Light On The Landscape

Marking my journey in landscape photography through a collection of essays written over more than two decades
Light On The Landscape, image of Morning mist, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, 2013

Morning mist, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, 2013.

Light on the Landscape is a collection of photographs and my writings on landscape photography, a curated set of 60 essays taken from my “On Landscape” column for Outdoor Photographer magazine. I began writing for this magazine in 1986, and in 1997, we launched the column. In these essays, I share my thoughts on all aspects of the landscape genre. I’ve been at this “job” of being a full-time freelance photographer for 36 years. The concept for my new book was to gather together the lessons and ideas that I’ve shared in my essays to help you become a better photographer, as a valuable guide on the long and winding road of your own creative evolution.

Image of Cypress trees in fog, Monterey, California, 2019.

Cypress trees in fog, Monterey, California, 2019.

To introduce you to this book, I’d like to put forth the underlying motivation and inspiration for my photography. All my discussions on light or composition or equipment or technique are based on this foundation. I am not one for learning an approach to creating images unless that route allows for a direct connection with the subject and helps me to communicate my own response to it. In other words, I keep my approach very simple and pragmatic. 

Image of Giant sequoias, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, 2007.

Giant sequoias, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, 2007.

The beauty of nature is the foundation of which I speak; it motivates and inspires my photography. When I stand before landscapes of silent rock, reflecting water and parting cloud, I feel most connected to myself and to life itself. Seeing and feeling this beauty is more vital to me than any resulting imagery. Still, I am compelled to try to put out some visual representation of the sense of wonder I feel, and I suspect that you know that feeling.

Image of Lava flow entering the sea at twilight, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, 1994.

Lava flow entering the sea at twilight, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, 1994.

We photographers tend to let the technique of photography get in the way. Ansel Adams complained of the overabundance of “a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Unlike Adams, I am not very technically oriented, but I do place a high value on making technically excellent images. As a beginner, I built a foundation of knowledge through college photo courses and a lot of trial and error, with an emphasis on lots of errors. As technologies have progressed, I have added techniques to solve problems I’ve encountered in the field. I bought my first 35mm camera in 1974. I used 35mm and 4×5 film cameras until 2005 and then switched entirely to digital capture. I have added basic info about gear within my essays, but for more details, you will find camera and lens info in the “Photo Notes” in the back of the book.

Image of Maple leaves along the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, 2016.

Maple leaves along the Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, 2016.

Within the book are my ideas and techniques for capturing the light, designing what you include within your frame, and revealing your personal and creative way of seeing the world around you. I wrote these essays over the past two decades, and they summarize my 40 years of experience making images. I discuss light and weather, composition and the environment, marketing, and a bit of philosophy, portfolio development and sources of inspiration.

Image of Pfeiffer Arch at sunset, Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California, 2004.

Pfeiffer Arch at sunset, Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California, 2004.

When I first started my journey as a photographer, I wasn’t interested in discussing the subject or writing about technique or my motivations for making my art. My father was a journalist, my mother an English major, and although they helped me learn to write while growing up, I didn’t want to waste my time writing when I could be out there in nature making images. I was 20 and impatient.

Image of Sunrise storm clouds, St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1995.

Sunrise storm clouds, St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1995.

After graduating from college, I had to figure out how to make a living. When I started teaching soon after arriving in Yosemite, I needed to express myself through words, especially about technique. I was able to attend workshop sessions and lectures by Adams, Joel Meyerowitz, Jerry Uelsmann, Ernst Haas, Paul Caponigro, Phil Hyde, John Sexton, Alan Ross, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Chris Rainier…and many more. Listening to these masters helped me greatly in learning how to find and capture my vision.

Image of Iceberg sculpture, Pleneau Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 2014.

Iceberg sculpture, Pleneau Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, 2014.

During my early years of teaching in the field, I discovered that I had something to say. My main goal is to focus on the creative side of landscape photography. In each column I’ve written for Outdoor Photographer, I describe my approach to finding inspiration, discovering my compositions and how I realized my final result. This book is a curated anthology of those essays.

Image of Ridges, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, California, 2019.

Ridges, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, California, 2019.

I’m always looking for inspiration within wild places and natural subjects near and far. I have been photographing the beauty of nature for four decades, and I’ve found my search for “landscapes of my spirit” to be an essential ballast in the storm of everyday life. Whether in the wilderness or my small patch of nature in the Sierra Nevada, I am continually comforted by the beauty that surrounds us every day, a comfort that calms my mind and lifts my spirit.

Image of Rock, water and tree, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, 2011.

Rock, water and tree, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, 2011.

Although this book is not full of photo rules and regulations, I discuss many practical ways to improve your photography. I hope that reading it will help you discover your own voice and vision through the ideas and passion I have for nature and photography. 

William Neill is a renowned nature and landscape photographer and a recipient of the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection and The Polaroid Collection. Neill's published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. He is also regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer with his column “On Landscape”.