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Landscape Photography

light photographs photographers cameras

Landscape photography creates photographic interpretations of the natural and man-made environment. Landscape photographs will be as varied as the land and photographers who make photographs of it. While landscape photography is generally recognized to require views of nature by itself, many landscape photographs will often include people, nudes, buildings, and other objects that lend interest to the idea and/or interests of the photographer.

Landscape photography began more or less at the time photography was invented. One of the first photographs taken by Louis Daguerre was made in 1839 of a Parisian view of the Seine and the Tuileries. One could argue that this was the beginning of urban landscape photography. The early exploratory photographers—Francis Frith, the Bisson brothers, Timothy O’Sullivan, and William Henry Jackson—created pictures of places where Europeans had not been before. Jackson’s photographs of Yellowstone were so compelling that they influenced Congress to create Yellowstone Park in 1872. These and many other photographers have helped to increase the public awareness of the beauty, wealth, and frailty of our environment.

The play of light on the landscape and the atmospheric conditions affecting that light are of great importance to the character of the photograph. It is always the challenge of the landscape photographer to capture this fleeting quality. The mood of the image is controlled by the direction, color, and quality of light and hence the challenge to the landscape photographer, since these conditions are constantly changing. The direction of light may come from the front, side, or back. The quality of light may be described as soft or hard and has significant influence on the resultant photographs. Hard light is usually strong and directional and creates contrast, texture, and mood. Overcast skies produce soft, non-directional light that is excellent for photographing delicate texture and soft shadow detail. This might be characterized as the soft light produced just before sunrise and shortly after sunset.

Many landscape photographers shoot during the morning or late afternoon when the sun is close to the horizon. This lighting creates long, dramatic shadows and produces a warm, red-orange color that adds interest to scenes that might otherwise appear monochromatic. In comparison, the cooler colors of the midday sun and sky introduce more blue light to the scene, especially in the shadows.

Any camera can be used for landscape photography. Photographers in the second half of the nineteenth century used cameras as large as 20 × 24 inches, while today most photographers use all formats and often digital cameras in particular. The larger size of large-format cameras still produces images that are excellent for recording the fine subject details and producing large prints. Large-format cameras have adjustments that provide control over the plane of sharp focus and image shape to obtain desired effects.

A camera with interchangeable lenses is desirable because of the option of using different focal length lenses to obtain images with different sizes and angles of view from a given location. The normal focal length lens renders perspective of the scene similar to that experienced by a person standing in the same location. Wide-angle lenses are used to accentuate space and distance between objects, emphasizing the foreground. The larger-angle of view of wide-angle lenses produces a broad panoramic view. Panoramic cameras that cover an even larger angle are sometimes used. The long focal length lens is used to bring distant objects closer and to eliminate unwanted areas of the composition. Its graphic compression of space has the opposite effect of the wide-angle lens.

Landscape photographers select the desired elusive qualities of light to define their subjects, and their vision isolates the select portion of the landscape to be recorded. Ansel Adams framed the grandeur and beauty of wilderness areas of the American West, Minor White explored the mystical realm
of nature, Edward Weston searched for truth and the essence of things in his natural surroundings, and Robert Adams revealed the intrusion of people into the landscape.

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