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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Forgotten Intimate Landscape


Think like Eliot Porter, and adopt a “less is more” approach to your landscapes

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His goal in photographing subjects others might pass by was a paradox; he wanted the observer to have no question at all as to why the image was made. At the time, other than Porter, only Adams was using this idea in some of his work, but he didn't grab hold of it as strongly as Porter. Like Adams, however, Porter perfected his vision in the darkroom, producing the legendary dye-transfer prints that gave him almost as much control as a modern-day digital photographer over color, contrast and density.

Porter reached the height of his career in the 1960s and 1970s when his images were used to fight some of the fledgling battles of the emerging environmental movement. Even though his photographs didn't give the big picture of some areas like the soon-to-die Glen Canyon in Utah, they were perfect when paired with the work of Thoreau in nature photography classics like In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World.

The Caño Cristales in Colombia owes its unique appearance to red, yellow, green and blue algae; Ice formation along a spring inside a cave, Arches National Park, Utah.

Today, most professionals and aspiring photographers are tuned into the big landscape, along with a few working in the smaller close-up world, leaving the great innovation of the intimate landscape behind. Shooting wide-angle images that include great foregrounds, clouds and stunning light is so satisfying artistically and commercially, it's easy to see why.

My suggestion is that in between our mad chase for that elusive light and world-class subject, we slow down for a moment, look at the subjects a little closer to the camera and perhaps even pay attention to, as Don Henley says, the heaven under our feet. Looking for the midrange subject in the digital world is easy. It's always there for the taking, and the speed with which we now can be assured of a proper exposure in our histograms and a good-looking image in Live View leaves us more time to experiment.

In shooting for books, shows and submissions to clients, I also try to include some intimate landscapes to cleanse the visual palette for the big blockbusters. The smaller scene is the perfect rest from endless national park grandeur. Also, if the intimate landscape hits the right note, it can be as commercially viable as the vistas. I have several medium-distance prints in my gallery that are among the best sellers, and I wish I had more.

You can see more of Tom Till's intimate landscapes at www.tomtill.com.

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