Landscape photography - ethics and approaches

Discussion in 'Landscape' started by coigach, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. coigach

    coigach Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,547
    Joined:
    May 23, 2006
    Location:
    Scotland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hello all,

    A recent (wonderful) gallery post by Bill Scwab got me thinking about regular visits to the same location:
    http://www.apug.org/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=26399&limit=last7

    I am strongly attracted by the idea of visiting locations over the years in all lights and seasons, and building up a body of work that attempts to covey the 'meaning' of a place rather than simply taking some pictures and moving on. I like the idea of rhythm and the idea that some places have a 'presence' that goes beyond a 'nice view', and try to work in a way that takes account of this. I've been doing a series on a particular beach over the years for example.

    Does anyone else work in this way, and is there a particular value in working like this?

    Does anyone have any thoughts on the values and ethics that frame their approach to photographing landscapes, and how this affects the images they produce?

    Or am I just waffling away here...!:D

    Best wishes,
    Gavin
     
  2. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

    Messages:
    4,124
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2004
    Location:
    Jacksonville
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think the validity of a body of work comes from familiarity with the subject which usually takes a while. It may even be that there are soooo many reiterations of the icons because they've been pre-digested and 'approved' by being photographed so often. Those who then stick their tripods in the existing holes feel as if they have a long established familiarity with that subject even though they may have just arrived there. But, I don't usually have much interest in their work.

    It takes some courage to declare: "this is important to me...that's why I'm making this image", even though no one else has ever done so. It's also why, of all the photo essays from NOLA after Katrina, I much prefer our own Samuel Portera's to the portfolios of others....he lived there! Not landscapes, of course, but a body of work based on knowing the subject intimately.

    So....no, IMO, you're not waffling away :wink: .
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Absolutely.

    Every time I go to Hawai'i I can probe a little deeper, and what began as a record of one or two visits has become an ongoing project.

    My best shots are probably of the area right around where I live, in places that I pass by all the time, thinking about when the light will be best for a photograph I have in mind.
     
  4. Gary Holliday

    Gary Holliday Member

    Messages:
    826
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Belfast, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I'm not fond of returning to the same location as I've done it all before. I will only return if I failed the first time. I have a habit of working with an image in my head beforehand and I'll visit the location until I can achieve that.

    If you have some emotional sentimental attachment to a particular beach then I can understand why you would return time and time again.
     
  5. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    5,832
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Massachusett
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Waffle away, I say!

    Sustained commitment to a subject or theme often yields the best, most interesting results. No matter whether it's landscape, portraits, or whatever.
     
  6. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

    Messages:
    4,090
    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2006
    Location:
    NYC or Copak
    Shooter:
    35mm
    A year and a half ago I ventured up a seemingly nameless narrow dirt road that split off from the slightly larger "main" dirt road that traverses through a State Park near our home in Copake. It took me up an incline to an large open meadow a few farm houses and outbuildings etc. with a small apple orchard to boot. Beyond was also posted privately-owned fields etc.

    Apparently this farmstead abuts the edge of the Park so the road is a public accessway although it ends up at the edge of private lands.

    After discovering this idyllic landscape I regularly return there at different times of the year - often when I'm stumped for something to shoot. It is kind of a "fail safe" place to grab a couple of shots.

    Posted in my Gallery here are shots of a fence line that I have been shooting up there from time to time.

    Now I don't visit this place at specific times over the course of a year - such as to do a "seasonal study"; but I figure that, over time, I will have captured some of its essences and moods.

    BTW: Once I discovered the dirt road - I learned its name: High Valley Road. :wink:
     
  7. bill schwab

    bill schwab Advertiser

    Messages:
    3,751
    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2003
    Location:
    Meeshagin
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Gavin,

    Thanks so much for the kind words on the photo!

    I'll chime in here and say that I don't think you are waffling at at all!

    I love to travel and I love to work on the road. However, after doing this awhile, I have come to the realization that my best and most fulfilling work is that done in a landscape with which I have an ongoing relationship. Like a spouse, child or good friend, it grows and blossoms. I see my work as a problem that will, with any luck, take a lifetime to solve and learning to work within the confines of my own environment has been one of the more liberating and valuable experiences I have had as a photographer. I no longer feel the need to go anywhere "special" to work and can therefore practice more. I'm certainly not saying that I can't make good photos outside of my environment, but I do notice that I now feel the need to really get to know a place through repeat visits before I can feel I am doing any justice to the landscape I am exploiting.

    Bill
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 25, 2007
  8. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,139
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I've been photographing along (and sometimes in) the same stretch of creek for almost 30 years. Never tire of it and never fail to notice a new feeling of light. I have even re-photographed a similar scene when I have changed format (4x5 to 5x7 to 8x10...and when I borrowed an 11x14).

    I also return to Yosemite on a semi-regular basis to photograph over the last 20+ years.

    So I guess I am a fan of getting to know a place on a personal level in order to photograph it in a way it deserves. But given the opportunity, I do like to explore new places...but my percentage of "keepers" is lower with new places than with the familar.

    I spent 3 months hitch-hiking around New Zealand with a 4x5 that had a bad light leak in the back...didn't get much that trip. It took me 5 years to save enough money to return (new 4x5, new bicycle) for a 6-month bike tour. Even though I got almost no usable negs from the previous trip, the experience of creating those images (and printing them in my head as I waited for the next ride) helped me increadibly to take the images on my 6-month adventure.

    The knowledge of the light and land from the 3-month trip (and living there as a college student for a year...pre-photography), allowed me a connection to the light and land of New Zealand.

    It doesn't always work, though. I have been on several 11 day backpack trips down into the Grand Canyon with my 4x5, and worked there one summer. I still have not gotten many substantial images of the Canyon -- ones that really talk to me about the place and the light there. Part of the problem is that I am not personally into the "grand" landscape -- the sweeping vistas. Perhaps that is the problem...a canyon of that scale might be best expressed that way, and my attempts for a more intimate interpretation of the inner Canyon just don't work.

    Vaughn
     
  9. roteague

    roteague Member

    Messages:
    6,671
    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2004
    Location:
    Kaneohe, Haw
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I think it is a great idea, but there are just too many places that I love to photograph to make it economically feasible. I just can't afford to take multiple trips to the Western MacDonnell National Park in Australia's Northern Territory - a place I absolutely love.
     
  10. coigach

    coigach Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,547
    Joined:
    May 23, 2006
    Location:
    Scotland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hello,

    I suppose that's the advantage of living in a wee country like Scotland! I like travel too, but find that nowhere fires my imagination as much as the Scottish Highlands. Elusive and changeable light only add to the mystery...and don't get me started about the midgies in June-Aug:tongue:

    Cheers,
    Gavin
     
  11. Jerry Basierbe

    Jerry Basierbe Member

    Messages:
    874
    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2006
    Location:
    Michigan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    For me it seems like there are places that you go to and you know what you want and you can get it right away and be done and happy with it. Then there are places that you can get some work that you can be happy with (or not) but you know that there is more there and you feel the need to go back. It may be just one more trip. Maybe several. If you can go to a place and keep producing new and exciting work then go for it.

    Jerry
     
  12. batesga

    batesga Member

    Messages:
    12
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2006
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Gavin, I revisit many places. These places are in woods, some quite remote. They are places I like to be, quiet and pleasant. But they change. Not only from light or season but over time- trees grow and die, branches rot away or are washed away and new ones fall. Winter ice will even cause rocks to change position or emege up from the dirt. I work in a fairly northern area. Some places I have visited on and off for 30 years and more I suppose. Places are dear to me and a visit is as if to an old friend's. I am fortunate to be near some large and beautiful bush.
    I've become sentimentally attached to places. There is some value in the respect and admoration I have for it. I see its beauty change or my vision change as years go by, like a good book from childhood read again in middle age. Also there is heart break when development encroahes or drought or storm causes havoc. These too, are good emotions. Attachment and committment to a place is good. It promotes understanding and sensitivity. just an opinion.
    The floods I heard about in UK can sure demonsrate the havoc part of my point.
     
  13. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,609
    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2002
    Location:
    Northern Eng
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have photographed a waterfall, Roughting Linn for 30 years and never tire of it. I visit the place at least 4 times every year sometimes just to sit, look and enjoy. I don't always find something new to photograph but never repeat what I have already done. I have found it to be very stimulating because my approach always makes me look for angles etc that I have never used, consequently I am always having to "see" in different ways.

    The best example that I have seen of revisiting the same subject was a one year series by John Blakemore, a British photographer, that concentrated on a single oak tree. He photographed it in all seasons and in all weather conditions and the final work is sublime but unfortunately the only publication of it is in a corporate book for the company who commissioned the work.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council

    Messages:
    4,196
    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2005
    Location:
    North Coast,
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    I'm lucky in that my main subject matter is the temperate rainforest of BC's north coast. I've walked some trails hundreds of times, but will always take great meandering archs off of the trails into parts of the forest I've never seen before. Everything is jammed tight with growth, and if you move 20 feet in any direction the compositions completely change. The trick is finding the 'keeper' compositions in a maddeningly infinite array of possibilities.

    Different people have different strengths, and mine is to photograph that which I understand the most.

    Murray
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 25, 2007
  16. catem

    catem Member

    Messages:
    1,355
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2006
    Location:
    U.K.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I don't consider myself a landscape photographer at all, but over the past couple of years I've been taking a lot more landscape shots. Both locations are places I have known for many years - in one case the area where I spent the second part of my childhood, and I've been visiting ever since, the other an area I have been visiting for over 20 years. I can't really imagine taking or wishing to take pictures of landscapes of places I've never visited before or don't know intimately.

    I suppose the pictures I take are about me, or my relationship with the place as much as anything, it's not that I actively choose to work like this, I just don't or couldn't do it any other way.

    There is also a place, (i.e.house an garden) rather than a landscape, that I've been actively documenting over the past 4 years or so.
    I never run out of pictures to take, or get bored - I have many shots over many seasons, one day I'll sort them out.

    I don't know the ethics and values of this, it might be that I'm self-obsessed, or things have to come from within myself as much as what's 'out there', but I can't help that either...
     
  17. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

    Messages:
    2,894
    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2003
    Location:
    Kansas, USA
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I think the most viable way of getting a stellar photo of a place you really enjoy is to photograph it several, or numerous, times. Why did Adams do so well with Yosemite? Because he LIVED there, that's why, and lived their for nearly his entire adult life.

    The landscape changes dramatically with the seasons. Vegetation changes in texture, colors, contrasts all change, sun angle changes. Then there's the daily variation of clouds. Although it does happen, chances of getting a real stellar shot on a one-time visit slim.
     
  18. papagene

    papagene Membership Council

    Messages:
    5,282
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2004
    Location:
    Western Mass
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The Quabbin Reservoir... I have been there many times to photograph, lived in its shadow almost my entire life and have known people who were displaced by its construction. The Quabbin has affected, influenced and inspired many of us western Bay Staters.
    I hope I never tire of wandering its paths.

    gene
     
  19. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,611
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2005
    Location:
    USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'll go to a spot until I feel I have a shot that satisifies me. I did 3 coast to coast trips to the Palouse in 2003 to get photos at 2 places that i liked, "Prescott Trees" and "Palouse Powerlines". I would not plan on shooting at either of them again unless I was in the neighborhood and there were highly unusual or extremely promising conditions.

    I can understand the desire to shoot close to home and to go to the same location time and time again. It is familiar, and it's also easy. One of the hardest things is to find great spots, and once you find one, if you can make images that are sufficiently different each time you can be very productive. Some locations can change dramatically at different times of the year. And a location that you're familar with, you know the best angle, you know where the sun comes from, you know if the foliage is evergreen or deciduous, you can easily optimise the process and you can look out the window and know what the conditions are at that spot in real time. Also with locations close to home there's more of a personal connection for the artist. On the other hand having 6 shots of the same scene in your portfolio might not be the best thing either.

    For me though, I'm always curious as to what is around the next corner.
     
  20. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

    Messages:
    4,090
    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2006
    Location:
    NYC or Copak
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Even before you posted this I was ruminating on how to refine my earlier post and differentiate between a place one returns to for "refreshment" as opposed to being a bit "obssessed" about it.

    For me, shooting as I do on a much lower level of accomplishment than you, I make my occassional visit up to High Valley as a means of quick escape to some place of "easy beauty" that will always give me a "shot" (in many meanings of the word).

    But I definitely agree, that one needs to reach out and explore new places and opportunities.

    I return to HV during periods when I'm m/l of "stuck at home" and just need to reconnect with a place where I can shoot some film and feel good that both the camera and me are still on "speaking terms".

    Maybe it's a bit like just doing some "backyard shots" - but it's a photographic way of putting on some comfortable old shoes and enjoying the fact that sometimes familiarity breeds contentment rather than contempt.
     
  21. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,181
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2004
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I think you're right, Gavin. It's hard to make your best art when you're not working with something personal... the effects of impersonal art are often cold and lacking in that certain magic that makes a piece special. How can you expect someone to have a connection with your work if you don't? There are many ways to accomplish this, even on the road. For me, I've found photographing Campbell's Farm, where I've lived continually for my 29 years, to be challenging yet most productive. For example:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    These two images were taken of nearly the exact same spot, about 50 yards behind my home with about the same focal length lens. To work a place fully you must photograph it over time not only for the sake of changes in the subject but, more importantly, for the sake of changes in yourself.

    All the best. Shawn
     
  22. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,611
    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2005
    Location:
    USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm not sure if the "contentment/contempt" aspect is something you got out of my post, I certainly hope not, as I don't have contempt for anyplace. I do find contentment going back to places i have been before, but I am still so in awe of how beautiful the world can be, and how some just moisture in the atmosphere can produce mood and lighting affects better than any photographer can create artificially. if I can just see what's around that bend...

    I think though one should be cautious that drawing water from the same well so often doesn't produce a drink that is bland. It is easy to get into a pattern in one's work, some patterns make someone grow, other patterns hold them back.
     
  23. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

    Messages:
    4,090
    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2006
    Location:
    NYC or Copak
    Shooter:
    35mm
    As to the contentment/contempt aspect - no, I did not intend that to be "read" into your commentary.

    We are much more in agreement that not - as your post quoted above indicates.

    Perhaps what I mean is that I find it useful to have a few places to return to as a "home berth" both for the familiarity they give and because, being only a berth, it means I must then journey forth again.

    That said, there are many places I've visited and shot in the past to which I would like to return and hopefully, having grown, will do better.

    Now, more than a dozen years later, I would love to go back to this place and re-compose and try again (and again etc.) until I got it "right". If only....
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 25, 2007
  24. coigach

    coigach Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,547
    Joined:
    May 23, 2006
    Location:
    Scotland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Hello again,

    Some thought-provoking posts here. It's intersting to see the difference in approaches.

    I think that landscape work often gains a kind of cumulative power when a particular place is the focus of the photographers interest. My imagination is fired as much by words as much as images and two writers that have had an influence on my photography illustrate this point.

    One is Tim Robinson, a mapmaker and writer based on the west coast of Ireland who has written amazingly detailed studies of the Aran Islands and Connemara. These are the result of 30 years+ getting to know a pretty small area - the physical geography, the language and customs. The other is a poet, Norman MacCaig, much of whose work is centred on Assynt, in the North West Highlands of Scotland. He spent 30+ years thinking about this landscape. The results of both writers are not, to my mind, repetition, but a lifelong meditation on place and meaning. Because this is so concentrated, there is a remarkable cumulative power. I'd love my photographs to work in a similar way!

    Cheers,
    Gavin
     
  25. Black Dog

    Black Dog Member

    Messages:
    3,033
    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2003
    Location:
    Eight miles high
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've used and continue to use both approaches- I enjoy the buzz of photographing a new place and I've produced some images that really please me this way, but on balance I feel that my best work has been done when I've had the chance to revisit a location in different light/weather conditions and at different times of the year. So often I've been to a new place and snapped away like crazy, but a few months or years down the line many of the resulting pictures look ordinary once the initial excitement has died away. With repeat visits,the work often has more depth rather than just you going for the obvious stuff.
     
  26. davetravis

    davetravis Member

    Messages:
    659
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2004
    Location:
    Castle Rock,
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The natural world is not static, and rarely predictable.
    It is dynamic, with variations that are sometimes grand, and sometimes subtle.
    I plan my trips according to season, and re-visit some spots often.
    The joke in Colorado's weather is "if you don't like it, wait an hour!"
    It's like going to a new place and seeing things for the first time.
    The subject matter may be repeated, but it looks fresh under different conditions.
    Acknowledging these facts is what keeps me on the hunt for "those magic moments."
    DT