Landscape Photography: a communion with the elements

Tony Bennett, Mist and Reflections, Crummock Water, Cumbria, Overall Winner 2013
As the winners of the Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards 2013 are unveiled, award founder Charlie Waite takes the opportunity to tell the Ecologist why he believes landscape photography and environmental passion go hand in hand.....
Living and breathing the environment is what landscape photographers do

I have heard it claimed by some that landscape photography separates you from the immediate experience of fully engaging with your surroundings. It is suggested that the camera, with its two dimensional rendition along with the accompanying business of composition and the often cursed selection of aperture and shutter speed, contributes to a disengagement from the business of the straightforward appreciation of the landscape.

Interestingly, these words will never come from the lips of a landscape photographer, who will be found behind the camera, fully immersed and, in full receptive mode, astutely monitoring all that lies before them. Their visual antennae will be up and fully alert and, with the faculties of hearing and smell acute, they will find themselves joyfully ‘in the zone'.

If the photographer is completely fluent with the mechanics of exposure, whilst being familiar with the vagaries of composition, then the camera is almost secondary to the experience.

Landscape photography is about perception, often combined with reverence and plain old-fashioned wonder. The resulting image is surely a manifestation of that precious and solitary exchange that the photographer has had with their surroundings. It was all happening just for them and for that time, they will have truly owned the moment; their moment. Top of the range cameras will deliver fine resolution and definition but they won't care about composition one jot.

Without sounding too fanciful, there will be a communion of sorts between the photographer and every element within the landscape that they are preparing to photograph. Pre-production is the thing. There will be a preoccupation with the way a dew drop may hang hesitatingly from the tip of a leaf or with the mobile swirling chiffon look of a vast landscape bathed in mist; a few moments later the sky perhaps delivering silvery bands of cirrus cloud six miles high and made mostly of ice crystals. The landscape photographer may well have been awaiting this performance of the sky above interlocking with the land beneath to materialize.

Perhaps the experience is no more than a simple celebration of the landscape and all that it offers. Interestingly, if there proves to be no image to be made on that day, the enrichment generated from the pursuit will be more than ample food for the photographer.

If the photographer has their objective firmly defined in their mind then this pursuit can continue for months or longer. But there is more to this landscape photography business, for when the image is made, it must be offered to others who on seeing the photograph will hopefully receive a high proportion of the same response that the photographer enjoyed at the moment of creation. The photographer's craft will be measured by the degree to which the viewer can enter into that same space.

It is a prerequisite of the landscape photographer to care passionately about the environment and whilst their contribution may not necessarily be of an activist nature, their anxiety and concern will be no less valid and legitimate.

Living and breathing the environment is what landscape photographers do

An image of a swathe of bluebells within a much loved spinney will perhaps activate a different part of the brain to one of a vast landfill site or rainforest decimation. The latter two will set alarm bells of horror ringing, yet the bluebells will serve to remind us how vital is preservation and nurture; both share the same emotional language.

As the great Cartier-Bresson said many years ago, photography is about ‘putting one's head, one's heart and one's eye on the same axis' and I am sure that any committed landscape photographer will wholeheartedly concur with this.

Landscape photographers are outside for a huge proportion of their lives; living and breathing the environment is what they do.

Charlie Waite is a Landscape photographer and founder of the Landscape Photographer of the Year ‘Take a view' Awards.

Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 7 is published by AA and available here.


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