Busy Landscapes

It's very difficult to make good images of busy landscapes, and yet we are often drawn to places with too much going on.

The Cuernos (Horns) of Paine & destroyed forest, Chilean Patagonia, 2015

The Cuernos (Horns) of Paine & destroyed forest, Chilean Patagonia, 2015

I know of no other craft where one starts with complexity.

In just about any other pursuit, we start with the basics and move up from there. If you take up juggling, you don't start with three balls, you start with one. So it is with photography: each object that is added inside the frame of your camera is like adding another juggling ball to the mix. And if you're juggling balls, you need to know where they all are at the same time.

Yet when we look around our surroundings, we have an amazing ability to filter out most of it. Our vision has evolved to allow us to focus on the things that we're interested in, and exclude those that we're not. This may be really useful in everyday encounters, but it's a disability when it comes to interpreting scenes for photographic possibilities.

So often have I come home and found that the image did not convey what I saw. As a beginner, I would be surprised to discover additional objects in the final photograph that I had not seen at the time of capture. I've gone through over 20 years of trying to improve my awareness to see what is really there - to overcome my instinct to filter out things in the scene.

As I've developed my compositional skills, I've come to realise that beautiful scenery does not automatically equal great imagery. I've also had to accept that there are some things that can't be photographed well. Some places are too big, or have too many things going on in them to capture in their entirety, and what often works better is to take a subset of a location because it makes for a more powerful image than the entire scene does. An example of this is that I've often found that to reduce an entire waterfall down to just a few segments of it - may be more powerful than a photograph of the entire waterfall.

When we put too much in, everything becomes diminished or at best, confused. Consider it another way: if you were writing a proposal for your work, you would never try to discuss several points at the same time, as things would become confused or the points you are trying to covey would become lost. Instead, you would cover each point in its own paragraph. Well if we use this analogy, a set of images is akin to a proposal, and each image is akin to a paragraph in that proposal.

The skill of a landscape photographer, is to be able to take a location and distill it down to a few elements that convey a clear message. The final photograph may not be an accurate impression of the place, because there's been a degree of interpretation applied. Which is fine by me, because that's what photography is all about, in my view.

I knew when I made the image in this post that it was a busy scene. I had already reduced it down to two basic elements as I saw it: the background mountain range and the foreground branches. But I still felt there were unresolved issues with the composition: there's just too much textural information everywhere in the scrub and this detracts from letting my eye move freely between the foreground branches and the background mountain range. In addition, I also felt that the branches might get 'lost' in this textural complexity because tonally, they're not too dissimilar.

My point is this: I knew there was too much complexity. But I also knew that as much as it wasn't perfect, I could live with it. And this in itself, is a whole different ball game from when I used to come home and wonder why my images hadn't come out the way I had seen them.