Grand Canyon Lighting by Grant Ordelheide. Winner of the 'My USA' category in the 2015 USA Landscape Photographer of the Year Award.

Founded in 2006, the annual UK Landscape Photographer of the Year Award has become one of the most prestigious photo contests in the world. 2016 marks the third year of a USA-specific competition, open to entrants from all over the world to showcase inspirational images taken in the United States.

As the deadline for the 2016 USA Landscape Photographer of the Year Award approaches, we spoke to its founder, renowned landscape photographer Charlie Waite about his life and career, and his hopes for the contest.

You’re one of the best-known names in landscape photography - how did you get started?

Well originally, I was an actor. I was rather a mediocre actor for 12 years, and I photographed a lot of actors for their publicity and so on. My wife was in television, and in the 1970s she was filming down in Devon. One day I was watching her filming and I wondered off into the Devon landscape with my camera and I just found myself responding to the landscape.

Back in London my wife and I went to look at a house we were thinking of buying and the guy who was selling it asked me what I did, and I said I was a landscape photographer, which was a complete untruth.

 Loch Indaal, Scotland. Photograph by Charlie Waite, used with permission.

It turns out he was in charge of the illustrated books department at a publisher and he said ‘can I look at your portfolio?’ so over the weekend I enlarged the pictures that I’d made, showed them to him and he commissioned me to do a book.

So I went from being an out of work actor to a photographer. And it just rolled on after that.

What inspired you to continue and make a career out of landscape photography?

I felt spiritually enriched. I knew that a deep engagement with the landscape was really good for me, and really elevated me as a person and calmed me. I found that landscape photography leveled me. Fully engaging with my surroundings. A lot of people think that landscape photography has nothing to do with emotions, it’s just craft, and skill, and finding the right light and everything else but it settles me and I’m very enriched by it. I’m more in love with photography now than I ever have been before.

 Amish country, Pennsylvania, USA. Photograph by Charlie Waite, used with permission.

What’s your favorite location?

In my heart I want to say the UK, and I think in joint second place would be the USA and France. I like to call France the most undiscovered country in Europe. It’s so quiet there.

 Autoire, France. Photograph by Charlie Waite, used with permission.

What lead you to create the Landscape Photographer of the Year programs?

I didn’t think there were many people out there who loved landscape photography as much as I did. I’ve always thought that if it elevated me it could elevate other people. I hate the word ‘evangelist’, but I felt sort of evangelical, and I wanted to say ‘come on let’s get together’. I love being in the company of other photographers, and I thought we could all get together and do a good thing, and bring landscape photography to a wider audience. And the competition really has done that.

It’s brilliant to go to the annual winners' exhibitions, with 30 or 40,000 people visiting, and seeing the pleasure they get from the images. They’re moved by the eye and the craft of the photographer that made the images. I call a photograph a production. It’s not something you ’take’.

Dancing Trees, by Paul Leatherbury. Winner of the 'Classic View' category of the 2015 USA Landscape Photographer of the Year Award.

I love the US, I’ve traveled there a lot, so I thought it was a natural thing to start a US version of the competition, which we've been running in the UK since 2006. It’s been really fun bringing it all together. I wasn’t very good at school, I wasn’t a very good actor, and I wanted to do something that might mean something to people. And that’s what drives me on. There are some great photographers out there.

My dream - what I really want to happen, is - do you remember the series ‘Earth From Above? I cannot believe what a grand, far-reaching tour that exhibition had. And what I would love to do is to take the Landscape Photographer of the Year Award in the US and UK and take the exhibition around the world. And say ‘this is what America looks like, in the eyes of some of the word’s best landscape photographers’.

Hourglass, by Ted Gore. Overall winner of the 2015 USA Landscape Photographer of the Year Award.

Is there anyone who’s come through the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards in previous years who’s gone on to make a career out of landscape photography?

I think they all have. It’s elevated the winners hugely. It’s an amazing label, to be Landscape Photographer of the Year.

What advice would you give to an aspiring landscape photographer?

Find your signature and specialize. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Find your way of seeing. And be memorable for your particular way of seeing. I was given that advice, and it’s a bumpy ride, like acting. It’s really not easy. It’s precarious and insecure, but there are many different ways of seeing, and many ways that are still to be found. Make your images have meaning. And practise.

Click here to submit entries to the 2016 USA Landscape Photographer of the Year Award

Charlie Waite is a renowned landscape photographer and founder of Landscape Photographer of the Year Award competitions in the UK and USA.