Real landscape photography? It’s in the eye of the beholder
A blog by photographer Ugo Cei, Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up, reposted on iso.500px.com, has generated quite a heated debate about the current state of landscape photography. Here’s my response.
At the outset, I plead guilty to trying to get as high a Pulse score for my photos as I can. Last summer, I even published my tips for ranking Popular on 500px.com:
It’s the gamification of photography, if you like. Evgeny and his team have tapped brilliantly into the validation for which we aspiring photographers all yearn, secretly or otherwise: ‘my photos are good – aren’t they?’
Subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and numerous YouTube channels, lusting after the latest gear and going to workshops run by our idols, we’re seeking to take our art (or obsession, as our better halves would have it) ‘to the next level’, as the modern cliché has it.
Our sub-conscious goal is to differentiate ourselves from the casual iPhone user who snaps merrily away and applies a one-touch filter or two before posting them on Instagram (another photo-sharing with a competitive element, should you choose to play its popularity game). That’s why we follow the Rule of Thirds, shoot landscape photos at either end of the day and invest in 10-stop ND filters (read more in my 9 steps towards better landscape photography).
Lisa Bettany observes in her reply to Ugo’s post:
Everyone starts their journey into Lightroom and Photoshop by over-saturating their sunsets and cranking the clarity. But, sharing your work in it’s development stages is how we get better. These “popular” photos may not all be “art”, but every single one of those photographers is creating something. And to me, that deserves respect.
Perhaps we see creating dramatic landscapes as a shortcut to photographic greatness? Like grungy HDR, it could well be a fad that will pass. Yet elements of the genre are firmly rooted in art history; the works of Turner or Caspar David Friedrich spring readily to my mind. Rocky Ravine, for example, isn’t exactly an exercise in muted colours, not least as it will probably have faded in the two centuries since it was painted.
As Ugo observes, we must each find our own style but, to succeed, you need to start by following and understanding the rules in order later to break them for effect. You also tend to emulate the style you admire and hear other people praising. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
It’s almost like a reincarnation of the ‘school of’ the great artist, such as Rembrandt or Michaelangelo, of the past. For mono shooters the hero could well be be Ansel Adams. For today’s colour shooters, it’s perhaps Elia Locardi, Serge Ramelli or Matt Kloskowski. They’ve made it to the top of the mountain and, whether it’s by following in their footsteps or beating a different artistic path, many of us would like to get there, too. Ambition is, after all, the driving force of progress.