Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up?
I was at in Munich yesterday, munching some bratwurst and drinking a beer in a place where they had a huge TV monitor on the wall that was playing a slideshow of landscape photos. I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it, as the photos were really beautiful. You know that type of photo: amazing locations, wonderful light, colorful sunsets, starry skies, waterfalls, ocean waves, tropical beaches, brilliant colors. Most of them revealed a mastery of technique, accurate choice of location, delightful composition, masterful post-processing. Each one of those photos could have won a contest, get printed on a calendar or poster, graced the pages of a magazine or got a million likes on social networks. There was even a photo that was almost identical to Peter Lik’s Phantom, the most expensive photo ever sold.
And yet, after having seen the slideshow roll around three or four times, I was disgusted and wanted to throw my jug of beer to the screen. I even contemplated giving up landscape photography and picking up some other genre. That much beauty had left me numb and a feeling not unlike how you feel after a binge of eating chocolate or sweets.
Part of the problem, I think, was that at a time and age when everyone can have a decent camera for not much money, when photographic education is cheap or free, when it is much easier to travel to awesome locations than it used to be, almost everything has already been photographed in the best light. How many other beautiful photos of Moraine Lake or Antelope Canyon do we have to see? Or of Mesa Arch at sunrise (yes, I too am guilty of the latter)? I made a resolution the other day: if I ever visit Antelope Canyon, I will take a camera with one fixed lens and take one photo, just to be able to say: I’ve photographed inside Antelope Canyon, and then switch the camera off and take it all in with my eyes.
Another problem is that I am seeing a growing trend of conformism in landscape photography. I could not recognize any one of those photos and tell who was their author, but at the same time they could have been attributed to any one of the many photographers who are very popular on social media. There is this prevalent style in landscape photography that aims to capture the viewer with dramatic light, strong composition and bright, saturated colors. I can definitely see why people like it, but I don’t like it anymore.
The third and final problem is that all those beautiful images didn’t speak to my soul. It’s as if, at some point, I realized that what the photographer was thinking of, when he pressed the shutter and when he processed the image, was “How can I wow the viewer, get more accolades online, and make more sales?”