Why Landscapes? Do you ever wonder why people fall in love with landscape photography? Or why you might give it a try? Why spend time on this genre?
The thoughts surrounding the answer to this question have been swirling in my head for the longest time; months, a year, maybe more. It’s a question I have asked myself at various times over the last couple years and reflected upon.
After all, we are all busy people with so many choices and so little time. Life is short and precious and every moment matters. With 4 young kids, there is never enough time and I am always questioning how I use it.
Sometimes it makes me wonder why I spend so much time on photography. I remember distinctly thinking about this in the fall of 2015. Shortly afterwards, we had an incident with my youngest boy, 4 years old at the time, where he crashed his bike and one of his top front teeth. He had to have it pulled because the tooth cracked down the middle up into the root. In an instant his baby smile was goneTwo days prior, we had been at the park during my middle boy’s soccer practice. I brought my camera along and captured my twins while they ran around doing their thing. One of my favorite images was of my boy in a full on genuine smile. And right there…that’s why I take those pictures of them. I was so happy to have a last real shot of his baby smile in the midst of his bike accident.
But landscapes…well, then, why landscapes. That’s not capturing my kids fleeting moments. And most of the time I’m not even with them when I’m shooting landscapes. I spent some time reflecting on this and the short answer, I realized is that they are good for me physically, mentally and emotionally. And there are several reasons for this.
1. They get me out in nature - Shooting landscapes forces you to get outside and find the beauty around you. Sometimes this means discovering places right in front of your eyes that you just never noticed were beautiful before. Other times this means exploring new places and getting out on a hike or nature walk. Even if I don’t come back with images that excite me, I’m always better for having gotten out in the fresh air. It also pushes me to explore new places that I might not have discovered otherwise. Students in my workshop, The World Around You frequently comment that they visit or discover places they had never been before in order to practice their landscapes during class.
2. They lead me to see the world in new ways - Not only does landscape photography push me to explore new places, but it gives me a push to get out during those times of day that we are often holed up inside, such as sunrise, sunset and nighttime. Because it can be more challenging to get out at those times, we often don’t in our daily lives. But since these are the times when the most interesting light can be found, landscape photography pushes us to set an alarm in the morning rather than sleep in, or to stay out for (and even past) sunset. Or it leads us to find a dark place at night and observe the stars. I have seen more sunrises thanks to shooting landscapes than I ever had before. I have gone on winter hikes and seen the milky way over the Tetons at 4:30 in the morning. Often a little physical discomfort is involved, whether pushing through sleepiness or shivering in the cold, but it is almost always worth it. And the adrenaline high when the LCD screen captures what you saw, is indescribable.
3. Shooting landscapes is like therapeutic meditation - Getting out to shoot landscapes clears my mind and soothes my worries and anxiety. When I get out and set up to shoot a landscape scene, I find that my mind is freed of my worries and distractions. I become completely focused on the scene around me and setting my camera to achieve my vision. Watching the sun come up over the horizon or dramatic clouds change as they move across the sky becomes entrancing and my mind and body are freed from the tension of anxiety as I focus on capturing the wonder of nature. For that time, all that matters is freezing those moments in front of me and in finding creative ways of capturing the beauty unfolding.
4. They give me a genre of my art that is all for me - I love photographing my kids and capturing all their childhood moments, but I love that I have a genre that is all about me and my art. It does not rely on my kids’ cooperation, them being cute or little, wearing the right clothes, or anything else. I love that now and in the future, I will always have the world at my fingertips to shoot. Photographing the kids can come and go and change depending on their stage of life, but I know I can have my landscape photography outside of them.
5. The world is my canvas - Sometimes I get frustrated living in the Chicago suburbs. I’m a bit far from the city to make it easy accessible, especially at ideal landscape light times, there is no beach and no mountains. But, there is beauty to be found everywhere if you look for it at the right times. Prairies, forests, lakes and ponds, oceans, mountains, deserts and cities. Endless opportunities and even a single location changes dramatically in different weather conditions and seasons. I love finding new locations but I also love the challenge of trying to find something new in the same location.
There is also so many fun creative techniques and opportunities to show your voice through landscape photography in your processing. While my goal is to portray the mood of the scene as it was, there really is an opportunity to push the scene to reach your vision that is so fun if you enjoy post processing and sometimes, I can really lose myself in that process. Processing landscapes is just FUN!!
6. To transport me right back in time to those moments - You know how you look at a picture of your child from when they were little and your heart melts remembering that moment? Well, landscapes can be the same way. When you truly feel like you captured the feeling of that moment out in nature, the photograph can bring you right back. That feeling of peacefulness in the open air, of being in awe as a sunrise unfolds or storm clouds develop over the mountains or sea, can come right back as I edit an image.
They allow me to capture a place that is special to me, or one I have visited but may never go back to, and remember it just as I experienced it. The way I capture it or process it may not be the way someone else would have done so, but the image represents the way I saw it and felt in that moment.
This is one of my very favorite images EVER...capturing the warmth of our family home my grandparents owned all my life and the magic of the nature that surrounds this place represented by the milky way. The home was sold this fall and my heartbreak is indescribable. But I'm so grateful for my experiences and that I was able to capture this and many other images of their property & our experiences there the last few years.
7. Landscapes CAN and DO include people - I love that my practice of landscapes alone helps me to capture my children in the environment the way that I want to. Shooting landscapes makes me really look at every area of my frame in regards to composition and what is included in my frame, whether my depth of field works for my vision, and whether there is detail in all the highlights and shadows where I need it. Landscapes have pushed my practice of both technical and creative choices consistently and made me a very intentional shooter far more than I was before.
#8 would be the way they have improved my photography overall, but that's a whole separate article!
Ultimately, shooting landscapes allows me to capture the magic and awe that is our world. Not only does it get me out to see some of the more wondrous beauty of the world, like sunrise over the Tetons, or the most glorious fall colors in the forest, but it also has taught me to see the extraordinary in the more simple beauty of my local surroundings where a lone tree, curve of a path or simple reflection could make a stunning subject.
Kristen Ryan is a landscape and fine art photographer residing in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. All images can be purchased in the Fine Art Store. Kristen leads ladies landscape photography retreats in the Tetons, Chicago, and the Canadian Rockies, offers private mentoring and teaches an online landscape photography workshop twice a year.