dec 13, 2010 | Discussions thread
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Mark Scott Abeln
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Epic landscapes
Dec 13, 2010

When I take architectural photos, I generally aim for having 100% of my photos being "keepers", with my rejects usually being due to something basic such as accidentally knocking my tripod or perhaps someone walking across the camera's view during a long exposure.

When I hike through the forest, my photography is overwhelmingly disappointing, with nearly a 100% reject rate. I live near the Ozark mountains - this is a very pretty and scenic area, and certainly the scenery looks pleasing to my eye... I just can't capture that with my camera. I've gotten to the point where I no longer take photos of the forest, trees and scenic views themselves; rather, I hike with a macro lens and get nice photos of details, such as leaves, flowers, berries, and mushrooms. Certainly I can be satisfied with such details, but still I know I'm missing something. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/photos

You might want to take a look at some of the highest rated landscapes here: http://photo.net/gallery/photocritique/filter Many of these are outstanding.

I'd like to hear some opinions on landscape photography. Here are some observations; anyone care to comment?

  • How important is the scene itself? Does an epic landscape photo need an epic scene? Does the drama of a photo come from the drama of the setting, or can everyday scenes be reliably and artfully presented in such a fashion? The 'reliable' part is what is lacking in my scenic photos.

  • On the contrary, excellent portrait photographers can produce excellent photographs of nearly any person: I think that is closer to my goal. If I am assigned the job to photograph a particular park, I want to be able to produce a good landscape photo, even if the particular place lacks an epic quality.

  • The best landscape photos seem to be captured using excellent technique and equipment. Medium or large format is the traditional medium for landscapes, and extreme sharpness, local contrast, and infinite depth of field seem to be the norm for the best. For the best work - or even competent work - is this technical excellence a requirement? Are there photographers who produce landscapes that lack this technicality, but still reliably produce excellent photos?

  • Overcoming monochromatic dreariness. Most of my forest photos are overwhelmingly monochromatic -- green in the summer, brown in the winter. Can this be overcome or used in a good way? Or ought I wait for unusual lighting conditions to add color? Or ought I seek out color in a more general way? Or do competent landscape photographers manipulate this color in a way that still seems natural?

  • I use exposure blending for architectural interiors, but this is not an issue because nothing is moving, unlike outdoor photos. Most excellent landscapes don't seem to have much of a problem with dynamic range -- although I almost always do. For general forest scenes this seems to be almost an insurmountable problem -- or am I missing something?

  • Time of day. Most of the excellent landscapes seem to be made when the sun is near or below the horizon. How important is this? Can a photographer reliably capture excellent landscapes even at midday?

  • Atmospheric conditions. Pleasant, clear days seem to be bad for landscapes. The best seem to typically have dramatic skies, or starry skies.

  • Strong post-processing. The masters in the old days would add great amounts of local and global contrast to their prints while in the darkroom. While I'm no stranger to Photoshop manipulation, I'm wondering how much the success of landscapes is often due to the quality of the processing. Some techniques I've noticed include extreme saturation, adding color shifts, textures, and local contrast enhancement.

  • The human element. Many good landscapes include a tiny bit of humanity to them. I've noticed that adding a person in a landscape photo often turns it from being purely a landscape photo to something more dramatic, such as a dreamscape. What is your opinion on this?

  • I suppose that I just don't have a good eye for scenery, or at least I can't capture what I see with my camera. Undoubtably there must be many excellent reference books from ages past, especially related to painting. Anyone have any suggestions?

 Mark Scott Abeln's gear list:Mark Scott Abeln's gear list
Nikon D200 Nikon D7000 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Rokinon 85mm F1.4
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