The Zen of Landscape Photography

The difference with landscape photography for me is that it is a solitary activity usually done away from civilization. It's a definitive zen moment of my own. This is unlike seascape photography that has several additional inputs; like, wave action, tide action, sea birds, children and families frolicking in the surf, helicopters, surfers, parking considerations and more! See what I mean? There, I have to find my own space and focus on why I'm there. I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm just saying that this is my observation over time about the two similar types of photography. Landscape photography is probably best served much like seascape photography in that they both need the special light found in the blue and golden hours of sunrise and sunset. It's not a hard and fast rule of mine but if I had to choose when to shoot, it would be during one of those 60-90 minute periods of special light that is especially conducive to this type of photography.

Another aspect of landscape photography is the choice of lens. Over the years, i've grown to love my Sigma 20mm art lens. But with a lens with this wide a field of view I've found that concentrating on the foreground as much as the overall wide view is important to composition. Then the fun challenge begins; to find the right combination of settings to get the interesting foreground tack sharp while letting the background be as sharp as possible too.



When I'm hiking, though, the 20mm is a heavy, single focal length lens which usually stays home. Instead I have a 24-70 Tamron that I have probably taken more landscape photos with than any of my other lenses. It takes me from a wide angle to a shot telephoto length, allowing me to visualize a variety of potential compositions. "Hilltop Sunrise" shown here was shot on the top of a hill in Mendocino County of Northern California, up above a vineyard owned by friends. The walk up is a near vertical climb of about a 1/2 a mile! On this morning I was treated to a sunrise above the fog in the valley and snapped this old oak tree with the 24-70 lens. This is the other method I use with a wide angle lens; dominate the entire frame with something from the foreground. To get the "starburst" effect from the sun I cranked the F-stop to the max which is f22 on the Tamron 24-70. That sort of f-stop can soften the overall image so the strategy is to go for mood instead of extreme sharpness. In this image it worked out as the tree branches stayed sharp enough to portray the mood.


When the landscape gets big the telephoto can help compress all the distance into interesting compositions that can mimic how we see it live. This landscape photo is from the Isle of Skye's famous landslip known as The Quiraing. It looks exactly what the spot would look like where Greenland and North America tore away to form the Atlantic Ocean during the Jurassic Period, 175 million years ago. My only regret was that I only spent a couple hours there. It is one of the most stunning places I have ever been. I got very lucky too. It had rained all morning and it continued to rain all afternoon. But my time there at mid day was full of scuttling clouds and sun rays! I got a great time lapse sequence while there as well. When it began to rain again the Talisker distillery was a short drive away.



When I think about landscape photography I am humming a Nickel Creek tune. If I had to choose just one band to listen to for all time it would be them. I am a big fan. At the height of their fame I even went on the road one year to see them several times including a very memorable night at Stubbs in Austin when another favorite singer songwriter, Martin Sexton, warmed them up. I have the sound board tape from that night! The founders of Nickel Creek grew up in San Diego County and had several years of playing together as children and teens before becoming famous. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, they reunited to play two shows; both sides of their first album in order. I've got that video! When I lived in LA, Sean and Sarah would play at a tiny hole in the wall as "Watson Family Hour." Nights with Sam Bush, Fiona Apple and so many others. For someone who has seen a load of concerts throughout a lifetime, those years at Largo (they still go on) were some of my fondest memories. And of course Chris Thile, the third member of the band, went on to form the Punch Brothers and is, in my opinion, a total genius and authentic human being. Bluegrass music harkens its roots to the folk music of Scotland and so it is fitting that I pay tribute to both, here. Look for more photos from my trip to Scotland showing up in the Travelscapes category in the future.