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?

In search of Fuji colours.

If you have taken any notice of the hype around fuji cameras recently, you will have heard about photographers raving about “fuji colours”. Most of my work is in black & white, I rarely keep a photograph in colour. My viewfinder is in black and white as I use a film simulation in the camera while shooting in raw. I have been using the acros green simulation recently with my x-pro 2 and I find it great to see the exposure and the light in the frame. I have browsed many a time through wonderful landscape pictures on 500px wondering what kind of photoshop magic the photographer is doing to get such lovely colours… my own landscapes always looked a bit on the drab side, maybe it happens to you too.

All this until this summer when I experienced a truly magnificent sunset. I was camping with my family and one evening I saw a bit of light in the sky. I took my tripod, my camera and a couple of lenses and headed out to a bridge across the river Dordogne, about half a mile from the campsite. When I arrived, the sky was on fire! I have rarely witnessed such a beautiful sky. I set the tripod down and took a few shots, bracketing to make sure I got the right exposure. When I got home the files (that are often a bit disappointing) were full of beautiful oranges and pinks.

Fuji X-T1 + 23mm f/1.4 @ 1/4s + f/8 + iso 200
Fuji X-T1 + 23mm f/1.4 @ 1/4s + f/8 + iso 200

As far as processing goes, I use lightroom to check the highlights and blacks, then pop into Color Efex Pro 4 where I use colour contrast and dynamic contrast. I then dodge and burn a little and voilà. Less than 5 minutes on each photo.

Fuji X-T1 + 10-24 f/4  @ 1/35s + f/8 + iso 200
Fuji X-T1 + 10-24 f/4 @ 1/35s + f/8 + iso 200

The beautiful sunset light didn’t last long, you can see the contrasts changing in the shots. This second shot was taken 5 minutes after the first. I had time for one last photo.

Fuji X-T1 + 10-24 f/4 @ 1/8s + f/8 + iso 200
Fuji X-T1 + 10-24 f/4 @ 1/8s + f/8 + iso 200

I blended 2 exposures in Lightroom, effectively making an HDR photo here because the bridge was getting too dark but the sky was still quite bright.

The conclusion of this article is simple : landscape photography is really hard! It is all about location, timing and luck. I really like the output the camera gives me and I can also now say that fuji colours are great, but I was lucky enought to be in the right place at the right time on the right day. I admire photographers who can turn out photo after photo of lovely landscapes, they are working hard!