What is landscape photography?

Landscape is one of the most popular genres of photography. But what is landscape photography and why is it so popular?

  • We all live in or near beautiful landscapes if we look around us
  • We all love the beautiful colors often seen in landscape photos
  • We all identify with landscapes as subjects
  • Landscape photography is more dependent on artistry and creativity than equipment
  • No special equipment except a camera with a lens and a tripod is required

Compared to a portrait photographer the landscape photographer needs little equipment. Unless the portraits are shot using only natural light a portrait photographer will need to hire a studio and equip it with expensive lighting gear. The landscape photographers basic gear is a camera and a tripod. No, I did not forget filters, but these are not necessary. You can photograph most landscapes without filters.

In landscape photography the photographer faces some important limitations. He can not add or move the available light. He can not move the subject either. Not being able to position the subject is another challenge the landscape photographer have to learn how to handle.

Landscapes are easily accessible and require no additional lighting or a studio. The scene is available to everyone, but this does not mean it is easy to make good landscape photos. You can take snapshots everywhere you go, but these shots are typical “I was there” photos.

With a good landscape photo, the photographer wants to convey a certain feeling or mood to the viewer. To accomplish this you need to use your creativity and composition skills.


Definition of landscape photography

In online galleries a lot of the images are categorized as landscapes. But what is landscape photography per definition. The word landscape was first used by the early painters and represented natural sceneries. Today the understanding of landscape photography is much broader and difficult to define.

If you ask someone to define landscape photography, you will probably get as many answers as the number of people you ask. The definition of landscapes has evolved over time. Originally from the earlier landscape photographers it was defined as photos of the wilderness with no human influence.

Landscape photos made today often includes man-made construction like a house, bridge, fences, etc. Some will argue this is not landscapes, but I disagree with them. If the goal of a landscape photo is to have no man-made element in it, it will be very difficult to find a place to shoot. The pure wilderness is not accessible for most of us.

hong kong skyline

There is no clear definition of what landscape photography is but most photographers will agree it is outdoor images without any humans or animals in the photo. If there are any living creatures in a landscape photo, they are not the focus but intentionally included to show a sense of scale to the image.

The most extreme definition of landscape photography is:
A photo made outside the city or showing an open scene where there is no influence by humans. Meaning no people or constructions made by people are in the image.

Finding such a spot is hardly possible today as there are roads everywhere or electrical wires in the air. If you photograph landscapes at night you can risk getting airplanes and even satellites in you images.

What about all the other -”scapes”

The meaning of -scape taken from the dictionary is either “an extensive view” or “a picture or representation” of such a view. There are many different “scapes” used in photography. To mention a few in addition to the landscape, we have seascapes, streetscapes, cloudscapes, waterscapes, mountainscapes

Are cityscapes landscape photography?
city landscape photography

We have already excluded humans or animals from landscape photos. But what about a cityscape, it that a landscape? Cityscapes can be photographed without any people visible in the image. I believe more people will be in doubt if a cityscape should be categorized in the wider term of landscape or not. Is it because of the number of buildings or the buildings dominates the scene? A house or two on a field with a mountain behind most likely will be accepted by most people being a landscape photo. In my definition of landscape photography, I have included cityscapes even if some of you will argue cityscapes are architectural photos.

Are seascapes included in landscape photography?

What about seascapes? Some will argue it is not and that a landscape photography should not contain sea or shorelines. I classify seascapes within the landscape category. Seascapes are very popular in landscape galleries.

The intimate landscape

What about close ups of elements we find in a landscape. A field of flowers with a mountain behind is categorized as landscapes by most people. If the same image is a close up of just a part of the flowers and the mountain is not showing on the image, is it still a landscape photo or not? If the flowers are the main focus of the image is it then flower or close up photography?

landscape photography technique

Landscape photography now and then

There are many question but few definite answers about what is landscape photography. What is sure, is a lot have happened since the great master like Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter made their landscape photos. At that time they used cameras with lenses equivalent to a 50mm lens. 50 mm is regarded as being as close to what our eyes sees - a natural perspective.

Landscape photographers today mostly use wide-angle lenses. The wide angle lens exaggerates the depth in a scene, and it changes the relative size and distance between the foreground and background. The resulting image is not how the eyes saw the scene. In a sense it is not "real" anymore. A lot has changed since Ansel Adams created his art and the definition of landscape photography has changed as well.

My definition of landscape photography is broad and support those that accept to include man-made structures and to a less extent humans and animals in the photos. The main purpose of the photograph is to convey the emotions and feelings of the photographer at the time he made the image. If the image creates the same emotions of the viewer it is a good image.

What is landscape photography -
three styles

    • Representational
    • Impressionistic
    • Abstract
oslo norway sunset

The representational style aims at showing the landscape photo as you see the landscape in the real life. There is a fine line here as many of the photos of landscape we see today are post processed heavily to emphasize colors and contrast.

Most photographers do some post processing so the question is if a Photoshopped image is representational or not.In my opinion, subtle adjustments in post still qualify for a representational image. A representational image is not meant to take away the reality from the scene.

Light and colors are important compositional element.

seascape photography

The impressionistic style aims at creating an impression of the scene in the photographer's mind rather than showing the realism of the scene. The lines between realism and imagination are blurred.

The intention with the impressionistic style is not to fake a scene but rather focus on a part of the scene or to create certain emotions.

Blurred waterfalls or moving clouds are examples of this style.

pine tree forest

With the abstract style the photographer uses shapes and colors as design elements. The aim of an abstract landscape image is not to show a realistic scene. Often the actual landscape is unrecognizable. Abstract landscape images tend to be categorized as fine art pieces.

Reflections or ripples in water or images shot with intentional camera movement are examples of this style.

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