Intimate Landscape Photography

The term “Intimate Landscape Photography” pops up every now and then in the photographic community. I’ve been invited to contribute a guest-post to a Google+ community dedicated to this particular type of landscape & nature photography, offering my thoughts and take on the subject, and for my blog readers, I’m publishing the post here as well.

I’m putting the gallery with the example photos that I’ve chosen for the post up first, for those of you who are more into the photos than the words (that’s okay, don’t worry). The actual text follows below the gallery.

What are Intimate Landscapes?

The definitions probably differ from one photographer to the other, but to me, Intimate Landscapes omit the grand vista, and instead focus on smaller portions of the scenery – yet not down to the level of minute details and close-ups. They’re in-between these two. One might say that they show “extractions” from a place, which are often rendered more or less anonymous due to the fact that clues to the location are left away from the photograph. As such, they are perhaps the purest form of capturing the essence of nature’s beauty in a photograph.

Personally, I find that photographs where no sky is in the frame give me the most accurate feeling of an “Intimate Landscape”. Sometimes, this brings the photographs close to abstractions.

Why pursue Intimate Landscape photography?

When I first became more interested in photography, I was still living in Germany, and the cultured landscapes lacked the feeling of remote, wild and rugged lands that I was seeing in the landscapes photos that I was longing to make – so I focused on the “little scenes” (as I used to call them back then) instead.

Also, I’ve always been fascinated by water, lakes and ponds with calm surfaces, and how the landscape around it would reflect in it, or rivers and creeks and how they find their way around rocks and narrows. I found that, to really get to the essence of what attracted my eye to these scenes, I had to leave the “distractions” of the larger scenery around it away.

And last not least, as popular landscape photography seems to turn more and more into a repeated celebration of colorful sunsets and sunrises in iconic landscapes (I wrote about that recently in my post “Worn Out Beauty“), intimate landscapes provide a way to truly express our own photographic style and vision.

Are Intimate Landscapes more challenging to photograph?

To me, they are. It’s true for every photograph that whatever is in your frame will become part of the photo as a whole. But when photographing a grand vista or iconic place at the right time and in the right conditions, flaws in the frame may not get as much attention – a fiery sunset, rocks aglow in last light, majestic mountains, all those may very well serve as (beneficial) distractions.

With intimate landscapes, we’re looking at much smaller excerpts of a landscape – putting the viewer closer will draw more attention to every detail in the photo. It’s all the more important then that the photographic composition is balanced, the image borders and corners are harmonious, and to establish visual relationships, organize the composition by working with design elements like lines, patterns, or curves.

How do I photograph Intimate Landscapes?

For the more quiet and contemplative nature and expression of intimate landscapes, a strong point of interest in the frame may actually not always be necessary, and seemingly “empty” scenes may work just as well. Having some key element in the photo will still be helpful to make a more compelling photograph.

I find it most helpful to work in even light, which means at dawn or dusk, in the shade, or on overcast days. Harsh light and strong contrast, dappled light and deep shadows may limit the impact of intimate landscapes scenes – they could distract from what you actually want to show. On the other hand, fog, mist and even rain, usually considered to be detrimental to photography, can actually be quite helpful, to isolate your photography subject in a scene, obscuring or entirely hiding elements that are further away.

I don’t have a preferred lens for intimate landscape photos. One might think that, to “extract” a more intimate scene from a place, a longer lens may be helpful (like a 70-200mm telezoom) but I find that my most commonly used lens is a standard zoom in the 24-something range. Longer focal lengths make it possible to compress the perspective, enhancing abstraction, if that’s what you desire. In forest or canyons though, it’s easily possible to create intimate landscape photographs even with wide angle lenses.

In general, when photographing water and foliage, glare and reflections can be a problem, so a polarizing filter to remove or at least reduce them is always good to have.

The preferred “even light” conditions combined with a polarizer most likely mean that it will be necessary to use a tripod quite often, because exposure times easily reach one second or more, even during the daytime. And you should use a tripod, anyway! It will help with precise framing and control over your composition.

Thoughts? Comments?

Let me hear them – just leave a reply below and I’ll get back to you.

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All images and content © by Alexander S. Kunz, unless otherwise noted. No re-use without express written permission. Most images are available as prints and for commercial licensing. Please contact me if you’re interested. Prints and licensed images are NOT watermarked, of course.

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