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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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Tips For Shooting INTIMATE Landscapes

1 Finding The Subject. It may take some retraining of your eye to start seeing in the forgotten zone of the intimate landscape. We look for great foregrounds and great backdrops, but besides serving as the walk into the scene, part of your image, the foreground, may stand on its own as an intimate landscape. Don't forego your big scenic, but reconsider the foreground, if it's good enough, as a stand-alone subject. Look for interesting colors, patterns, shapes and textures that can fill the frame well and aren't miles away. In the Southwest, as Porter demonstrated, our narrow canyons don't allow much room to see far beyond the perfect setting to shoot nearby. In states without many big scenics, intimate landscapes may abound, giving the mostly urban population of this country nature subjects to shoot close to home.

Bald cypress tree in fog, Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee.
2 Lens Selection. Porter mainly used lenses in the 50-120mm range (in 35mm terms), with the average distance of his subject ranging from five to 50 feet away. There are no hard-and-fast rules about this, and telephotos sometimes can compress distance to create an intimate feel from more distant subjects.

3 Lighting. Though Porter eschewed the sunrise and sunset light many photographers use for landscapes, there's no reason great light can't be used with closer subjects. Also, I think a great time to shoot these kinds of shots and subjects can be in the pastel times before sunrise and after sunset that digital cameras capture so well.

4 Get Closer. With all my work and with my students, I'm a disciple of the "get closer" school of thought. Getting closer will not alone lead you to compositional greatness, but it certainly will improve your landscape and nature images.

5 Work Hard On Your Compositions. With the overpowering elements of scale and size to work with, outdoor photographers sometimes treat composition as an arcane set of rules they have to follow. Porter's intimate landscapes are case studies in classically beautiful still-life imagery. I think his talents were God-given, and composition is hard to teach, but one cure for better compositions is to shoot a lot. You'll improve with practice.

6 Embrace The Abstract. I rejoice when I can create an abstract image from a totally natural scene. It's good fun to take something familiar and create something entirely new, and it's the essence of art. It's also the chance to do something I haven't seen before, and I find it as fulfilling as any part of my job.

7 Look At Porter's Intimate Landscapes. Owning original Porter prints may not be feasible for most of us, but acquiring books is possible. Though I was shocked at the high prices of some Porter books online, many, especially paperbacks, are dirt cheap. I pored over these books constantly in my youth, assimilating the style and substance as much as I could. Looking at his great images will benefit anyone's shooting.


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