Avoiding cliches in landscape photography

I love landscape photography. It is an amazing feeling to capture the majesty and splendor of the world around us in a photograph.

Of course, thousands of other photographers have felt the same way over the years. And plenty of ’em are better photographers than me!

It is very easy to take the exact same snapshot as everyone else. Especially when it comes to beautiful, scenic locations and landscapes – The very thing that makes them so appealing to you, has almost definitely made them appealing to hundreds/thousands of other photographers over the years. The task of creating a unique photo is daunting – how does one find a distinguishing vision in a scene that has already been done thousands upon thousands of times?

Take for example, the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. It is a wonderful photo destination, the glacial rocks create an almost otherworldly landscape and the cutest of quaint little fishing villages surrounds it.

It is a spectacular landscape, wonderfully scenic –

and incredibly “over-photographed”

A quick flickr search reveals the following. (flickr search on “peggy’s cove lighthouse”. )

As one can see by the first few pages of the flickr results, it is quite beautiful and “photogenic” but one quickly gets tired of looking at essentially the same photo over and over… (not to put down any of those pictures, many of them are quite good, but it illustrates my point)

When I was at Peggy’s Cove I really wanted to get some nice photographs, however I also wanted to avoid the overused, “standard lighthouse shot”. This got me thinking about the technical elements of creating a good landscape photo and how to use them to create one’s own personal vision in a landscape, and hopefully avoid shooting the same shot over and over.

The following are just a few tips to hopefully help “break out” of the standardized landscape rut (we’ve all had ’em!).

(BTW, this is the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse shot that I got. Despite a few technical flaws, I think it works overall – Note the use of tips #1, #3 and #4 – I was actually flat on my stomach to shoot this)
click for larger version:

Now, without further ado:

1. Try a different angle. (aka don’t be afraid to get dirty!). standing straight with the camera at eye level is actually a rather “boring” perspective – especially when it comes to landscapes. It is not conducive to either a dramatic foreground or background, and gives no dynamic perspective. Try something different. Even something as simple as crouching down or standing up on something tall can give a different angle of view that creates a more dramtic shot. I frequently just flop down on the ground to get my camera almost on the ground to create a dramatic foreground to juxtapose the elements of foreground and background. This works especially well with a wide angle lens (see tip #4). On the other hand, in contrast to this, we have tip 2…

2. Think long. Landscapes don’t always = wide angle. Often a moderate tele or even a telephoto lens has the effect of “compressing” the scene visually. It also allows to focus on one dramatic element – not all landscapes have to be wide, sweeping vistas!

3. Use “frames” within the frame. Often including some elements around your main subject to “frame” it within the frame of the photo can create visual tension and interest in the scene. I particularly like this example:
Window to the Sea #2

I was doing seascapes on the rocky shout shore of Bermuda, and I was getting bored of the standard “waves crashing on the rocks” shots. I saw this eroded “slit” in the rocks and I really wanted to use it in a way. I tried a few shots of the rock face etc… but nothing really “worked” then I got the idea to put on a wide angle lens, and get right up close to the crack so I could see through it to the sea beyond, while still including the “frame” of the rock face, emphasizing the strong diagonal lines etc…

4. dont forget the foreground. Using a very wide angle lens is actually surprisingly difficult – with such a large field of view, it is easy for the composition to “lose focus”. Use the perspective distortion to your advantage – include a dramatic foreground element to “anchor” the composition. Because of the wide angle perspective distortion, the foreground elements become large, and provide a point of focus in the overall composition.

5. remember the basics. Standard “rules” of photography also apply – remember the rule of thirds, and don’t put the horizon dead center. Of course all these rules are just guidelines – do not hesitate to break any of them if the composition calls for it, but remember – they are called “rules” for a reason. Most of the time they will add to the photo.

Now go out and landscape!

6 thoughts on “Avoiding cliches in landscape photography”

  1. Thanks for sharing, and this post reminds me of the training programme hosted by DeWitt Jones, which main ideas are:
    Creativity is a matter of perspective.
    There’s always more than one right answer.
    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
    Learn to break the pattern.
    Reframe problems into opportunities.
    Train your technique.

  2. Hi there! I really appreciate your site…it’s definitely “up and coming” as it looks fairly new, right? I love blogs like yours, and I’m linking you up under my “getting schooled” section of my photo blog. I’ll be returning daily!

    Thanks for your insight…and I love flickr too! 😉

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