Essay : ordinary landscapes

Landscape photography, broadly speaking, is very much about dramatic views, powerful skies, saturated colours. In short, most of the landscape photos I see online look “out of this world” in a literal sense. The views are some that I will never experience with my own eyes because I have neither the time, the inclination, the energy or the patience to go to the remote places that landscape photographers travel to. The colours are surreal too because the photographers go to great lengths to be on location at a time when the weather is interesting, the sun in the correct postition, the clouds, the wind … everything comes together to make a spectacular image. And I admire the craft, I really do.

However, I feel very detached from these images most of the time. I can admire the power of the photo but I have a more emotional connexion to views similar to those I have experienced, in weather conditions that I know. Here for example is a screenshot of a painting by John Constable (1776 – 1837, Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816)

If I now post a photo of the Mont Saint Michel (France) that I took last year, the difference is obvious.

Both scenes are familiar to me : the English countryside and the coast of Normandy. I don’t know about you but the colours of the photo, however “pretty” are also tiring to the eyes. It is as if the photo is competing against the painting, trying show that it is better. The painting, with its understated colour palette and mundane subject stands out solidly though and won’t let itself get pushed aside. The eye comes back to it again and again. Painting, however difficult an art (much more than photography) has an advantage in that the composition can be arranged : each element can be placed whether it was really there or not. A photo must come together in time and space… so it is not that easy to take a good landscape photo in the style of a landscape painter.

Very few landscapes photographers try to make this happen. There has been a resurgence of woodland photography in this natural style. I would like to see this happen across all styles : fields, woods and beaches…

Here is a first attempt at a natural looking landscape, there is a surprising amount of postprocessing going on here (using darktable).

From the village of Domme in Dordogne (France)

This is an exercise I will certainly try again. What do you think?

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