One of the most appealing aspects of landscape photography for me is the opportunity that it gives to immerse oneself in the quietness and stillness of a sunrise or a sunset while waiting for the perfect opportunity to make an image.
At different times in our photographic journey we have all experienced the disappointment of coming home and upon examining our recently made images, find that our images did not capture what our eyes had witnessed a few short hours before. I have found that this most often happens because our eyes have this uncanny ability to gaze upon a landscape and selectively focus on those elements that we find most appealing while allowing all other elements to simply melt away. In other words, our eyes and brain work together to clean up and simplify the scene before us. Despite the fact that our field of vision covers approximately 110 degrees, our eyes and brain tend to ignore most of what falls within that wide swath except for the most appealing details.
Where we get into trouble is when we fail to recognize what our eyes and brain have just done and fail to use our photographic tools to replicate that vision. When we find ourselves in front of a beautiful scene, we oftentimes reach for the wide lens to try and capture everything in front of us into one composition. I believe this is where our images then fail to match the experience we had when we pressed that shutter.
If we are to capture as faithfully as possible both the experience and the scene that unfolded before us we need to be keenly aware of what part of that scene truly captured our attention and stirred us. We need to clearly articulate to ourselves what part of this vast scene provides the most impact and raw material to convey our vision. Once we have identified the main focus of the scene it is time to simplify and focus.
Compelling landscape images are all about simplicity and focus.
Simplicity means just that, creating a simple image, an image free of clutter and ambiguity, an image which grabs the viewer by their ears and says “look at me” because the image provides no uncertainty about what the image is all about. A simple and clear image guides the viewer’s eye through its elements and its details ensuring that they have fully absorbed the meaning and intent behind the image.
Focus means zeroing in on the core of your subject while removing any and all elements that do not offer the support nor reinforce what you are ultimately trying to convey with your image. This is analogous to what our eyes do when looking at an expansive scene, finding those elements that are most appealing and making sure they become the focal point of our attention.
These may seem like very lofty goals, but they are relatively simple and easy to implement. One just needs to be very observant and critical of the scene before us so that we can quickly distill what needs to stay within the frame and what does not. For me, this often means shooting in tighter than what my original instinct told me to do. For you, it may be a bit different, but by distilling our images to their most compelling and critical elements we can very quickly start making images that more closely resemble our experience out in the field.