A closer look at capturing nature’s smaller details
Landscape photography is commonly recognised as depicting scenes of grand landscapes and wide sweeping vistas. It is the wow factor these images possess, that catapulted this genre of photography into the mainstream at the advent of social media.
However, over the past few years there has been a gradual shift occurring in the landscape photography community towards a different style of nature photography that is providing many with a greater sense of fulfilment and joy in their craft.
Small or ‘intimate’ scenes of the landscape are gaining more attention on social media as an increasing number of landscape photographers begin to experiment with this sub-genre. This article delves deeper into this style of landscape photography, the reasons why it has become increasingly popular and how it may change your relationship with photography and nature.
What is an intimate landscape photograph?
The term ‘intimate landscapes’ has been around for many years and goes as far back as the early pioneers of landscape photography.
An intimate landscape distinguishes itself from a classic grand landscape scene by revealing details about a place that most would often overlook.
They are often photographed with a narrow field of view in order to isolate a particular subject and reduce distracting elements in a scene.
Intimate landscape scenes allow the audience to experience a place up-close and personal as if they were standing in the landscape rather than viewing it from afar. This closeness allows a photographer to reveal more about a place and tell a more in-depth story.
Why photograph intimate scenes?
Intimate scenes have commonly been used as a way to convey a deep connection with the landscape. Spending long periods of time in one place or making return visits has the advantage of revealing certain details that may not have been apparent upon first inspection. I personally have found these scenes will often only begin to reveal themself after a second or third visit to a location.
This style of photography provides an opportunity to create unique and meaningful work that is also unlikely to be replicated. It forces a photographer to slow down, take in their surrounds and be truly present in the landscape.
This is one of the key fundamentals in learning to ‘see’ in nature and to find compelling intimate landscape scenes.
Photographing the intimate landscape also provides an avenue for artistic expression. It provides the photographer with the ability to offer a glimpse into how they see the natural world and in doing so can begin to shape their own unique style.
The approach to photographing intimate scenes is commonly regarded as a ‘slowing down’ in nature. It requires a certain level of curiosity and exploration to begin identifying these types of scenes. Taking the time to slow down when in the field, and be truly present in your surrounds will help reveal certain details and opportunities for intimate landscape images.
Spending time getting to know a location will also help photographers gain a stronger understanding of a place and help with telling a more interesting and unique story.
Finding an interesting part of the grander landscape may be a great place to start if you are used to photographing traditional wide-angle scenes. Focus the attention of the scene around an interesting part of the landscape that initially caught your attention. It may be the way the light hits a certain part of the landscape or a tree sitting alone on a mountain ridgeline.
Starting to see more abstractly is another great way of identifying and creating intimate landscapes. Identifying key graphical elements in nature such as line, shape, texture and pattern will help you see things more conceptually and allow you to utilise nature’s naturally found design qualities to compose intimate scenes.
There are a number of things you may wish to consider when composing intimate landscapes.
The arrangement of elements within a scene.
Where you have multiple elements in a scene it’s important to consider the arrangement of these elements. Will the elements be arranged evenly across the scene or will they be grouped together on one side? If they are grouped together on one side of the frame is there another element or subject on the other side to balance out the scene?
The sense of closeness of an intimate landscape scene often means that the subject will fill most if not all of the frame. It is therefore critical to consider what will be included and more importantly what will be excluded from the composition. Consider avoiding distracting elements around the edge of the frame that may pull the viewers eye away from the main subject. Aim to have a frame that helps keep the viewer’s eye on the main subject.
Consider your vision for the scene and what exactly it is you wish to convey. Whether it be a concept, idea or even an emotion, use your unique perspective and knowledge to create an expressive piece of work that tells your story.
Lens choice is a critical tool in finding and photographing intimate landscape scenes. If you are used to photographing grand scenes then you will need to train your eye initially to see these smaller scenes and begin noticing the details in nature. Using the right focal range will help you identify these scenes in the early stages when your eyes are becoming familiar with photographing intimate landscapes.
When exploring dense landscapes like a forest, I have found that looking through the viewfinder with a midrange or tele-photo lens and slowly scanning the landscape has been an effective way of isolating scenes and visualising potential compositions.
Typically, intimate scenes have a narrow field of view when compared with a traditional wide-angle scene, therefore any mid-range or tele-photo zoom is going to be your go-to lens choice for these types of photographs.
A mid-range zoom such as a 24-70mm or 24-105mm will be a great lens for intimate photographs in forests or where the subject is relatively close to you and you wish to eliminate distracting elements such as a sky or foreground element from the scene.
A telephoto lens such as a 70-200mm or a 100-400mm will give you optimal reach for zooming in on a particular section of a distant landscape that you wish to bring to the viewer’s attention. They can also be useful for scenes where the subject is still close and a mid-range zoom is too wide for eliminating distracting elements from the scene.
One of the biggest drawcards to photographing intimate scenes is the availability of shooting under a variety of different lighting conditions. Unlike grand landscape scenes which are generally restricted to the golden hours of the day, intimate landscape scenes can benefit from a range of different lighting conditions.
Not to discount the importance of light, it is still a crucial aspect to photographing scenes in nature, however, the key is to knowing which type of light will best suit a particular type of scene.
For example, if you are photographing abstract patterns of reflections in a river you would require direct sunlight and the position of the sun would also be a crucial factor.
On the other hand, if you are photographing sand dunes and your vision is to convey a sense of calm then you may choose to photograph them under the soft light of twilight.
Personally, I have found flat light to be most conducive with intimate landscapes as it’s a soft light allowing details and colours to be captured naturally without any type of colour cast. Flat light like on an overcast day allows for photographing during the day and is generally low in contrast providing an even and consistent light across the entire scene.
Experiment & Take Risks
Photographing intimate landscapes can be a challenging transition if you are only used to photographing grand landscape scenes. Much of the risk is mitigated with these types of scenes as they usually have a high probability of success due to their inherent nature of being grandiose and awe inspiring and have probably been photographed many times before.
Whilst no image should be considered to be a ‘risk’ we live in a world where likes and comments define the success and popularity of an image. This unhealthy relationship with social media has pigeonholed many people into shooting for popularity rather than for themselves and therefore rarely choosing to experiment outside the parameters of what is deemed ‘popular’. This is at the detriment to their artistic growth.
Switching your mindset away from this way of thinking will allow you the freedom to experiment with a range of new and creative opportunities.
Be open to experimenting with scenes that may not be considered ‘popular’ but have caught your attention and that you find interesting. It may just be that others see what you see and take a keen interest in your new, more unique style.
It’s also important when beginning to shoot these types of scenes to become comfortable with failure. These scenes may not always result in award winning images; however, it will be your failures that you will learn from the most and put you on the path to success.