1- Don’t worry too much about the “Fine Art” concept
There are endless online discussions about the true concept of Fine Art, many of them related with Photography. As soon as you say that your photographs are “Fine Art” you are bound to hear negative criticism, mostly centered around the thought that you are being elitist and vain by using such term. Paintings or sculptures do not usually need to be labeled as “Fine Art”, as they are intuitively recognized as such, but in the middle of millions of snapshots, what should you call to the images you have put so much effort into? There is no right answer, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the label, rather choosing to focus on the fact that if you are putting your soul and vision in your works, trying to show the landscapes you witness with the greatest impact and/or emotion, then you are most certainly creating “art”, probably “art” which is clearly “fine”…
2- It will always be about the light…
You should have seen this tip being mentioned quite often, but it is still as true as on the first time it was written. Unless you have the talent of a landscape painter like Turner (and if you do, then why are you doing photography?), you will always need to get the best possible light to turn mundane scenes into remarkable images. Special light creates special images, and this is absolutely true in landscape photography. Shooting a gorgeous scenery under harsh light and clear skies will create a good photo, but certainly not a remarkable and unique image, as it will lack contrast, depth, tonal range and “emotion”. Creating “art” requires the presence of an “Artisan” who is also an “Artist”, meaning that he is both skilled in his craft and passionate about his subject. One of the most important raw materials a photographer should work with is light, so you should always spend as much time as needed to find the perfect light conditions to shoot a scene. Even though every now and then you might be lucky and find stunning light by chance, this is a chase that invariably needs many hours of preparation and scouting.
3- Never forget to check the weather.
Following the previous tip, finding great light depends on being able to account for a large number of weather-related variables. Weather forecast websites like Weather Underground will be one of your best friends when you are choosing a location for shooting on a certain day, not only to avoid getting soaked by heavy rain, but also to look for places with partial of fully covered cloudy skies, which will usually create the most dramatic and captivating light.
4- Listen to the Oracle about the Sun Position
Nowadays we have very interesting smartphone apps with tools to predict sunrise and sunset locations, like Photo Pills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris, or desktop websites like Suncalc.net. These will be extremely useful to know in advance where the sun will be located on a certain timeframe. For a more detailed virtual reality simulation of the sun movement during the day you can also use the freeware program Stellarium on your desktop computer. For specific landscapes you will want to know the exact specific place where the sun will rise or set, to use it as a way to enhance your composition, increasing the chances of getting remarkable images.
5- Patience and persistence will always pay off
Landscape photographers work with the most stubborn and unpredictable light assistant ever, so you should be ready to cope with frustration, cold, stress and physical pain. People always think about landscape photography as a very zen-like activity, but if you want to get the job done, then be ready for a delicious adrenaline rush when you are trying to deal with temperamental gear, harsh environment, physical obstacles and quickly changing light, where the famous golden hour should unfortunately be called “golden minutes”. You will need to return to the same place quite often, and frequently return home with no interesting images. You will be the first person arriving or the last one leaving your location, and meals will probably be skipped or made during odd hours. It’s not romantic or easy most of the times, but when all elements combine and you capture a great image, there’s nothing that comes close to that feeling of oneness and meaningful purpose!
6 – Yes, you do really need to edit your images!
I couldn’t leave this one out, even though I’m quite tired of the good old debate about post-processing in the modern age. I will avoid stating my personal opinion on this subject, but I can tell you for sure that editing is an absolutely essential tool to create remarkable images. Everyone who spends a lot of time on the field, constantly looking to his LCD to review images, knows right from the start that as soon as the light enters the lens and hits the sensor, everything changes, and one of the most reality-altering processes as already taken place: light transduction into a digital form. Then you come home with what we should call a digital negative (and yes, you need to use RAW to get the most out of your images), where contrast is low, shadows are dark and some highlights might be blown, among other aspects needing correction like white balance, vibrance, and others. This is the time where you need to keep feeding your creation with love and tweak the image to your liking, turning it from raw to deliciously cooked. There are endless ways to edit an image, and everyone will find his own path to do it, from simple Lightroom tweaking to complex Photoshop editing, so you should keep in mind that you need to make the most out of your image to maximize its visual and emotional potential.
7 – Think about why you do it.
There is one crucial aspect about landscape photography as art, related with “meaning”. When you choose to pursue artistic photography, you can either use mechanical imitation as a foundation to what you do, or you can rather try to put some meaning behind your actions as an artist. The path of imitation might even be filled with success, as long as you are talented at copying others, and many people certainly are! I could actually even go as far as to say this has its own merit, as most people wouldn’t be able to emulate accomplished artists, but the real problem with choosing to do this is that it will always lead to either stagnation and dissatisfaction or to the classical never ending ego-bloating vicious circle. So, if you are really trying to bring something to the world through your images, then you should start thinking about the powerful concept of “meaning”. I think this is a much more important term than “innovation” or “originality”, as it provides a much more solid emotional and mental framework to accomplish your vision. Many landscape photographers are obsessed with originality, about capturing that never-seen-before location or approaching well known places through odd angles, instead of worrying about creating powerful, captivating and meaningful images. Others are quite clearly too self-absorbed with success, fully centered around capturing the same places over and over with minor differences between shots, as long as it gets them the needed “likes” and “favorites”. The question here is: if you are honest with yourself (or should I say, with your Self), can your inner complexity and uniqueness be genuinely compatible with such limiting creative paths? Probably not, so I think no one should go for either the imitation or the obsessive originality road, as none of them will probably be genuine. Creating art with meaning will always be based on you being honest about what you are trying to show the viewer, and that will mostly depend on your mood and emotions at all stages of the image making process, as well as on your personal goals. This will always be a dynamic process, and it can either be something as simple as sharing the beauty of nature to the world, or as complex as using nature images to enter into the conceptual existential philosophy realms. In the end what matters is that as long as you channel your inner constructive drives into the creation of art, then you are certainly headed for great things!
José Ramos ©