To understand what contemporary landscape photography is you need to know the meaning of the word contemporary. Contemporary means “belonging to the same period of time” “the current” or “the existing”. Therefore, contemporary used in landscape photography can be thought of as the current style of landscape photography.
Another way of defining contemporary is modern. With this term, contemporary landscape photography is modern landscape photography. OK, but isn’t all landscape photography today modern or contemporary? Most landscape photographers use modern equipment and modern techniques. Using the term modern will not lead us to a good definition.
So how do we determine which photographers create contemporary landscape images?
As you understand by now, defining contemporary landscape photography is difficult. If you ask, you will probably get as many answers as the number of people you ask. For sure it is about what the current styles and trends in images from landscape photographers are.
I did a search for “contemporary landscape photography” on the most important image sharing sites on the Internet and what I got was a solid mix of all kind of photos. I could not find a common trend or style in these images. Obviously the term contemporary is used differently by everyone.
Different approaches in defining contemporary landscape photography
1. All digital photography is contemporary
Everyone shoot digital today so digital photos cannot be the answer to what contemporary landscape photography is
2. Perfectly edited landscape images with the latest image editing techniques
Too many does it, and it is too mainstream. It is difficult with a few exceptions to distinguish different landscape photographers from each other. Everything looks more or less the same and everyone goes to the same places nowadays.
3. Informal snapshot photography
Do we see a shift in photography as more and more smartphone images are published, also as art? Younger photographers adopt this new way of photographing. Smartphone and tablet apps make the editing process easy and available on the fly.
Perhaps more modified and manipulated images are the new contemporary landscape photography style. Some of this work is certainly abstract.
4. Abstract and non-aesthetic photos that can be both blurry and out of focus
A lot of these photos would have been discarded earlier because of these obvious technical flaws. Today this comes into the category of Photography art.
So what is my definition of contemporary landscape photography?
Considering my four approaches above I suggest the answer lies somewhere in any of the last two groups. The definition is connected to the photographer’s style.
In my opinion photographers doing something different, changing the way we see landscape photography, are contemporary photographers. They are not afraid of breaking the established photography rules. They are not concerned if the image is blurred or have a crooked horizon. And they don't care about what camera they use.
Because technical perfection is not their issue, the photos can be taken with any camera - like a Smartphone. Today this type of photography is accepted - by an increasing number of photographers and image buyers.
I must admit I am drawn to this type of photography myself as it makes me stop and think. Mainstream photography is like fast food; you digest it and move on. “Different” photos with a distinct style are like a gourmet meal; you enjoy it for longer.
With increasing use of Mirrorless cameras, the trend is you no longer need to have a full frame sensor camera. Now it is more important to have a camera available at all times. Even established pros go in this direction.
The creative photographer
In the future I believe it will be more focus on image content and the photographer's creativity than the technical perfect photo. More and more photographers learn how to post process their images.
Lately, we have seen a trend where Photoshop has become more and more important. This has resulted in images more “realistic than the truth”. But this does not make the image special; it only makes it technically perfect.
Often colors are extremely saturated. We do this because we want the photo to look realistic - like we saw it when we took the image. The results are artificial and probably not even close the reality. Is this creativity?
I prefer images where there is no doubt the image is created as art, and not to represent reality. Contemporary landscape photography seems to be a little different from fine art landscape photography. In fine art photography, the goal is to create the perfect photo in all aspects, from the composition to the editing. Contemporary allows for a more artistic approach, with no rules.
Some people including myself think of contemporary art as abstract or unusual work different - it stands out from the rest.
Other will claim this is the photography reflected by what the majority of landscape photographers creates today. I don’t support this last idea of reasons I have explained above.
One last way to define contemporary landscape photography is by the work of photographers who documents the landscapes as it is now. Landscapes are constantly changing because human actions make significant changes to nature. Is it important to document the landscape at its current state and keep this as documentation for the future, when everything has changed.
Is contemporary landscape photography only for the art galleries?
Is contemporary landscape photography a specialty we have to go to art galleries and museums to find? Maybe imaging sharing sites on the Internet are not showing us contemporary photography at all. Probably not, because in between the masses there are landscape photographers that create amazing images different from the mainstream.
If you search, you will find some of them on Flickr and 500px. They are most often not high profiles on these sites. In my eyes, these are the contemporary artists. They take their photography a step further and are not afraid of being different. And they simply have developed their own style of photography.
It is very difficult to come to the definite conclusion on what contemporary landscape photography is. But as I have tried to explain my take on this is the photography must be different from the rest. Below are links to two photographers I would classify as contemporary landscape photographers.
What do you think?
Australian photographer, Emma Phillips has a series of images named “Salt”
Spanish photographer, Pep Ventosa has developed his own image style. His landscape images are amazing - and different