Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up?

A curmudgeonly look at the current state of landscape photography.

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?”

Screenshot from 500px.com

Popular today on 500px, landscapes category

All of this would not be a problem and I could limit myself to moan the lack of discernment of whomever put that slideshow together, but if I look at what is popular online, this is exactly what I see. Each one of those photos, if published on 500px, would have gone straight to one of the first pages of the popular photos of the day, landscape category. Don’t get me wrong, all the photos on there and those in this screenshot are beautiful and I am not here to badmouth their authors. But many of them, with a few exceptions, are shooting what the public likes and in a way that the public will appreciate. Peter Lik is truly great at this: shooting exactly what sells and employing exceptional marketing skill to make millions. I envy him and everyone who manages to have even a hundredth of his commercial success. Life must be great up there.

To be honest, much of what I see everyday on 500px is much, much better than the pictures on that slideshow and I realize that I am being too harsh here. But then again, I don’t see any of the photographer’s emotions and mood transpire through some of these images and, to me, this is not art. I don’t want to do a digression about the definition of art but, in a nutshell, I believe it is art if the artist puts himself inside his work, not if somebody pays money to hang it on a wall.

Mesa Arch Sunburst

Mesa Arch Sunburst

So, now that I’ve come to this realization, what do I do? This is not a rant against other photographers, it is a reflection on where I want to be with my photography. Am I content with just being a curmudgeon on my not very popular blog, hoping that controversy will bring me traffic? I don’t want to be that guy. Maybe I should go looking for great landscape photography somewhere else, far from the online world of followers and favorites. Maybe the great masters of the past can quench my thirst.

Who are the great, contemporary masters of landscape that do not follow this kind of mannerism and do not play to the lowest common denominator of mass market taste?

And what do I do with my own photography? I started thinking of limiting myself to shooting landscapes in black and white, to eschew assertive compositions in favor of a plainer and more relaxed style, to blur details intentionally, to employ ambiguity as a technique that is the opposite of the extreme clarity that is sought in the prevalent style. But if I do so, will I become a mannerist myself and end up consciously choosing a style because of the effect I think it will have on people, not because it is part of me?

So many tough questions. The only thing I know for sure is that I didn’t think being an artist would have been so difficult.



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Comments 147

    1. As a trained art teacher artist and photographer I have learned to shoot what moves me and not what I think other people will like.promoting my work I find most difficult as I don’t like the limelight.we have been brainwashed with high tech cameras and overworked photography .it is difficult to see where photography is going- personally I can’t wait to own a Fuji xt-1 graphite silver with just 3 lenses and get back freedom of old school where I make decisions and not the camera . Thank you Don Graham

  1. Interesting views, Ugo. However, I would like to say that oft shot locations have been as you say shot to death, but NOT by you. Why don’t you instead look at this as an opportunity to bring out your own personal vision at an icon, or some place like Morraine Lake? It’s a fun challenge, and something that I try to do 😉 Just my 2c

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  2. Ugo, interesting that I (not a professional photographer as you, but a perpetual viewer of wonder and beauty) have come to the same conclusions as you lately. So many over Photo-shopped images that I pass them over in a microsecond, the same things duplicated over & over…
    Your eyes and those of the camera have seen and recorded so much – finding a fresh perspective must be difficult.
    One of my favorite Photographers happens to be here from Gainesville, Florida, Jerry Uelsmann, & I cherish the one photo of his that I own (which I feel captures my Soul.)
    I wish you fulfillment on your journey.
    Your avid follower,
    Cynthia Bush •~♤

    1. I love Uelsmann and have followed him for 30+ years … I so wish I had some prints (foolish me). He’s in a league of his own with his montages … no one comes close. He’s not really a landscape photographer per se imo though, and his images are conceptual.

  3. I asked the some very similar questions when HDR became the prevalent mode of photography. Aren’t we losing the art of taking a good photo if all we’re doing is letting software make the picture “perfect?” Is photography dead and digital artistry taking it’s place?

    Perhaps it’s because I first learned photography with a 35mm and a darkroom, keeping to those tools until 2004 or so when I bought my first dSLR. Still, I try very hard to capture the images in camera using post processing in a limited fashion. It may be why I can’t compete with the “big boys.” Who knows?

    A year or so ago I got into a discussion (on G+) with Jay Gould about some photographers obsessive use of HDR. He was one and he may have taken my point of view personally, but I didn’t care. He was adamant that a photographer has to give the people what they want or they will die penniless. And that may be true for fine art or portraits, but as an artistic medium?

    I don’t know … Perhaps I’m too much of a purist. I’ve been thinking about dusting off my old 35mm and giving it a go again, if only for fun – to get back to the basics, so to speak. Of course, I have no idea where I’d develop the film these days.

    But yes, to your point, Ugo: the ease of access and use of modern photography has created a stale playing field. Brilliant colors are easily come by, unique landscapes are only a short walk from the car to the best photo location away. Photographers, like photography, follow trends as each of us tries to re-create or improve on other’s work that inspires us. Are we artists or are we just the button-pushers? As artists it’s our responsibility to push the edge of our medium. As button-pushers … well, maybe we eat regularly.

    Can we be both? That is the question. I don’t have any artistic ability what-so-ever. I can’t play an instrument or even read music; I don’t paint any better than an ape (and sometimes not even as good); I can’t draw, sculpt or work wood. Photography is my artistic outlet and while I may not be the best or even good, it’s something I need in my life to force my mind into using the other hemisphere.

    Thanks for the post and the chance to rant. 😉

  4. This has been troubling myself for a long time too. Finally a year ago, I started shooting things the way I wanted too. No more work just for social media attention. Now my work gets very little online praise, but I feel satisfaction from the click of the shutter to the final print. Its been very liberating to slow down, and make photographs that have meaning behind them.

    Its nice to know that other photographers such as yourself are looking at photography in a deeper way. Keep it up and don’t get discouraged.

  5. Great article, Ugo. I put at the top of my Arcanum group’s forum these words: “Are you willing to sacrifice who you want others to think you are to be YOURSELF and realize your full potential?” That’s the hardest part for most people, being willing to genuinely see and share the world through their _own_ eyes, instead of what will be ‘acceptable’ to others. It’s the point where unique vision, and greatness, can actually begin.

    1. I have a competitive nature. I belong to a camera club and we have frequent competitions, where we submit photos and have a judge critique them and give them a score. When I am photographing or processing an image I am conscious of what I perceive that the judges will like. This method of addressing my work affects my ability to grow any individual style. I have trouble breaking away from these perceived definers of what makes a good photograph. I have read many photography books and article that define what makes a good image composition. I know most of the “rules” of composition. And I am definitely hooked on posting to the social medias for self gratification. It is very difficult for me to submit images for competition or social media based on just what I view as a nice image. It’s tough to break this mold and suppress the need to produce images that others will like and just produce images that I like. Am I a few bricks short of a full load? lol. Ed Lindquist

  6. Keep things honest and tasteful and your style will be timeless. That overprocessed style will reach a point of saturation where people will yearn for photos without fuzzyness, stretched peaks or excessive colour. As you mention, people with any sense of art look for images with a story or message. Not just a ‘here’s my super green punchbowl falls with blurred highlights and immersive wide angle perspective’.

    All that being said, making it as a pro landscape photographer without conforming to some extent, isn’t easy.

    My personal hate is magenta skies. Those slightly warm clouds of pre-sunset (or post-sunrise) light are a thing of the past. So many photographers think the clouds should be that Adamus magenta. Absolutely awful!

    Stick to your train of thought and look for new takes on iconic landscapes and you’re on the right path. Thanks for a good read!

  7. Ugo, this is a thoughtful post and I share your views in many ways. Our modern fast food culture is responsible for much of the bland sameness that spoiled your lunch in Munich. Quick convenience and a formula for predictable sameness are everywhere in music, fashion, food and art.

    The problem with this conformity is that it’s so darn popular, as your example from 500px illustrates so well. Critics will often point to similar images as their proof that landscape photography has become a technical exercise that is ultimately boring, anonymous and lifeless. Quite simply, it fails to hold our attention. Many proponents of the landscape genre still point to and discuss the landmark 1975 exhibition “New Topographics”
    Frank Gohlke was included in that exhibition and his 2009 book “Thoughts on Landscape” provides some perspectives on his own practice.

    I think landscape photography is still a valid genre. Even if I didn’t, I would probably still make images that try to convey a sense of place and my personal feelings about being in that place. The kind of landscape work I most most enjoy seeing is characterized not by single grand images but by a body of work or a series that describes a human place in the land and also portrays something of the person who was there making those images. For me, it’s usually quiet work that rewards the lingering view. I would be very surprised to see that kind of work on the “Most Popular” page at 500px or the big screen slide show in your Munich pub.

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    Just to be clear, my beef is not just with over-processing and HDR. In fact, none of the images I saw that night bore the “signature” HDR look that was so prevalent some time ago and the post-processing was, in most cases, done with great ability and attention. My dislike actually stems from the fact that the processing is done to appeal to the most obvious and common taste, maybe.

    1. Ugo, I can relate to so much of what you say, but you really bother me with what appears to be an elitist attitude. Why is it that the art world in general seems to think that the “masses” as you refer to them are incapable of enjoying beauty in art, or anything they might view as beautiful can’t possibly be art because they are somehow intellectually incapable of appreciating real art. Your attitude is revealed in your last sentence where you state, “the processing is done to appeal to the most obvious and common taste.” The inference being that “common taste” is of a lesser intellect or value than yours. If one of my images can touch the heart strings of 10,000 of those with “common taste” though the whole art world sneer at my work I know I will have accomplished more than 90% of those whose work, if appreciated at all, touches only a few hundred “intellectuals”. Whose work has brought the most value to society? Mine or the intellectuals? If you can’t find a more expressive way than the thousands before you to photograph the icons of our landscape (and who of us can) then make your own path into the more common landscape and find something there that speaks to your heart and capture that message and share it. Maybe even the “masses” will recognize your heart in the image and encourage your spirit to shoot again.

      1. I didn’t think of that when reading the article, but I do see your point. One thing I’d like to remind you of, though, is popular music. How many edm artists have released a track that has been played milions of times on the radio and in clubs, only to be forgotten a few months later? All of these short time successes have a lot of things in common, such as the simple chord progressions and the predictable drops, whereas some artists, producing music that shows completely unseen aspects from a music theory point of view, are only appreciated by people who understand more about music than the average partying 20 year old. Sure, the 4 chord artist might make about 10000 times more money than the other artist, but in my opinion that doesn’t mean that we should abandon beautifully complex music. And I think we could apply the same principle to photography: Don’t remove all originality from your pictures just to appeal to the masses.

    2. Having been a potter for 20 some years before turning to photography I have heard variations on this conversation many times over the years. My conclusion as a potter was that people are crows and will always go for the bright and shiny. They aren’t innately endowed with taste and understanding of the artistic process. Most of them aren’t even interested. There was a popular raku glaze a few years ago that if put on a pot of the least quality it would certainly sell, while people would completely ignore another with grace and form of the highest quality. I’m not a great photographer but the more I’ve become involved in photography the more I see the similarities and have come to the point where I rarely offer my work for sale and am considering retiring my website and social media presence. The pressure to conform to prevailing style and expectations or wither is disheartening and stifles creativity.

  9. Great article and many very good points… if not entirely new 😉 Many of us struggle with the internal debate of how to be genuine in our artistic voice, rather than conform to the ‘standard’ desire out there; and this point has been made before. Still, it continues to be a relevant point to debate.

    There’s only one caveat I see to your reasoning about others, Ugo: you are seemingly assuming that the photographers are editing/processing the photographs in order “to appeal to the most obvious and common taste, maybe.” (sic on your last comment) Well… if it is the most obvious and common taste, I think it is quite possible that many photographers edit that way simply because they fall within the majority of people that DO have that common, obvious taste.

    In other words, the fact that someone creates a piece with a particular mood, look and/or feel, does not mean that one is creating something out of his or her direct desire, in the hopes of pleasing a crowd out there whether to sell or just to get “social media appreciation”.

    I think the most relevant points to debate are the ones about the photographic vision that we have these days. Starting with the one of the masses. And how it can be improved (if at all). Questions like “WHY does a certain photographic taste is common to the masses?” And “Is that a bad thing to have? Or can it be improved? Can we do something about it? Can we ‘educate’ the masses about photographic culture at all?” Etc.

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      You make some good points, Miguel.

      In the end, I don’t want this rant to be seen as just a rant against the prevailing trend in the industry. Many have done this and it would be boring to keep repeating it.

      What this is is a call for help: Now that I’ve decided to move away from what I don’t like anymore, what do I do?

      1. You do what your heart and soul tell you to, I’d venture.

        As long as you do not depend on selling photography for a living — many photographers out there do depend on it, so they ‘must’ take good notice of what the buyers like and want… if they want to eat, that is — then what stops you from doing EXACTLY what you want and like in your photography? Whether that means doing what the majority does… or 100% different, or anywhere in between.

        So the answer to your question is: if you moved away from what you don’t like… do what you like instead! ;)))

        Unless your question is really about “what do I like?”… in which case I’d say that’s the first thing you need to find out.

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      2. Your comments have relevance to many, including me. I have no more desire to sell images. To me photography the photography of nature, usually broad landscapes, is a lifelong passion and a way to loose myself for hours (while keeping out of my wife’s hair!). My escape; my mantra.

        I’m not an artist, but an escapist, and my photography is my tool to escape. Popularity, sale-ability, number of “likes”, galleries knocking at my door isn’t the goal. Seeing the wonder of nature, through my prints, is enough. Wanting more has only brought grief. Lucky to be alive, afford the time to nurture one of my true passions, and to see such wonders is enough. Greed never helped me, and shedding it frees me. I guess I’m just saying, enjoy your journey: do not lament that your choice does not receive the accolades of others.

        Just my $0.02…

  10. I am a visual learner and I too believe there has been an overall flow to what is considered popular in today’s culture. I know myself fit many of the contemporary trends you speak of, but I am curious. What style(s) would you personally feel break the mold? Minimalism? Black and white? Intimate landscapes? If you could supply a few examples of what you constitute as great photos outside of the norm, I feel my own photography, as well as others, could learn a lot and even utilize the style to our benefit.

  11. I’ll add my few cents on the topic, and I’ll see how my friends will react when I share this post.
    But basically my thought is – there are only 2 ways you can really measure success of landscape photography image nowadays:
    1. You are a professional selling pictures and your shot was purchased, maybe even a few times. This really shows that someone liked your work so much they even payed you.
    2. You are non-selling professional, and you got to the top of 500px.
    Seriously. How else would you say that all the effort you have put to getting to that perfect location, waiting for that perfect light, building that perfect composition to the liking of your eye, getting back, processing it accurately, that it was really worth it? Well, maybe you are that good so you get satisfaction only by shooting and never showing pictures to anyone. But most likely you aren’t.

    Most of us aren’t payed for landscapes. Some are, but most aren’t. It takes a lot of money and effort to make good images. So if you are on the first page of 500px with a landscape – it says that you just did good, and those 5-7 years you have put to learning your gear, training your eye to see better compositions, money on photography gear and touristic equipment, other corresponding things you probably had to do, actually traveling to other locations – all this means something not only to you, but for those who liked your picture.

    For me all these amazing pictures on the top 500px (aside of those that were just voted-up by bots) – it says that there are some guys out there that take landscape photography very seriously. And me not being with them on the first page means that I just need to try harder, that I have yet to learn something.

    Now, my thoughts are actually built on the notion that all these top pictures weren’t really painted in photoshop, like I know some guys do – they just paint a generic yellowish sunset to something stunningly amazing. There must be some definition between images that have been only carefully blended and to reflect the real nature event and photoshop matte-painted collage colorized stuff. Sadly, by just looking at 2 pictures you can’t say which one is real.
    But yea, that’s a thing I can only hope to be true. Some of the top shots are probably no longer a photograph, but some form of digital art.

    And the ‘soul’ behind the image. Why do you think that there was no soul put? A guy had to travel to a distant location, get to the perfect spot, wait for the light, make a composition, process everything. He probably had a few hundreds of pictures of the same mountain or spot, but only a single image out all of them became popular. It’s easier in USA, when you can almost drive to that perfect spot, but with other countries it is much more difficult to get that shot.
    ‘Soul’ is something a viewer puts to an image, not the author. Something a viewer thinks about when seeing a picture, something he feels. And for me – landscape photograph should just bring the viewer to that exact spot in location and time when event occurred.

    1. In my mind, your comment Anton, is the exact reason why I have changed the way I photograph. The constant quest for praise and empty social media love is rampant in todays world of photography. Yet most photographers forget to question why. What is my message and what do I want to show the world. I have had my landscape work in magazines, sold plenty of prints, and have been on the first page of 500px, yet I still share Ugo’s feelings. Once the photographer makes the viewer think about the photograph, burns that photograph in the viewers mind, that is when an image becomes timeless. I have seen the first page of 500px hundreds of times, and I cannot recall a single photograph. Yet the work of Edward Burtynski, who has a message embedded in his beautiful landscape images, are constantly an inspiration.

      1. I don’t get why it always needs to be The Message. Is the more Message you put to the image the better? Then just shoot with a pinhole camera, there always A Message in those images. You just need to figure that message out yourself.
        I’ve seen 500px to page numerous times, and I can name probably about 10 guys who’s images are always memorable, even though I’ve got no idea if they had some ‘message’ to say.

        You are not the 2nd type I was talking about, not amateur landscape photographer who has no means to measure his success and effort – you sell prints and your pictures are in magazines – that is a success already. The only reason you might want to be on 500px top is to get more clients.

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  12. Amen twenty times over. And a few Hail Marys thrown in. What I would suggest is to try to identify some landscape photographers who’s work you do like, and which you feel has more creative ambition to it than getting likes on 500px. And then work out why, and what makes them different.

    And then please, please let us know!

  13. That’s What you’re supposed to do. Writers write for their audience too. I loathe it, but it’s true. I prefer macro photography but unless it’s all feathers, flowers, bugs or edited with vintage colors where your blacks are grays it’s shit to the “audience” . My abstract macros don’t do very well though they are among my personal favorites.

  14. Whether we like it or not, we are the product of the many different sources of information we go through each day, perhaps at a subconscious level we are taking all these bits of information, bit of styles of editing, yeah, even locations so it is normal that they all look alike.

    I follow a fair share of landscape photographers and I see their photos every day, so it is only normal that my eye get trained to see certain compositions, certain edit styles and somehow mix them all in my head when I am in the field composing, editing and sharing.

    The thing is, he is right about one thing, seems like the spaces for photographing are limited somehow (which is a terrible joke), all successful photographers seem to go to the exact same places, I am pretty sure if I go to your photos I will find the same Iceland cascades as I have seen all top landscape photographers shot, and that is ok but then, we can’t help to notice that those photographers have their own photo tours on which they go to the same places and teach in turns to many aspiring landscape photographers how to take the exact same picture.

    I joke with my friends that on Kirkjufoss and Seljalandsfoss there’s probably marks on the ground on which people need to accommodate their tripods for the “classic” shot. So, not to attack the messenger but seriously what the hell is he expecting the result to be? If everyone goes to the same locations and get the same tutorials on the web from the same successful photographers, how can there possibly be a different outcome? Not only that, but look at facebook, the same landscape photographers that make it big all the time on 500px they post here on all the same photo pages that share the work of others, that’s fine I guess, but then these pages recognizing the big names of course they share their photos to tens of thousands others, it is great for them, lots of traffic, almost zero exposure of other styles, so the net result is, everyone wants to go to the same places and edit in the same style to be as famous as them. So where’s the problem then?

    I live on Costa Rica, so I am lucky that I can visit many, many different places, beaches, mountains and get photos that no one else has, I try my best to experiment but I am honest, I am a 6 years old amateur and yes I am guilty of trying to get more likes on facebook and 500px, why? because I hope that at some point someone will notice and that they like what they see and buy it so I can make some money out of this to continue shooting visiting new places, feeling and witnessing the greatness and beauty that is out there and show it to others and I guess that many others feel the same way about their photography. I guess that on the race to become successful lots of photographers are forgetting to explore and they try to go the the safe places on which they can hop off the car, walk a few minutes and boom.

  15. Success is different things for different people. I can assure you a lot of artist paint/draw what sells to keep food on the table or to increase their super account and do not paint/draw what they like to do. I don’t think a professional golfer plays golf to relax, he goes fishing, fishermen don’t go fishing to relax, they may play golf or take photographs. For me I enjoy many different types of photography of which landscapes is only one part. I enoy creating images in my mind,developing them in the camera and computer and sharing them. if someone else likes them also, that is a bonus – it is the creative process that I enjoy. My mind is continually racing with different ideas and concepts and cannot settle on a style. So a landscape photographer like the images you mentioned also has some good points – it depends on if they enjoy the process. For me, photography is a form of therapy and relaxation. Luckily I don’t have to rely on it to pay my bills.

    Ugo, I think this highlights another underlying problem and the post is a sympton of the problem and not the real problem. I think you need to look further into the points you have raised which are all valid points. I use many tools to create images so I enjoy the learning process. Blending my own art with my images, infrared imagery, DSLR movies are all current favourites. Perhaps you need to experiment a little more? That may help find a new style or confirm that you really do like landscape photography. What ever you do you just need to enjoy it.

  16. That is one reason why I use only film gears and B&W film and nowdays more and more wetplate (ambrotypes and tintypes). Back to roots you know? There are 13 in a dozen who makes these over saturated photoshop images, I think. Could be wrong.

  17. Ugo – good post. I agree with you. I’ll offer a long response, but I hope it is worth your time reading.

    These landscapes are lovely. But for me, they are empty. There is no story.

    Most landscapes have ‘content’ that goes beyond the surface. Layers of vegetation, layers of soil, layers of time. and layers of meaning too.

    What I miss dearly in these ‘glorious’ confections is the story of the soul of the landscapes they depict.

    Here’s an extract from a piece I wrote a year or so ago which may interest you, it is from this article: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2013/01/the-heart-of-the-land/

    and there is a follow-up piece which expands on the theme here: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2013/01/landscape-and-meaning/

    “A little book I came across several years ago profoundly moved me, “Jura, Language and Landscape”. It is a simple volume, slim and unassuming, and I can imagine many ‘serious’ photographers not rating McKay’s images very highly: no long exposure milky water, no dramatic oversaturated skies, no artifice of any sort. In short no “epic landscapes”. But such critics will have missed the point of this work by a mile. This book is very much a labour of love by its author Gary McKay, who has made a photographic record of the landscape of the island of Jura, and spoken with many of the Gaelic speaking local residents, recording and transcribing their personal stories of the landscapes that surround them. As a rule I dislike photography books that willfully ignore the human impact on landscape and in a sense mislead readers, and in so doing, in a Scottish context at least, promote some misguided notion of a ‘highland wilderness’; it’s wild land certainly, but it is not a wilderness. McKay’s images may not be ‘dramatically pretty’ but they are suffused with cultural significance.

    Although devoid of any human figures what McKay’s book eloquently imparts is a sense of these ‘empty places’ being filled to the brim with human history. Everywhere exist subtle details of previous residency, the warp and woof in the landscape that creates a rich tapestry from the dreams of life and living, raising families and passing from mother and father to daughter and son the personal stories of being in this place. The title of the book ‘Language and Landscape’ says it all: the two are inextricably intertwined. And in this context the deliberate absence of any individuals from McKay’s panoramic images is for me one of the books great strengths, for it implies that there is something there that is invisible to the ignorant or untrained eye, something that is more important than the presence of one transient human figure. For those who can read the signs and understand the significance as described in ‘the language of place’ there is, quite simply, connection. And as in any country, we who do not speak ‘the language of that place’ need simply ask someone who does, in order to be enlightened.

    Scottish MP, MSP and tv producer Michael Russell reviewed the book in the Glasgow Herald and had this to say:

    “I am often struck by how much that is truly important and original in our country and in our culture is being done by people constantly ignored by government , and usually neglected by public bodies. Gary McKay’s extraordinary photographs of the island on which he lives are not only part of his immense work in making the highest precision recordings of any landscape in the UK but are also heavy with significance in terms of culture, the environment and rural policy. Combined with the wealth of traditional and local information which he has saved from extinction they are also at times painfully moving, for they tell us that Jura – along with many other places in the Highlands and Islands – has become, as the native Americans put it, a place of “ghosts with no children”.

    What one can learn from the names used by local people to describe their landscape is significant. As McKay notes in his book, the place called Ardlussa is derived from ‘ard’, the gaelic word for ‘a high place, often a promontory’ and ‘lussa’ which is thought to be derived from an earlier Norse word ‘ljoss’, meaning glossy, lustrous or shining. “In the spring or early summer, when the flowers are in bloom along its wooded coastline and verdant meadows, this interpretation seems more than fitting.” In Scotland local names for landscape features are less often romantic and more usually descriptive, and can often impart significant information about the history or perceived landscape features of a place. So for example we have Achiltibuie in the north west, which is the phonetic pronunciation of achadh uillte buidhe, or ‘field of the yellow brook’, although the local tradition has it as achadh ghille buidhe – ‘field of the golden-haired lad’. And with the knowledge of this ‘history’ as imparted by the ‘language of place’ we may be enlightened about a feature, the brook, that we may not have noticed, or intrigued by the presence of a golden-haired lad, and who might he have been, and why was he here. Either way, we have connected with this place at a deeper level.”

    And to take this a bit further you might want to consider some of Henry Iddon’s work in his ongoing project ‘A Place to Go’.

    Iddon has produced some wonderful but understated images that explore ‘the story of place’ – have a look here: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2013/01/the-landscape-of-emotion/

    In truth Iddon’s images are pale and insignificant compared to the HDR confections above, but many of them have made people weep as they contemplate their significance. Here is the last paragraph of the piece I wrote about his work, it might give you something to consider more deeply:

    “Henry Iddon’s detailed and contemplative photographs transform these objective records of a mishap and enable us to make an emotional, human connection with ‘place’. His images pay his respects to these high, wild and alluring places, but they also pay tribute to those individuals whose life stories ended upon their wild slopes.

    For those of us who end our days in ‘ordinary’ ways, there will be erected a stone, hewn by man, and inscribed with words as memorial to our presence and passing. For those whose life ends on a mountain, what greater memorial can there be than that cold stone, hewn by nature, written upon by the passage of time and weather, and towering over all of us.

    These are truly sublime photographs, and are ‘epic’ landscapes in the proper sense of the word, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay them.”

    (“Epic: A long poem, typically derived from oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of…”)

    For me landscape photography can be many things, it can be purple and lurid and impressive but forgettable, or quiet and contemplative and leave you thinking long after about place, and light, and absence.

    1. Post

      Hi Lisa, and thanks for your post. You know, I just went to the 500px popular page and snapped a screenshot. It was bound to capture the good and the bad together. No, actually there isn’t a single bad photo on that page, they are all great.

      My problem is trying to produce something great that isn’t just dependent on the “wow” factor and that works FOR ME. I’m struggling with it, not trying to dictate what others should do, I hope you’ll understand.

      1. I do understand. I initially took offence because I was so proud of my photo, but then I realized that I have had those thoughts many times. I actually stopped posting for a year while I struggled with the same thing. I felt like I couldn’t take great photographs unless I was standing on the edge of an erupting volcano. In that year, I took a lot of non “wow” photos… foggy seascapes and dark forests etc. I share these works with close friends and trusted photographers I know, because their opinion matters more to me than being popular on the web. Sometimes the only way to truly gain focus is to shut off all the noise and distractions and focus on your own art. As long as you are filling your mind with other photographer’s images, you will always compare your work to theirs.

        Good luck on your journey! When in doubt, disconnect your wifi and just listen to your heart!

      2. Ugo, Like many others, I’ve shared your frustration. I noticed a similar concern expressed by Ian Plant some time ago (http://www.ianplant.com/blog/2014/09/15/taking-it-to-the-streets/), with the result that he is considering exploring other genres.

        The sad part, to me, is that some have created magnificent landscape images through the traditional means of going to the subject location, being there at the right time, and doing the work necessary to create a great capture. But in our lowest common denominator society, the thing that has become popular are the saturated tones and vibrance, rather than the quality of the work. That, and social media, has made popular what is eye-catching, not necessarily what is of high quality.

        Unfortunately, that means that many things we see as an excellent image will not necessarily be popular.

  18. Thanks for this. I think your mention of ‘conformism’ nails the problem really.

    It’s new and not new – just about every photo magazine for as long as I can remember (i.e. well pre-digital) has had its annual ‘How to Do Landscape’ feature and every single one it seems has trotted out the same basic methodology, including, inevitably, my absolute pet hate, the ‘Rule’ of Thirds.

    Long before we could do HDR at the drop of a hat everyone was getting excited about the supersaturated look of Cibachrome and then Velvia. It took me a long time to realise that a lot of the Velvia impact was down to massive shadow blocking.

    I think, as several commenters above have said, that to get lasting satisfaction out of landscape photography people need to move beyond the iconic locations and standardised pictorial approach and go right back to being in the landscape, looking, feeling, and trying to express with their camera what they see and feel.

  19. Perfect analysis. It’s exactly why it is that some of us have continued using film and printing in black and white. You can’t get to the art if you don’t go through the work to make the art.

  20. Ugo, I am a Portuguese photographer and just this week I was speaking to a friend about this. I am facing exactly the same dilema and I am looking for a way to make something different from the clean and crispy landscape photos that are a success in social media. I will follow you to know how you worked your way to be different.


  21. Hi. Great article Ugo. I can see why it went viral!
    I think that I am a consistent/reasonably technically competent seascape/landscape shooter (views/favourites/followers/Explored) and hence your questions of landscape photo journalism vs conformism vs truly memorable shots resonates with me.
    I have no answers and perhaps that is the right answer in itself.
    Much appreciated
    PS: not wanting to drive traffic to my website….

    1. Sorry, 1 more important point for me is that in shooting these landscapes, I have visited and seen remarkable parts of the world (and my our city) – albeit at often unsocial times, considerable difficulty and away from my family.
      It was worthwhile irrespective of others’ viewpoints on the shots themselves and me as an artist.

  22. Good article Ugo and interesting discussion following it. As you said this has been touched on many times but ultimately I think the issue, which your post is guilty of as well, is the fixation with the final result. It seems photogs are so consumed with trying to find meaning or purpose in each image or their portfolio that they completely miss one of the most important aspects of the creation of art (atleast to me) which is the process…the journey. This post, like others, tries to direct the reason and intent but fails to tackle the sheer value of pursuing the art form.

    For example, I am one of this big “social media” photographers that has millions of followers and well over 3 billion image views but dont think about those followers once when I am out in the field. I shoot what speaks to me or what I like or what I feel is the must compellining image to me possible at the time. When I edit I dont make choices based on who might like or hate my choices but instead what I am feeling of the image while I am there in the moment. At the end of the day, the fact that some of my images are popular, go viral or ignored are irrelevant to me regardless of the fact that I do this for a living and have to make money at the end of each month.

    Long story short, if photographers simply stopping trying to define, redefine, label and categorize themselves and instead just enjoyed the craft (whatever that means to an individual) the photo community would be better for it. I feel the need to find “meaning” in our work (much like in life) is simply a distraction from the journey and process that is truly important, just as living life is more important that obsessing over trying to figure out why we are herr on planet earth to begin with.

    1. Post

      I know, Colby, and thanks for joining the discussion. Enjoying the process is very much part of why I do it, but sometimes the moment is spoiled by the worry of getting the shot. I enjoyed being at Mesa Arch at sunrise, but I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been constantly checking my framing and my camera settings and even more if I hadn’t been there with 20 other photographers.

      We also have to make choices, both when we shoot and when we process in the darkroom/lightroom. Those choices are inevitably influenced by how I think the audience will perceive the image. As much as we don’t like to say that we are shooting for ourselves, the way we shoot and process influences the public’s reaction and, at least for me, it is almost always impossible to not consider that aspect, at least unconsciously.

  23. Miguel essentially wrote what I was thinking… That it seemed a fairly big assumption all of those folks were producing for their audience.

    Even so, is it such a sin to make course corrections in your work that you enjoy and your audience responds positively as well? We shouldn’t always assume the path of sell-out is taken when an artist experiences some degree of success.

    Very thought provoking post, thank you!

  24. I know the feeling for sure. I have been shooting professionally for 19 years long before digital made things so obtainable for people. So my choice was to do something that had never been done to define me then return to shooting the beauty in nature that keeps me happy no matter if someone has been there before or not while always looking for unique views that haven’t been shot before. Check this out for unique


  25. The world of photography has definitely sanitized itself. With the bottom line driving the trends and what is “popular”. The viewer drives the narrative now, not the photographer. Which leads to a very “safe” world of photography. Focusing on eye catchy without disturbing the soul too much. In fact I am not sure we want the photographer to reveal his/her soul. Our culture is dumbing down the dialogue, in the same way that it has been doing with reality tv shows and opinionated drama based news shows. Photos now are something that anyone can do regardless of the quality. Publications will publish pixelated photos. Photo contests include anyone and everyone. No magazine or publication has on-staff photographers, Sports Illustrated firing theirs just recently. National Geographic fired theirs a long time ago!

    Daniel Fox (http://photographyblogger.net/best-advice-for-photography-learn-to-delete-first/)

    1. Post

      You’re right, Gary. I was perhaps a bit unfair in singling out those, but my intention was to give a sample of what is popular, not to target those specific photos.

    1. Post
  26. Pingback: RF-Photography | Where Does the Soul Come From

  27. Pingback: The Power of Ambition | Ugo Cei Photography

  28. Great article.
    I think this is a very salient and ‘now’ issue.
    I wish I was strong enough to resist the pull of social media, the magnetic pull of ‘likes’ ‘shares’ and beaming comments – but, as yet, I’m not. Though I do know I probably need to.
    Its the conuncdrum of confidence. Confidence in following your own desires despite the pull of humainty in the opposite direction.
    Its a work in progress.
    Regards phil

  29. The answer is very easy Ugo. Photograph the things that move you in a way that best portrays what you are trying to convey, it’s not rocket science. Forget about what everyone else is doing, shoot for yourself. If you enjoy going to Mesa Arch and shooting it at dawn, why not? Who cares if a million others have taken the same shot as long as you are enjoying the moment and shooting it for yourself. If you enjoy solitude, travel to a place that gives you solitude. It’s all in what you want to shoot, the way that you want to shoot it. You’re right photography on social media has almost become an Olympic event, but you have to get past it and just take it for what it is, a venue to show off work to the world.

  30. Your concern is real about the reality of these images but don’t even begin to think Lik’s photograph is THE most expensive ever sold. Have you checked out the current “values” of the post-modernist photographers. Try pricing some Adreas Gursky – for example, his horrible 4-panel image of the Rhine sold for 2.7MILLION POUNDS. If you want to see photographers who care and don’t need to enhance anything because they are just great shooters, check out iLCP.com – the International League of Conservation Photographers.

    1. Post
  31. It’s the times we now live in , growing up, no one could afford a guitar or camera or much anything else. A whole new life style was created after WWII. Mankind has travel from my grand dad’s age of not even having indoor plumbing to the Hubble photographing the far away stars in the blink of an eye.

    You always hear people from books and online classes stating that we are all creative in our own way. And now that most have access to the creative tools we can see they are right. today there are millions of great artist which will grow exponentially in the coming years but the most gifted will still rise to the top.

    Even in my old age I get excited about the possibilities.

  32. I’m so happy someone else is asking these questions, also. And having the same self-doubts.

    Do the work that makes you happy. That’s the only answer for me. As soon as I let facebook Likes or some other metric tell me what kind of art to make, then it’s not really genuine anymore.

    Quite often, I remember what got me into this in the first place, which was not landscape photography: I picked up the camera the first time because I thought I could make better documentary films that what I was seeing on TV.

    My detour into time-lapse photography and landscape photography has been an accident, a love affair with the real world, an added benefit. I never set out to be “the best landscape photographer on Earth”, but I have taken some nice landscape photos.

  33. Pingback: Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery | Joshua Holko Photography Blog

  34. I am so glad to have come across this article. I came out of art school as a photography major who was interested in landscapes. But, I found very quickly my landscapes did not match with those of the top photographers in the industry. The photos they make are pretty pictures, and by all means, beautiful and their skill shows. But there isn’t the artist’s emotion or intention in the photograph. It doesn’t show. I’ve repeatedly had my work rejected because it wasn’t considered a “landscape” photograph by blogs, magazines, and more. But it IS a landscape. It IS art.
    I’m very glad someone sees the same issue. Maybe over time it will transition.

  35. Why do photographers think that if they follow some special process (make sure it’s hard and old) and have a message that they were thinking at the time, that their images are “art”? Art is in the eyes of the beholder. If someone looks at my image and wants to live with it on their wall, or purchase to publish, it may be art to them. I have been photographing nature professionally for over 40 years and as a way of life for all of 60 years (I started young at 10). I have always photographed what has interested me. That way photography has never grown old because it is a window into places, things and people. It’s always new. The tools are always getting better and giving it new life. I would never want to go back to where I don’t have control. If Landscape is getting boring, then move on to bird photography and enjoy the subjects and the challenge. With landscape I enjoy the places and the journey and process. Yes, I don’t sell as much because I don’t shoot for a set client except Canon and Outdoor Photographer, but I choose the subjects, so it never gets old. I plan on doing this until I can’t lift a camera or see the LCD. And I keep looking at those new photographs from others. I’ve seen a few over the years and will keep looking at them, even when some genre gets boring.

  36. Pingback: Ugo Cei's blog post on "current" landscape photography

  37. Hi Ugo,
    I really liked this post. You touched upon something really important, something with which I struggle too, and presumable something with which many other struggle as well.

    I feel that the direction I would like to take my photography does not align very well with what I believe customers want, or what judges in photo competitions want. If my goal would be to just do this for fun, this wouldn’t be a problem as I could just do as I please and that would be the end of it. But, I like many, crave a little recognition, and though this is an unrealsitic hope for many, me included, I would also like to earn some cash, in order for me to have a case to justify spending so much time and money on traveling, creating and editing photos.

    And this is were the pressure to conform comes from. How many times do we see photographs of the same iconic locations win prizes in national and international landscape photo contests? This only reinforces everyone to go those same locations, not necessarily to recreate those exact shots, but at least to utilize the location advantage. It seems that often not vision of the photographer is rewarded, but instead the location is. Which is the world upside down. It’s as if photographers are being judged on the looks of their models.

    I am not sure what the best remedy is. I would love to claim that I just follow my instincts, and my own developmental path, but it’s hard to resist the temptation of the combination of dramatic mountaineous scenery, golden-hour light and saturated colours. I hope we will see a reappraisal of subtlety, and who knows, it may happen one day. In the meantime, just keep developing. Oh, and have fun while doing so.

  38. This is a fairly frequent theme on my not so popular blog as well. I’m pretty good at tuning out the noise of popular culture, and that’s what gorgeous light images are, part of pop culture. I give very simple advice for this type of thing: If you’re starting out, go about two years just shooting, ignoring all online sharing platforms. Don’t view images online. Develop your own style, shoot what you love to shoot. Later you’ll decide whether and how much to depart from that in order to make money, or just remain an amateur (where it’s much easier to remain true to yourself). But most important about waiting to share is that you give yourself time to find out how you’re going to express yourself photographically. Once you have that, go ahead and share via 500 px, FB and other media. But beware: anyone who is on one or more of these platforms every day risks back-sliding. In modern times, you need to avoid trying to absorb everything all the time. Why make the struggle to express yourself, to walk through life on your own terms, that much more difficult? Nobody’s forcing anyone to look at all that stuff. And don’t use the excuse that “I’m looking for inspiration”. When you start with photography (or start out practicing any art), you already have most of the inspiration you’ll ever need.

  39. Pingback: 500px ISO » Unbelievable Photography » Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up?

  40. This is the second time I have read this post and now all the comments. So thought I would share my two-cents.

    I guess to me most comments miss the point. I believe I understand what you are getting at Ugo. We seem to live in a society of followers, much more than doers, thinkers, or creators. It is way easier to go do something someone else has done than to be original. We (most) are lazy and this creative lifestyle takes a lot of time! Like a whole lifetime! So instead most folks just want to “get by” and call themselves photographers instead of putting in the work, time, and effort of actually being a photographer. I afraid I have no answer other than. One must always be true to themselves. If you truly want to be a creative person, live a creative lifestyle, forget about the popularity game and be happy to just be able to do what you love then you will find a way and care what your “title” is. If you just want the title of being a photographer than “presto” your a photographer.

  41. Very well said sir!

    This one thing I’ve railing against for ages, landscape photography for the most part has simply become a giant cliche factory. Cliche images of classic landscapes sell, so people pump them out. People simply copying each other.

    After 5 years of shooting landscapes I too got utterly fed up with seeing the same old places in my home country ( UK ) being shot over and over and over again. I got one of my images in the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year competition last year and I just freaked out, I couldn’t handle how conformist and identikit most of the images were. There were some absolute gems, really original stuff but a lot of classic clcihes that had hardly any thought put into them. I even went to some of the locations and found myself almost doing the same thing and had to stop myself and consciously think about what I was I was doing. However for the last 3 months I’ve just been shooting in the city, just shooting anything I want that catches my eye including a little bit of street photography. It’s really helped me to start enjoying photography all over again. Most of the time I don’t have my full frame DSLR, I have a £250 pocket camera I borrowed from my wife and I just shoot anything I like. I’ve shot one landscape when we had ice on the marshes about 5 miles from my house ( outside a major city ), other than that I’ve lost all interest in landscapes for the time being.

    On a related note, I’m sorry but I can’t even look at 500px anymore, it’s simply a cliche factory for pumping out endless clones of over saturated, confirmist and identikit lanscape/semi-nude/cute animals. Sure the photography is mostly good but only the most mundane and generic images get promoted. Don’t even think about shooting BW landscapes and putting on 500px! Occasionally one might slip through to the top 25 but it’s rare.

  42. Pingback: Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery Part Two | Joshua Holko Photography Blog

  43. Photography is an art form and not just about recording a particular view. A camera cannot capture exactly what the human eye sees, and photos often don’t represent the view, colours or feel a landscape delivers.

    That said, with a camera and post production, a photographer has the tools to create the landscape and seen they see in their eyes and mind. What they felt at that moment, what they saw. Post production helps to convey and communicate that moment in time.

    I find many of those who complain about photos with a lot of processing are those who cannot reproduce this technique themselves. I’m fairly inexperienced myself with post production but have learned a few basics like reducing highlights, increasing shadows etc.

    If you simply snap a picture and move on then you’re essentially saying. “Here’s what my camera saw. It’s not great, but that’s what the camera settings delivered.” Which is pretty pathetic.

  44. This is a copy of my reply to a FB friend who shares this viewpoint, as do I.

    “I agree entirely and like you I have tired of 90% of the landscape imagery that swamps the mags and web, it’s formulaic and tedious in the extreme.

    I have always seen the problem as those who wish to ‘try’ or ‘have a go’ at landscape photography – it’s nonsense, you don’t ‘have a go’ at landscape! It isn’t a skill, it isn’t an activity or a tick box, it’s a deep seated and very powerful emotional need, that you either have or you haven’t.

    For me at least, having walked, mountaineered, rock climbed, swum in, surfed on and sailed over since a kid, landscape is something I couldn’t live without, it is a powerful spiritual and emotional place I go to (I’m not talking about geography) – my landscape pictures are just ways of sharing what I emotionally and spiritually experienced at the time when I was out in the wilds. My reasoning has sod all to do with pretty pictures, even if some end up as just that. I could enjoy life without photography but I couldn’t enjoy life without landscape.

    Many of those who create technique heavy and trick based pictures have somehow missed the point, the point of really ‘seeing’ the actual beauty or magnificence (or scariness) of the ‘real’, of what the human eye actually sees and far more importantly, what the human heart might experience. When I see these dreadful overly long exposure shots of clouds which have become blurred smudges over the sky, or seas that now look like mist or milk, I have to ask ‘why’? Any idiot can shoot them, I know I could, but I refuse to, as the finished image bears no resemblance to any landscape I could ever witness for real. They are full of ‘wow’ and “oooohs and aaaaghs’ from the Facebook masses, but they utterly lack honesty and soul. We are not celebrating what is, we are simply creating imaginations of what we would like to see, a sort of science fantasy world where all we need is Unicorns or Mermaids to complete the lie.

    I’m not saying never use technique, photography requires much technique, but I am saying using technique so that everything still feels true to the human experience of what landscape really means to our individual soul when we are there, we have as photographers as a whole, lost our souls and replaced them with saturated visual trickery. How can so much saturation become so dull? It’s depressing that real landscape holds so little interest to the masses, that they start to believe that landscape can only be enjoyed when it’s tarted up and transformed into something they will never ever experience i their lives. It’s the landscape equivalent of modern digitally enhanced fashion and beauty photography, we can no longer appreciate reality.

  45. This article really rang true with me. I know of one incredible landscape photographer/artist who is standing up. Meagan V Blazier has a truly unique approach and style to landscape photography like I have seen nowhere else. Her pieces not only stand out from the crowd and are instantly recognizable as hers but they are also filled with so much atmosphere, mood and emotion. She really does put a piece of herself into each piece and for me, that wins over trying to produce a piece that will be considered to be mainstream popular every time. You can see her amazing work on 500px here https://500px.com/MeaganVBlazier

    1. I did have a look at Meagan’s work and despite the fact that she has put lots of effort into her work, I don’t like it very much. The sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

      She is an artist – that is without doubt. But I’m not into meta-photography much, partly because the magic of photography is about capturing moments in time. Each to their own – it’s a free world, and we all have differing views.

      I did notice that she cloned the same bird in two different shots. 😉

  46. Paul,

    Reaching the soul is still the challenge. How to get what you feel, good or bad on a scene. I was in the great sanctuary – Yosemite Valley thinking of getting some snow shots that didn’t happen. Was left with a low Merced river, dry brush, and just ugly. For some reason as I walked along the River, the Beatles song “All you need is love” was in my head. Do I love Yosemite valley, well yes. So shot what you are feeling. And as I walked I came across part of the forest where a controlled burn got out of hand. It reminded me of the end of times and the end of fall before the snow buried the corpse of 2014. The fact that the cycle has an end turned out to be a great subject and craftsmanship of a photographer to express this through our art. Believe me I have that end of the spectrum to myself. Would someone put it on a wall? That depends on the story I wanted them to feel in their soul. Put it next to my spring shots and the message becomes even louder.

  47. Great article Ugo , the biggest problem with current landscape photography is we are highly dependent on technology, color and drama . A great music artist I know told me “if your art is for pleasing others then it is prostitution ! ”
    Dinesh Maneer

  48. I read the article about an hour ago and I’m really compelled to respond. First of all, I think you (Ugo) have fallen into a trap that many of us often fall into, which is to compare ourselves to other artists and worry about what other people are doing. So, if you don’t like what other photographers are doing, that’s fine, then do your own thing – don’t shoot for other people, shoot for yourself (which I think you have alluded to in your closing remarks).

    Second – I think that the popularity of these images is not surprising to me – they are great photos! There’s nothing wrong with liking a good image. The advent of the internet has made it so that these images are at our fingertips in a moment’s notice… and there is just so much more of it. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, except to say that the competition is now overwhelming and to stand out from the pack takes extraordinary effort only afforded to the most dedicated of photographers (and likely those with a lot of free time and expendable income).

    Lastly, haven’t we kind of done this to ourselves? Since making a living off of prints is almost impossible, many photographers have turned to teaching workshops and processing classes to make money. More and more people want their photos to look like everyone else’s and there’s a market for teaching people how to look the same as the best. Workshops, in my opinion, are only contributing to this problem of over-shot locations and cookie-cutter compositions.

    Set your own measure of success and try to achieve it.

    Most importantly, just do your own thing and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

  49. You should check out iphoneographycentral.com an theappwhisperer.com – both have Flickr feeds – the mobile landscape photographers are creating the kind of emotive content you are seeking – take a look at Nettie Edwards or Wayne Greer, Karen Klinedinst, Robert Paul Jansen – the list is endless – both those orgs sponsor weekly juried contests with the video slide show winners published each Sunday. BTW? The MPAs – Mobile Photo Awards 2014 annual winners are being announced this weekend – it is the largest mobile photo contest in the world – they have a landscape category – they also sponsor a separate mini contest in July just for landscapes.

  50. The landscape photographs on your blog look just as bad and over-processed as the ones that you’re posting here as examples.

  51. Some of the same things are happening in the macro community -although it’s a lot tougher to find well composed images with nearly everyone being fixated on getting every little pixel razor sharp. I think that, to a certain degree, social media (and getting instant feedback) is either forcing some photographers to shoot what’s popular or they buy into everything that their fan base tells them and they stop improving. As a photographer you really need to get to a point where your images are recognizable (iconic even), but to get there you have to be your own worst critique. It’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s not OK for someone to point out a mistake that you didn’t already notice and that will happen if you pay too much attention to what your fans tell you. You’ll lose the ability to pick your own work apart -I’ve seen it happen to a lot of photographers who were potentially great a few years ago but today are simply average. I, like you, can’ tell if they shot the photo I’m looking at without seeing their name next to it because they set the bar so low that anyone (and everyone) can hit it…

  52. Thanks for the post. I had my moment like yours watching the slideshow 7 years ago when my daughter was given a subscription to a digital photography magazine. Every month the cover photo had outrageous color, dramatic light, famous location. But I never had an emotional response to any of them, they struck me as totally generic. We own this generic look of technical excellence mostly to DSLRs and Lightroom. A big part of what we see out there is achieved by using L series lenses, and then moving the clarity, viberance, and saturations sliders too far to the right.

    Anyway, photography and landscapes are never about technical excellence, they are about emotion, if we stay true to what is emotional for us, then we are doing what we are supposed to do. For me I have a few rule that I stick with. 1- shoot black and white, this is hard at times but I am completely convinced that the emotional impact of an image comes primarily from tone, and that color makes it more dificult to see tone, so I have stopped using color. Second, shooting needs to be about discovery. There are many places in the world where I will not shoot. It can be tempting to want to shoot at places like Zion, etc. but our visual cultural is already over loaded with photos of those places, so much so that I question if we actually see such places for what they actually are when we go there, or are we seeing them through the mediation of all the photos we have seen of those places prior to visiting them. I only want to shoot in locations that I have not seen photos of before, that way my joy in the experience of discovering a place and my honest emotional response to a place remain in tact. Third, the pictures I don’t take are just as important as the pictures I do take. If my previsualization of an image isn’t clear, or good enough, I am teaching myself to just put the camera away. So that is where my journey is taking me. I do violate my self-imposed rules pretty often but as I get better I violate them less and less. Anyway, thanks again!

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  54. Ugo, I find that I agree in general with what you wrote. As to the question of what you (and others) should do next, I have no idea! Maybe just keep shooting and let your body of work and style evolve. You might discover something along the way.

    Democratization of photography is a great thing for beginners, no question. But maybe not so much for professionals or the craft in general. Will photography drown in its own riches? I hope not and I don’t think so. But some areas in photography probably will never come back to life.

  55. I commend you for having the nerve to say how you felt about all of this. I have found a kindred spirit Ugo. Amazingly enough, I wrote the same post on January 17, 2015 on my blog with a slightly, albeit similar slant. When I saw this on PetaPixel, I thought to myself that finally someone else had a say. Our two posts are very similar though. If you would care to read ‘my version’, go to http://hololight.blogspot.com and read my post ‘ART IN LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY’. Thanks for speaking your mind.

  56. Great article, I have been thinking the same already for a while, talked long with the subject with my friend. Great to hear someone said it out there.

    Indeed soul-less, technical porn.

    Same thing what happened in music business. Over produced plastic sounds.

    Im also wondered all super clarity – sharpness in “every” picture from start to end. In some photos it works but many of them lack depth, even there is more depth than ever before.
    Many photographers has lose their sense of style to see subject differently than just f16.

    Hard to say how long this trend will carry on.

    Thank you for the article!

  57. Your problem stems from your characterisaion of photography as “art”: it IS NOT, at any meaningful level. And photographers – ESPECIALLY landscape photographers (who seem most likely pompously, pretentiously to define their efforts in terms of “art” – the poster above me coincidentally being a PERFECT example) – are surely not artists.

    At best, photographers are craftsmen – and accepting that, it’s easier to accept the homogenisation of style and content that you rail against: craftsmen rarely if ever, have it in them to be truly original – as all the available evidence clearly demonstrates…

    1. Just what do you think art is exactly? Granted, the vast majority of photography is not art, but most painting isn’t art either. I’ve never heard an intellectually or aesthetically rigorous argument for discounting an entire medium from the realm of art. Maybe you are just some nut job essentialist that has his own private definition of what art is and isn’t? Just curious.

  58. Great article. Thank you for your thoughts on this.

    I think the online world is getting too saturated with images the “everyone likes” and that follow the rules. Those are images that get a lot of likes, thumbs up, etc. We should not be surprised when they show up on screens in malls or in popular magazines, or wherever.

    I am still learning, and I certainly want to visit all the great places in the world. But I would hope that I am moving away from just taking the same shots we have already seen dozens of times, and moving away from that to find my own way. I actually unfollowed a facebook group yesterday, because I could not take it anymore. I got tired of seeing the same particular “look” over and over again.

    I think as a landscape photographer today you set yourself apart looking for the shot that is different.

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  60. These questions can be asked of any “artistic” or photographic genre. I would rather see one image of incredible emotive depth, than a dozen of “wow me” images. If you press the shutter release just for likes, it’s a business, not an art.

  61. 50 or 100 years from now, it will still be possible to take the same photos that are now taken now by landscape photographers. The interesting (an more significant) photos will show how times have changed. I would much prefer to look at a photo of street scene from 1950 than a photo of a mountain from 1950.

  62. Hello! I do some photography myself and landscapes are my favorite. Your comments are refreshing- I’m sick of it too. I’d much rather feel something emotional from a photo than see it in “perfect” light. As much as I’d love to make money from taking photos, I’m not willing to stray from my photo philosophy- I take shots of what moves me and what I find beautiful and I don’t process them very much. When I’ve hiked 10 miles with my camera on my neck, I don’t care how good the light is. I just want to capture how I feel.

    If you do ever go to Antelope- the rocks look completely different through the camera than they do through your eyes. Find the shot you haven’t seen before. 🙂


  63. Mmmh – great article! Thanks for the thoughts! Fully agree about the whole genre becoming very overly-stylised. For me, these shots that aim to digitally convert the real world into “perfection” are all fakes really. Maybe people think it’s artistic & creative to over-process though? Perhaps it is! A great shot for me is always one without post-processing, where everything has been controlled at the point of capture. I recently did a photo job in Antarctica, and have no interest in retouching! Much prefer to leave things as they actually appeared to me. Don’t stop shooting familiar scenes, but AVOID doing it for others’ approval (= commercial gain??)

  64. What really scares me: The lack of boldness, the seemingly irresistible force of the mainstream. You get brutally punished if you venture from the trodden path by falling into oblivion. People are scared shitless when they suddenly have less than 500 likes, it is as if they cease to exist. So everybody does what he thinks that everybody likes and we all end up with a visual equivalent of washed down muzak…

  65. I’ve been thinking and responding to these very comments lately on some FB pages and I get a firestorm of crap from people that think this current trend of over process cheesy photo illustration is somehow an “art photograph”. Gag me with a film leader please. Frankly I’ve decided that these people have a fetish for Thomas Kinkade and in fact in some cases I can go to his online examples and find scenes that are very similar to his crap,scary. I’m going to keep making photographs that are depictions of reality and besides I use film so I’m not as tempted to fart around in PS all the time.

    1. “Gag me with a film leader please. Frankly I’ve decided that these people have a fetish for Thomas Kinkade and in fact in some cases I can go to his online examples and find scenes that are very similar to his crap,scary. ” Bravo!

  66. First of all I can very much relate. Having seen Sally Mann I dug up my books on salts and old chemical processes. Mastering the technical imperfections of one process, using them, giving up some control over the outcome (as opposed to pixel peeping in photoshop) has its charm, will create a unique handwriting… and best of all works wonderfully for landscape photography. The only downside its utterly impractical, so what.

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    1. In my study of art and film I would say that “learning the rules” first and then breaking them is more or less a myth that is used by establishment such as art schools to provide a context or justification for what they do. It promises greatness and originality after of period of common place banality. Many great artists either have no relation to “the rules” or were hindered by being forced to learn the rules first. True artists are rare and I just don’t think you get a Duschamp, or Gordon Matta-Clark, or Tarkovsky, or Stan Brakhage by teaching them the rules, these folks had a specific project that they were engaged in that just didn’t have any relation to “the rules.”

  68. My god…this is right on! I’ve been looking at fantastic landscapes recently with the same feeling. So beautiful, but it almost seems rote at this point.

  69. Sorry you are having such a hard time but this seems to be what happens to a lot of amatuer “photographers” who live head to toe in the digital and Internet world. I have been earning a large portion of my full time photography income off of landscape imagery for the better part of 22 years of my 30 year career and you know what? I make more than ever per print, find more incredible untrampled places than ever and are more excited than ever with what my future holds. I also don’t do the super color candy coated garbage one sees in this article, I shoot medium and large format black and white film and hand print it in a real darkroom.

    Sorry things are not working out for you, but some of us are doing incredibly well in all aspects of landscape work. That is the other “state” of landscape photography.

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  70. A fascinating discussion – many interesting points of view on this. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” If you are a person that frequently seeks out and studies the work of others, then the images you have shown at the top will become commonplace. If you practice Cole Thompson’s “photo celibacy” then you are more likely to simply produce what you like. Whether shooting an iconic subject or something in my backyard, I try to adhere to the words of Harold Feinstein: “Show something in a way so that people feel they are seeing it for the first time.” I do think that pros who rely on selling prints to provide a substantial part of their income (I am not a pro by any means) are probably constrained somewhat, or a lot, to shooting what sells.

    1. Cole Thompson’s “photo celibacy” is what re-energized my photography. The constant stream I was seeing of amazing, yet similar, photos was really starting to uninspire me and make me lose focus of WHY I was photographing in the first place. Viewing all of those photos did improve my own photography technically, but it was making my lose sight of my own voice. Taking a break was just what I needed to find my inspiration again.

  71. This is a great article, Ugo! I’ve been feeling the exact same way. Yes, the photos are gorgeous and amazing but there is an underlying sameness. It’s rare that a photo has enough distinction that someone can instantly know who the photographer is and that’s something I struggle with in my own work. I don’t worry about whether it will get attention online when I take the photo but I find myself trying to find my “voice” as an artist. How can I convey my message, idea or emotion? How can I create something that hasn’t already been seen 100,000 ways from 100,000 other photographers? I don’t have the answer yet but I hope to find it soon.

    P.s. I’m also glad to see such vibrant discussion in the comments! I love reading everyone’s thoughts on the topic. Thanks again!

  72. I agree with your wisely chosen words Ugo…I really try to do something interesting when I am out photographing…..I don’t mind saying about my own landscape photography, thats its derivative, cliche and that I have no eye for creatively or originality, but I really love the whole creative process of photography thats what keeps me inspired!

  73. Ugo, I just came to your blog for the first time today via a recommendation by Olivier Duong (The Inspired Eye website). My first response to your original post above regarding contempory landscape photography as its represented on mainstream media: What took you so long? 🙂 I agree with everything you’ve said about landscape stuff we see all over the place… magazine covers, contest winners, most liked on whatever. As an antidote, spend some time looking at the photography of people like Hamish Fulton. It’ll bring you back to sanity and REAL beauty.

    I’ll come back to look at more later.

    Cheers and Happy 2015.

  74. Conceptual versus Kincade-Representational – Turning from images “OF” to images “ABOUT”
    It seems to me that the author is not accepting his envy of the success of other’s work that he so dislikes, and is unwilling to work conceptually; to begin with his personal idea, a “why” he is making an image, say like Salgado or Edward Burtynsky, instead the artist is stuck making picture of “WHAT” – that is how I see it. How about creating a series of images that express the artist’s distaste for KINCADE-like landscapes. Such a new direction would lead the author of this statement in a new fresh personal body of work. Does anyone see this as I do?

  75. I’ve always considered the title “photographer” to be superior to the open-ended and vague term of “artist”. Edward Weston had the same opinion–he would cringe when people labeled him as an “artist”.

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  77. In the ongoing debate about whether photography can be or is Fine Art your comment rings loud and clear: ” I believe it is art if the artist puts himself inside his work, not if somebody pays money to hang it on a wall.”

  78. This is a very thought provoking thread, thank-you, Ugo for your very interesting article. Wow, what a lot of great responses, and there are a lot! I even noticed that a few people have been inspired to write their own blog posts, including myself. Now I written second article on my blog, ( and I don’t often write ). Its somewhat related to your original article, the link is here: http://garynylander.blogspot.ca/2015/02/revival-of-pictorialism-in-21st-century.html Thanks for letting me share, this is my second response here.

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  79. Great article. The screenshots say it all. More glossiness there than a bathfull of oiled otters. You could equally have shown the seemingly endless panoramas of the Milky Way that get top slot. It is all about making a kind of epic statement and it is all completely unemotional and static. There’s a sense that the places shown in this type of landscape photography have been set in crystal, with little or no suggestion that time, natural forces, or people might now work any changes on them. These are alien landscapes from ancient worlds where nothing happens any more.

  80. I am with you man, I am at the same stage, I was just talking about this with my friend today. I am still thinking where and how to move my photography in the age, were you can stitch foreground from Africa with sky from Arctic. Or night Milky way with the daylight foreground. I just never did that, however, I must admit that I did lot of effort to make my pictures look better in post, much more that photo actually deserved because it was crap anyway. No I on the same way of searching as you are. Making natural, photos with atmosphere and telling the story of mine, that’s what I will try to do…

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  83. What I dislike about this kind of photography is the disservice is does to nature; of course, this is coming from my perspective where I photograph to capture the beauty of nature, not to create “art”. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with creating fantastical and unbelievable images from realistic scenes via graphic manipulation. I’m not against processing; I’m only personally against excessive processing.

    Why should we need to add so much processing? Is the landscape itself not beautiful enough? It’s as if we are saying “well, this view was actually not that great, so to improve it I will enhanced the color, contrast, sky, clarity, etc.” If it’s a scene where the color is the subject (fall color, blue ocean, etc.) then bringing out the color to an acceptable degree makes sense to me; but if it’s a scene of pastel skies and diffused, white light, why manipulate it to be golden, glowing, saturated and unrealistic?

    Nature is damn amazing. I have seen some crazy things as a photographer, getting up at 5 am to witness fog rolling in circles up mountain slopes or mountain lions fighting coyotes over a freshly killed corpse. There’s SO much mind blowing stuff out there ~ I wish people would focus on getting out and capturing it instead of going to the same places and taking the same enhanced picture over and over again for likes on social media.

    I enjoy photos where I can feel like I’m there, like I was standing where the photographer was standing as the waves splashed around them. I don’t like feeling as if I’m looking at some unreal scene that doesn’t exist.

    1. I agree completely, Ugo.I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even plus over processed photos on Google+!
      Thanks always for your great advice.
      Now that my new Medical Office is finally opening, I am going to hang the gorgeous photo you sent me there!

  84. I’m not a professional photographer, or even a very good one, and I’ve often wondered why everyone wants to go to the same locations and shoot the same shots. Pretend you’re 74 years old, like I am, and poor, like I am, and unable to afford to go more than a few miles from home, like I am, and shoot what you can find that speaks to you. It might give you a small break to reset your thought process.

  85. Well the photogs who are ‘guilty’ of this stylistic incest do actually make $ off their photos/photography, so one could blame the market. McD’s will always outsell fine wine and caviar. As others have noted here, the simplest solution to the ‘dilemma’ is to shoot what one wants to shoot. I believe it is possible to balance that with ways to generate income…at least it is a worthy goal to achieve that balance.

  86. I’m a little late to the party, but I found this post and discussion interesting. I do get where you’re coming from. I had a similar discussion a while back among non-photographer friends. I tend to veer towards photos with low saturation for a number of reasons – one to be honest much of the area around me is shades of brown most of the year, and two I think it’s partly in recoil from all the over saturated images I see. Some are really well done and beautiful. Some are clown puke. But they feel a bit soulless to me. Not only is the soul of the location covered up, but so is the photographer’s soul in many cases. I don’t think all landscape photography needs to be literal, in fact I don’t think *all* photography should be anything but a blend of person, place and feeling.

    On the other hand, I understand we all need to make a living. And if people are making good money from over-saturated images, then I can’t argue their business plan.

    I’m somewhat amused by my realization I unsaturate my photography, in all other areas of my life I love bright, clear colors.


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  89. Good discussion! I’ll admit, I’ve never been a member of 500px or any such photo sharing site, unless you consider G+ to be similar.

    I have also noted the last couple of years that so many images do look the same with basic ‘rules’ followed. In my photography, I am photographing for myself, trying to capture the beauty I see in front of me in my local area. Yes, I am happy if one wants to buy a print, but it’s not my reason.

    For the last 10 months (of a 12 month project) I have been photographing vineyards just outside of Napa,CA. I think it has proved invaluable in my growth as a photographer because it’s pretty challenging to see the same basic scene, rows upon rows of grapevines trip after trip, yet come up with entirely different images. It’s not challenging to see the obvious. I think there is a richness that comes from finding your own landscapes that are not the famous ones attracting hordes of photographers. I also tend towards being an introvert, so I appreciate the alone time! 🙂

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  92. Landscape Photography is something which one have to become good if they have chosen Photography as their full time profession. Clicking perfect Landscape clicks is the art which comes with lot of trial and error. And your guide like this one surely does help to people getting started like me. Thanks for sharing.

  93. Great article, I think we have to go back in time to find the answers, if there are any at all, but I agree with everything you have said here. It has become too easy and somehow we have to make it difficult again. Thank you.

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