What constitutes Landscape Photography over that of a Snapshot?
We have all seen them, sometimes we are them, the individual out shooting during the middle of the day with harsh light taking pictures of scenery or landscapes with less than interesting composition, foreground, or background. If you want some sharp looking, vibrant, contrasty looking pictures consider when, where, and how you shoot.
Let’s take for example a recent trip I made to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. These next two images are taken two hours apart however there are some distinct differences that make one a photograph that one might consider hanging on the wall, the other a snapshot of a memory of a vacation while traveling through.
This first photo was taken at 7am in Grand Teton National Park on Mormon Row. This barn is perhaps the most photographed barn in North America given it’s distinct location in the National Park with the Teton mountains in the background. I had scouted around the area the day before and found the barn and checked out the angle of light that would hit the barn in the early morning. This allowed me to best time when and where I needed to be for an early morning sunrise shot. Preparation is key to images of this sort. Knowing that sunrise was a 6am and that I was looking for the light to hit the mountains and barn I knew I didn’t have to be at the location before sunrise but rather allow myself travel & setup time I knew if I was at the location around 6:30am I would be in fine shape.
This next photo was taken two hours later at the Teton mountain viewpoint. Like many typical tourist viewpoints you will see the photo lacks a primary subject of focus (other than the mountains themselves).
Let’s take another example of two shots taken at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Utah. This first shot was taken at 5:37pm.
This next shot was taken a mere 6 minutes later. As you can see from the sky we had overcast conditions all day long making photography look flat like that above. However, there was a gap in the horizon that I saw that would provide a brief period of time for the sun to come shining through. Add to that the light bounced off the bottom of the clouds to light the entire valley with light. This brief period lasted only 2.5 minutes long.
So what are the key items that make one photo much more compelling image worthy of printing and hanging on your wall.
- Time of day – the “golden hours” of shooting occur in the early morning and late evening just during sunrise/sunset. The light is the softest and as you can see from the first image more “golden”. The second image although taken only two hours later is starting to take on a flat look.
- Subject interest – while both photos contain the same mountain range taken from two different locations, the first photo contains the barn as an additional subject of interest. The second only has the rather flat looking mountains.
- Contrast – Because the first image was shot earlier in the day the light is coming from the side rather than from above thereby providing more contrast on the mountains and barn.
- Knowledge – Understand light and the impact it makes on photography.
- Surroundings – When I shot the pictures at Delicate Arch there were about 8 or 10 photographers at the location when I arrived. I looked to the sky to the sky to see what possible light might present itself. Noticing a possibility of the sun hitting the gap in the horizon I decided to wait it out (less than an hour). By the time the light hit there was only myself and one other photographer there.