I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.
logo

The Language Of Landscape


‘Alpine Glory’, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 24mm, 1/50 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 100
LEE 4-stop ND Grad filter.
Handheld.
Adobe Lightroom.

“Humans are sentient creatures, like any other conscious animal, we are ‘aware’, we are able to sense our environment; but with sentience comes the ability to subjectively ‘feel’ and experience emotion.”

The Language Of Landscape

Creating photographs with ‘feeling’ is a huge challenge for landscape photographers. Our ultimate goal is to communicate the sum total of our sensory interpretations of the scene through a single sensory visual conduit, to the viewer of our final print. Humans are sentient creatures, like any other conscious animal, we are ‘aware’, we are able to sense our environment; but with sentience comes the ability to subjectively ‘feel’ and experience emotion. Our capacity for individual subjective experience, moulded by millions of previous experiences and beliefs is what makes us all unique, and it’s why the creative visual arts offer such a rich  and engaging tapestry.

Any subjective experience depends on comparisons and contrasts with what is already known. Luckily for landscape photographers, most adults living in the western world share a common degree of exposure to television, film, advertising, more historic visual arts and of course, our planet itself. Because of this shared exposure, despite the seemingly infinite number of possible interpretations for any single image, there are certain characteristics that tame our vast sentient subjectivity; together, they form the visual language we call ‘landscape photography’. Like any other language, this is something that can be learned, and something that can be mastered; once fluent, communication occurs at a subconscious level for both photographer and viewer. Our ‘dialect’ is shaped by our photographic style, and some dialects are easier to understand than others but the basic vocabulary that forms our language is generic and understood by everyone.

Chamonix is devastatingly beautiful; magnificent and threatening in equal measures, and my challenge was to communicate this in a single image. Shooting directly into the sun, diffused by the stormy cloudscape has had three important consequences: first, it has desaturated the landscape into a melancholic monochromatic indigo; second, it has thrown vast areas of foreground into shadow to minimise unnecessary textural distractions; and third, it has intensified overall contrast, helping to invoke drama by emphasising the brilliant Sun against the chiaroscuro silhouetted foreground. To continue my linguistic analogy, shooting contra-jour has greatly simplified the vocabulary for this image; simple compositions are easier to understand at a more direct subconscious level because they don’t require as much translation. In the language of landscape photography, as with great poetry, there is beauty in simplicity.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.