Landscape photography, defined as the capturing of an image that depicts an environment or specific area of land, really began at the genesis of photography itself. The first lasting photograph, taken in 1826 by Joseph Niepce, was called “View from the window at Le Gras.” It portrayed exactly what the title would infer; a view of the grounds and rooftops of buildings nearby, as seen out of Niepce’s high window in the Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, a commune in France.
Landscape photography has a rather broad definition and includes a wide array of subjects and style. Some landscape photos will depict a wide tract of land while another may show only a small flower bed. Most do not include any human beings or even the influence of humans for the true naturalist photographer. Landscape photos may be of urban settings or a natural stretch of land. All are pictures of the outdoors, although some may be taken from inside of a structure by focusing through a doorway or window.
However, a quality landscape picture comes from more than just snapping a picture of the scene in front of you. Ansel Adams once said, “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer, and often the supreme disappointment.” It takes a very talented person, someone with a keen eye and sense of lighting and timing effects, to produce the best in landscape pictures. Some photographers seem to have an organic relationship with Mother Nature, which allows them to find just the right angle and the right moment for every single picture. For many, it takes years of training and practice to perfect these photographic skills.
There are three traditional landscape photography styles; representational, abstract, and impressionistic. Representational landscape photography shows the captured scenery in its most unaltered state. In this style, no manipulation is used in either the photographing or the developing and editing of the photograph. The impressionistic style uses lighting and timing modifications to produce an image that infers the landscape rather than fully recreating it. In the abstract style, the photographer uses graphics to enhance or modify the original image.
The first major set of landscape photos were taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, a geographical surveyor whose photographs of the western United States, taken in the late 1800s, were taken during two of his most ambitious surveys. These photos included “Harvest of Death,” a picture of the battlefield at Gettysburg littered with the bodies of dead soldiers. His pictures which captured nature in its pre-industrialized state were both beautiful and accurate records of America during the time of the Civil War.
By the end of the 1800s, the naturalism movement was gaining ground as photographers such as Dr. Peter Henry Emerson suggested that the mimicking of paintings in their photo treatments was belittling to the art form of landscape photography. Not too long after, naturalism turned into realism, as demonstrated in the works of Alfred Stieglitz. F64, a group which included well-known landscape photographer Ansel Adams, broke ground in moving away from straight, otherwise known as pictorial, photography.
These days, with the advances in technology, enhancements to photographic equipment, and the availability of image-editing software, the world of landscape photography has evolved far beyond naturalism and realism movements. We have leaped into an era where landscape photo galleries include more than majestic mountains and fields before harvest. We now have landscapes of the Moon and of underwater reefs. We now have landscapes of the dark interiors of the Amazon and of previously uncaptured events of nature like the aurora borealis against backdrops of only recently explored locations of the world.
Digitally captured and graphically enhanced images are the simple beginnings of the wave of the future. The new advances are allowing landscape photographers to provide more than just artistic records of our environment but also an image that reflects and inspires the feel of the scene. More and more artists are taking pictures of the world around them and using them to tell never before heard stories. “The landscape is like being there with a powerful personality, and I'm searching for just the right angles to make that portrait come across as meaningfully as possible,” said Galen Rowell, whose work includes “Sunset over Machu Picchu.”
Black and white landscape photography was once characterized by the production of black and white silver halide images. These days, however, the advancement in technology and the introduction of digital equipment, as well as editing software, has made it so that the photographer can shoot in color and still produce striking and dramatic black and white photos. Despite the ways that black and white landscape photography has changed over the decades, the value of this art form has not diminished.
Black and white photography possess such unique character and qualities that it is as timeless as the images it is used to capture. Early in the 1900s, landscape photography proved to be one of the best ways to document the exploration and surveying of America’s wilderness. Since that time the medium has gained much popularity as an educational tool as well, especially in teaching photography itself as black and white photos best illustrate such concepts as image contrast, highlight, and shadow.
When the topic of black and white landscape photography comes up in conversation, so does the name Ansel Adams. Although the history of black and white landscape photography does not begin or end with him, Adams was a pioneer in his field. His work effectively moved landscape photography from the record rooms to the art galleries. However, he is not, by far, the only great landscape photographer in history. There have been, are, and will be many great photographic artists producing previously unprecedented glories in black and white landscape pictures.
Before Ansel Adams was even born, photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins were encapsulating the wilds of the west including Yosemite Valley and the Pacific Coast. Muybridge’s photos still appear on postcards, in books and on websites that wish to conjure nostalgia for the early pre-settled days of North America. As time moved on, in the mid-1800s, Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter began to display extraordinary talent in capturing Cincinnati’s waterfront using panoramic Daguerreotypes.
Soon after that, the Kodak camera became available, and snapshot photography became more and more popular. Artists who felt pressured to compete with the family album-making began to develop new styles and techniques in their work such as Pictorialism, a labor-intensive process which created extremely impressionistic images which were blurry by artistic intention. Even some landscape photographers, while touring the states in Studebakers, gave in to the juvenile and whimsical form of picture-taking and shot the scenery of America’s roadways through the view of their car windshields or mirrors.
With the arrival of Modernism, photographers like the brilliant Edward Weston began using depths of field that were akin to abstract paintings. In the later 1990s, the world was graced with the great talents of Galen Rowell, Philip Hyde, and Eliot Porter, most none of whom shoot exclusively black and white landscapes. Presently, there are hundreds of photographers learning and growing their craft of black and white landscape photography. The internet is littered with photos of beaches and hillsides, sunrises and thunderstorms from all across the globe. Some of it is good; some of it is magnificent. Looking forward, black and white landscape photography will continue to play its role in the fine arts as well as in documenting the ever-changing, and yet ever-majestic scenery of planet Earth.
Landscape photography over the decades has provided the world of fine art with some of the most iconic, stunning, and brilliant images known to mankind. Millions of pictures have been taken by photographers across the globe. Many of them are spectacular and unique. However, there is a small percentage that stands out among the rest, not only for the skill and artistry of the photographer but also for the impact that the image made on the world. There are a select few photographs which in some way have influenced events and people throughout history in prolific ways. Below is a small list of the most influential photographs in the history of landscape photography.
View from the window at Le Gras, 1826
When Joseph Niepce created the first photograph, it was itself a landscape of sorts. While fuzzy, due to the 8 hour long exposure time needed to create the image, it obviously depicts the skyline of the city and the rooftops of the buildings nearby. It holds a place at the top of this list for its groundbreaking existence mostly. This was the genesis of photography as a means of record and as an art form.
Edward Weston has always been known as a great landscape photographer on the whole but was never given notoriety for any individual piece until recently. His photo of the sandy dunes, Oceana, was not a ground-breaking photo until computers came on the scene, image and graphics software in particular, and this photo became a household staple. It is the base photo for hundreds of screensavers, wallpapers and memes on the internet. It has been digitally edited and enhanced in numerous different ways and has served as an inspiration to thousands of digital and graphic artists.
Tetons and the Snake River, 1942
Ansel Adams is known for his intense, black, and white images of the planet's landscapes. While his repertoire of amazing nature-embracing pictures is filled with masterpieces, this photo of his, once dubbed “the photograph that saved the planet,” is a perfect example of the lasting impact a picture can make on history. The picture helped to fuel a global movement for the protection and preservation of Earth’s environment, which sparked the formation of organizations and events still thriving today. Adams’ work inspired a new way of viewing our planet and how we treat it. He used this and several others of his photos to raise environmental consciousness around the world.
This photograph, although taken by astronaut William “Bill” Anders, of the Apollo 8 space mission, rather than by a professional photographer, heavily impacted the perspective human beings previously had of the Earth within the universe. This photo gave us a view of Earth as had never been seen before. It was like the language of the cosmos was translated through this extraordinary image. It also gave rise to a new variation on traditional landscape photography. Images of what lies beyond the skies began to emerge, and space was no longer a distant frontier for the photographer who could get their hands on a telescopic lens.
Photography, like everything else in the arts, continues to grow and change as new techniques and technologies are developed. However, the story wordlessly expressed through a single photograph is one that makes a lasting impression. It is one that makes a lasting impression on your soul. This list reflects the evolutionary journey of excellent landscape photography up to present times. The artistic endeavors of photographers, as well as the scientific advances and breakthroughs yet to come, all promise a gleamingly bright future for the spectacular photographic capturing of our amazing and awe-inspiring world.
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