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Monday, August 1, 2005

Stretching The Landscape

Where is landscape photography going today? How might we as photographers find new inspiration and approaches to this classic subject?

Sheppard: I also find that work in Photoshop, even somewhat traditional work, can help you see in different ways. You experiment and play. Not everything is useful, but it can influence what you do later. I've found that I see skies differently because of Photoshop, for example. I'd work on an image and say to myself that the colors in the sky weren't real, something had gone wrong. But then I'd be outside and see those colors in the sky and realize that skies were far greater than the "box" the photo frame I had put them into.

Jones: In many ways, it comes down to expanding our visual acumen. By experimenting, trying new things and opening ourselves to new photographic experiences, it helps us to enjoy the world more, it affects how we photograph and, frankly, it can just make the whole process more fun.

Sheppard: It affects how we frame the world. If we see possibilities, if we open ourselves to new approaches, to new visions, it can open us to seeing new and special things in our world. If we just see a scene that has to be captured, the answer is reduced to getting a new camera, lens or technology.

The hard part, I think, is avoiding being too quick to judge what's new or different. Sometimes, we want to judge how a familiar scene is captured, did we follow the rules, rather than something deeper that can really connect us with the scene.

How involved are we with shooting that scene? By experimenting, by working that scene in new ways, we gain more involvement. Let's face it, modern cameras have removed the drudgery of things like focus and exposure. Now we can be free to find new ways of looking at a landscape. Now we can question our landscape photos: Why this shot and not another? Why is there beauty in this framing and not another? This process is important.

Sheppard: I think new ways of shooting can make a difference. A lot of workshop leaders will tell you that so many students bring in the same sort of images; I can tell you that while many of the submissions to OP are technically great, the photos look a lot the same. They offer little that's special to an individual photographer. I don't think every photo a photographer makes has to be radically new and different; in fact, that would be counterproductive for most pros. But having something new, something fresh that will enliven and enrich any photographer's work—I can tell you, it will gain more attention.

Jones: Ultimately, I think, there's a blending of the traditional and the new that's important. There are so very, very many landscape images out there today; something fresh will rise above the rest of the images. If this wasn't true, we might as well be punch-press operators stamping out the same photographs; the only difference is that they will be cheaper when the work goes offshore.

When a photographer finds a fresh voice, shows off distinctive ways of seeing, he or she stands out. Truly, such photographers have no competition. They're different, unique, themselves, and therefore not in competition with others in those areas.

Every person has the potential of seeing the world through his or her own eyes and finding a unique view of the world. That takes study, training, experimenting and a willingness to celebrate new ways of seeing. We should see photography with its potential of celebration, of sharing the world we see, not of competition with other photographers. Yet when images stick to the shots, the compositions, the techniques that everyone uses, then they must compete because they're not unique.

Sometimes photographers do want to get the shot just like the pro's work they have seen, yet that can be a disappointing route to take. A copy can never capture the life of the original vision. In addition, in nature photography, a photo often is the culmination of a special trip, the unique weather at the time, what was going on inside the photographer's head and so forth.

Jones: Exactly. As soon as you play the game of matching a particular landscape photographer, you have some difficult challenges. You have to be there in the same conditions and hope God favors you with the same light. That can be frustrating.

I believe it's much better to go to the landscape and start playing, finding things that delight your eye. Maybe nothing good comes from that day of photography, but it will influence other images later. Copying is okay as a beginning photographer, but then you have to step out and go beyond that. If you don't keep playing with your lens and landscape, life just goes out of the photos. Longtime shooters can face something similar if they don't push themselves beyond doing the same things with their shots.

I think it comes down to this: Do we get lost in the same photographic things, whether that's a particular favorite composition or technique? Or do we relax and simply fall in love with the landscape and what's there? To do that, it's worth loosening up and playing a little with your photography. You'll create new work that will find that special element in both the landscape and in you.



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