In this day and age of fast paced and highly active lives, everyone it seems owns a digital camera and everyone wants to be a photographer. Let’s face it, the cost of taking pictures these days is very small (after the initial expense of buying the equipment); the costly film-processing days are gone. However, a serious problem arises from all this. We are made to believe by the advertisements we see from the major brands that, with all this technology at our disposal, everything will fall into place and our pictures will look stunning.
So, imagine the scenario: every newly inspired landscape photographer, well equipped and armed with a variety of gadgets, is on location, waiting for the 'right' light, as it is well known. When the time comes, the pictures are taken and there is a rush home to see the results, only to find out that those pictures do not look as good as the ones in the photographic magazines.
What now? What went wrong? After all, that lovely ultra wide angle lens was used which captured as much of the scene as possible, including that glorious sky. Actually, this is where the problem starts most of the time. Lack of confidence makes us include as much of the scene as we can in our compositions. I have said it before, a glorious sky in itself will not produce a stunning image; it will produce a very pleasing picture – desaturate the picture and view it as a black and white and you will see my point. Thoughtful compositions make superb images, colourful skies don't.
Minimalism is a term I am sure you have all heard before. Great painters of the past implemented this technique in their paintings, resulting in breath-taking masterpieces.
But the questions are, why does minimalism work and why should it work in landscape photography? And the answer, simply, is because less is more. Minimalist compositions allow our brains to concentrate on the subject and, of course, the subject will be, and should be, something simple and easy to comprehend. I am displaying a few images in this article, as well as some advice. Hopefully they will illustrate my point on minimalism, and will inspire you to set out to create your own ‘masterpieces’.
• Slow down and look at your surroundings. Be there early and scout the location and I am sure you will find the best subject to include in your composition. A tripod will slow you down and help you to fine tune your framing.
• Do a bit of gardening while fine tuning the scene. Make sure there are no objects in the frame that can detract the viewer’s eye from the main subject. You can clone them out in software, but it is best to take care of them on location if possible.
• Use filters. ND grad filters will help to balance different exposure values and will offer a more pleasing final result. Other filters such as neutral density can be used to improvise, to alter exposure times and to create images, rather than merely capture pictures.
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• As you are aiming for a minimalist effect, your subject needs to be simple yet impressive in the frame. It is very important to know all about the rule of thirds and implement it when it suits you.
Most importantly, remember the waiting game. If you are not a person with unlimited patience, then you will need to become one. You need to make sure you can stay on location and wait for the right moment, when the light will be at its best and will reveal to you all its glory. It is vital to combine a really beautiful and simple composition with the best possible light. It is only then that you will be certain you have a masterpiece in your camera.
Thank you for this article. How does your idea of simplicity relate to ‘Intimate’ landscapes as made popular by Eliot Porter?
Thank you very much for your comment.
Most definitely I agree on simplicity in any genre of photography.
Great advice, Dimitri, and you prove it with your images. Having shot with you many times, I know how hard you work on slowing down, preparing, planning, and waiting – even to the point of NOT taking the photograph! Elegant simplicity.
Thank you very much, good buddy.
As Lorraine already said: “The simplicity in this photograph says go back to the basics.” I agree 100%.
Some advices you gave in this brief article are already in my photobloodstream ;-). Following the indents:
*1: For a serious landscape session I always drag the tripod on my back. Sometime with two heads (3-way and ballhead – both of them had ist’s advantages and disadvantages). It really help to fine-tune the composition. And in my Heimat it really help to get accreditations from local highland landlords to enter their private property 😉 “If you carry such piece of stuff it means you work hard in your job! You’re welcome anytime, at sunrise and sunset.”
If the distance to carry the tripod isn’t too long and I am not inproperly dressed (corporate dress code suit) I like to carry it in almost any cirscumstances.
*2: Gardening? A secret weapon carried far away from the forester’s eyes: the secateur. A small one. Just for trimming small branches, less than 1/2″ thick (like in the Gardens of Versaille), not for felling timber out of sight 😀
*3: Lee’s grads are first in my photo shopping list queue. I had a quite interesting set of them in Cokin-A format but I presented them to a friend when I switched to Ø77mm.
*4: It’s a question of time (and money earned by leading suppliers of camera bodies through selling out the obsolete models of DSLRs) when you will have displayed all classic composition rules (rule of thirds, golden ratio, Fibonacci’s spiral) as a “layer” on your focusing screen (DSLR viewfinder or Zombie-LiveView in mirorless cameras).
BTW&OT: In the Anglosaxon language photographers the introduction of “a new phenomenonous Nikkor «G» lenses” was described as “G mean gelded” of aperture ring. Compare D5300 and D5500 specification (a friend of mine asked for advice wchich to buy). D5500 is gelded from GPS. Why? CFO’s of all reliable photogear manufacturers have their own “rules of composition” forced by Stock Exchange. They have own “histograms” which are far away from photographer’s needs. And they hardly believe that marketing bla-bla-bla can fill the gap 🙁
I’ve switched to Nikon F system from Canon FD 20 years ago (1995). Why? Canon EOS 6xx were powered with lithium CR3 batteries I could buy them just at the specialist shop in Warsaw (at the price of my half month salary). Nikon F90 still worked on the set of 4 AA/LR6 batteries available almost everywhere! Imagine your battery had gone @ Θιρα and next stop to buy is Athens 😀
Thank you, Maciek, a good set of advice.
We are taught less is more but when it comes to post processing I think people are getting carried away with all the great apps we have. The photos are great but sometimes the point of interest is lost because there is so much other things to view. The simplicity in this photograph says go back to the basics.
Thank you very much for your comment, Lorraine.