The other day I got to thinking: I’ve been writing this street photography blog for three years. There’s been so much to say! But maybe I should tackle a different subject.
How about landscape photography? I used to take landscape pictures, but these days the above shot — with trees — is the closest I get to it.
So I went on to think very carefully about the pros and cons of landscape photography and decided that the whole topic could be boiled down to a course lasting no more than 5 seconds (if you read quickly). Please take a little longer to mull it over.
Here it is:
A Complete Course in Landscape Photography: Success Guaranteed
- Take an expensive camera and tripod.
- Go to a really beautiful landscape.
- Find a pleasing viewpoint.
- Take a photo in good light at dawn or dusk.
- Enter photo competition; collect prize.
Please don’t think I’m deprecating the work of landscape photographers. I love the results they get — and even I got up before dawn to get the shot immediately above, so I know the huge amount of work and discomfort that’s involved in obtaining great landscape pictures. Gosh, Charlie Waite actually carries a pair of steps with him to get a higher viewpoint (I’ve omitted that in my tongue-in-cheek list of essentials).
The Ansel Adams Approach
Yet the most accomplished practitioners of landscape photography make their mark by refining what is, after all, the very simple process I’ve described. If you don’t believe me, just watch a video of Ansel Adams setting off on a photo expedition, laden with plate cameras and other apparatus.
Half the battle with landscape photography is finding the right landscape. Photographers travel far afield, but they often go to places where many others have gone before. Consequently, the images they get tend to be similar, especially when aspiring photographers embark on those special tours where the guide takes everyone to the same Icelandic glacier or the same bend in the Colorado River.
Landscapes do, of course, change with the changing light, but, as you may have noticed, mountains stay largely in the same place over quite extensive periods of time. The same can’t be said for the restless occupants of a city.
On the Street
The street photographer is grateful for places like bus stops where captive subjects have to pause for a few minutes before transport arrives to whisk them somewhere else. To take successful street shots you need to call upon techniques and strategies unknown to the landscape photographer. You need speed, stealth, cunning and subterfuge as well as persistence, patience and the ability to anticipate the immediate future.
Landscape photography may capture some of the grandeur of the Earth but for most of the time it completely ignores the drama. Its images often suggest eternal stability when quite the opposite is true. The Earth’s crust is constantly shifting from Pangaea to the five (six, seven?) continents we know today, throwing up mountains as one plate crashes into another.
What’s needed is not still photography to take scenes that move so slowly, but stop-frame photography to show the motion over geological time. That’s not very practical, but there have been some remarkable movies of great terrestrial events, such as the sudden breaking up of a glacier, or the invasion of a tsunami, destroying all in its path.
For me, street photography is the superior artform, although not often as easy on the eye. It’s more than a mere genre in a way that landscape photography is not. It contains the essence of photography: the ability to catch a moment of time in which the subjects in front of the lens will never again exist in those exact same positions.
The Grand Canyon will still be there next year, looking much the same as it did this year. It’s magnificent, I agree, and more uplifting to contemplate than a split second in the life of a shopper walking down Oxford Street. As a small boy I was profoundly impressed by a colour plate of the Grand Canyon and I used to examine it frequently. But if “the proper study of mankind is man,” as the poet (Alexander Pope) said, I know which one I find more interesting today. It’s the street photo that sets our imaginations rolling, rather than the landscape taken in “Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where.”