Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE ART OF LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY - Breaking The Rules & My Own Evolving Aesthetics

I have been doing a bit of reading lately and came across one of Ansel Adams' books of work he created in the National Parks during his long and extensive career. One of the things that particularly interested me after flipping through the pages was his compositional style. In comparing his to others and my own, I noticed how much all of us have copied his style, some without even knowing that we were doing so because those that influenced many of us were influenced by him indirectly through others.

I have been a disciple of his work since the early days of my career and owe much to his style of photography. I can say with conviction that if it were not for him, I might not have ventured into this field at all.

Ansel was a proponent of the 'rule of thirds' in his career, but like all of us today, broke the rule whenever the subject material dictated or required it. After viewing many of his images over the years, it seems that he broke this rule more often than not. When one looks at photographs from the span of his career, we see this deviation a great deal, moving the horizon to the top or bottom of an image. I mention this because I see in my own work and the work of others that we do not break the rule as often as we probably should. The 'rules' of photography are not meant to be hard and fast so to speak, they are there as guidelines to help us make decisions.

My recent sabbatical from creating new work has been due in part to the fact that I felt I was in a rut of sorts, that I had reached an impasse creatively. To me, my work had become predictable and formulaic in many respects, so I decided to take a look at the work of others who have influenced my work over the course of my career, and the obvious place to start for me was at the beginning, with the one who first showed me the way. 

After this recent viewing of his work, I decided to take a close look at my own, to see where I might have made other, not necessarily better choices in composition, but also to help me possibly redefine my future work. What I found was that early in my career, I followed the rules fairly close while concentrating more on honing my technical skills. As the years passed, I began to deviate from the rules, but I found that I adhered to the rule of thirds more often than not. It was not until the last few years that I began to see a drastic deviation from this rule. What all of this told me was that the answer I was looking for was not in composition but elsewhere.

In the last few years, I have been creating works that often do not reflect the actual colors in the scene that was before me. I have used 'split-toning' quite a bit to create pieces of art, rather than images that were close to reality. This was a conscious decision on my part in an effort to break from the crowd. At times, my use of highly saturated colors often put me at odds with my own aesthetics, and I would look at an image and think to myself that I had gone over the top a little too much, but at the same time I would pull back from changing the result. This feeling was beginning to make me question the direction my work was taking and question whether or not I was really creating what I wanted. There was this nagging feeling that I had reached an impasse, that it was time to take stock, to ferret out my really deep personal reasons for why I was creating the art I was making. It was time to analyze my work from an aesthetic viewpoint and this would also give me an opportunity to question the validity of my work.

After much thought over the past few weeks, I wish I could tell you that I have had an epiphany. I have not. What I can tell you is that art for me is an ongoing evolution. When we question the validity of our own work, it only means that we are about to move in a new direction, a change that will either stay with us for a number of years, or disappear as a temporary bridge to what comes next. Without this evolution, our art becomes stagnant and devoid of life for us as individuals. With this in mind, I have made some conscious choices about how my work will look and be perceived in the future. When I return, and I will return, I hope that the new direction will continue to please some of you as much as I hope it will please my own sense of who I am as a photographic artist.

I will leave you all with an image I made last winter up in the Gloss Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma. The light colored material in the foreground is a thin layer of gypsum that rain has softened enough for grasses and small plants to push through. The fact that plants can grow amid a mineral that is a member of the halite family (salt) is a miracle in itself. As for any difference in previous work, I have retained some detail in shadows that I might normally allow to go black in past works in monochrome. I have also refrained from adding a bluish tint, something I have been fond of in my B&W landscapes.

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Until next time ...  


  1. Interesantísima reflexión sobre tu trabajo, Thomas ! Espero que estés de vuelta pronto y poder ver tu "epifanía" ;-)
    Un abrazo !

    1. ¡ Gracias tanto mi querida esperanza! A abrazo y beso para ti mi amiga :)

  2. Some artists go by rules they were taught, classic rules like the rule of thirds. Some artists create their own rules, teach them to others and create proteges of their work but never really find themselves. In the end, who can really tell us what our unique eye deems as noteworthy? Some artists grow and evolve, others sell their souls to a method that always works and get stuck in that rut. To me, if creating doesn't always uplift us spiritually and help us grow and brings us great satisfaction, then it's all for naught. As someone once said, "Its better to write for the self and have no audience, than to write for the audience and have no self. I love the black and white shot. I can see Ansel Adam's influence in you. His he started my love affair with landscape photography when I was young.

  3. As Picasso once wrote, "Learn the rules so that you may learn how to break them". I have lived by this 'mantra' for many years of my life where it concerns my art, both in music and photography. I almost always go with my gut instinct of what makes a good composition, and from there, a good work of art. It is never so much about sticking with reality, but always what the piece requires to bring it to life.

    Always enjoy hearing from you my friend. Thanks for the compliment on the image Lacey :)

  4. Outstanding capture Thomas. I always enjoy reading your words and the image is simply the icing on the cake. This icing is extraordinary ! It moves.