Landscape Photography and Self-Expression

Landscape Photography and Self-Expression

What urges you to travel, hike, and camp out for landscape photography? How do your emotions affect what you shoot and how the output turns out?

Landscape photographers have different stories behind why and how they chose to become landscape photographers. Not everyone just woke up one day and thought that they’d travel thousands of miles, walk for hours and hours, and live their most passionate lives outdoors. Though the love for the outdoors and the process of creating breathtaking images binds all of us, we all have different reasons that fuel our passion for photographing landscapes.

When I started photography, the general thought of it was refreshing. I was young and was basically escaping an entirely different life, wherein making music was my world. I tried photography after a very gentle urge, and it felt like having an entirely new voice. For years, I tried different kinds of photography. Some were fulfilling and energizing, while some just felt entirely exhausting. For about half a decade, I thought I was just trying things out when I was actually learning more about myself and what part of me would shape the creative work that I would later pour all of my energy into.

Half a decade into it, I realized that it was landscape photography that allowed me to feel most comfortable and most inspired. I found that the process of shooting allows me to witness the world as it changes right before my eyes, and being able to capture that and share the images with people gave me a much deeper sense of fulfillment. It is as if photographing places, and being able to infuse creativity and interpretation into the images became my much more resonant voice. Almost a decade of doing that, further learning, and experimenting with methods made the creative process not just enjoyable but more importantly, expressive.

Actual scene (Tila Pilon Hills)

An inconvenient truth that any landscape photographer will realize at one point is that the image that you wish to create almost never presents itself to you entirely. As you progress in learning technical skills in shooting and enriching your artistic vision, you will realize that the most essential part of photography is seeing potential. As we scout our locations and vantage points, we look for potential things that can happen and potential techniques that we can use to come up with a unique and impactful interpretation of what we are shooting. By being able to identify these factors at the location and the environment, we plan and execute how we turn the image from a simple snapshot into something that we can call art.

Finding a Purpose

Landscape photography is no walk in the park. Some of the most rewarding locations to see and photograph often require a lot of legwork, long hours of planning and anticipation, and countless logistical factors that affect the success of the endeavor. Through all that, we still insist on spending time, money, and energy to keep exploring and photographing the world, and that is very likely because of the purpose we find for everything we do. Most landscape photographers would agree that the point of all the effort goes way beyond the act of simply taking a picture. Many would say that the process altogether gives them the ultimate satisfaction. Some photographers enjoy the experience of having to deal with uncertainty and overcoming the obstacles to still come up with a compelling image. Some, including myself, would say that photographing landscapes and refining the images allows them to express and share a part of themselves with their audience.

Expression and Storytelling

How do we express ourselves through photographs of places? How do we tell stories with our images? The answer lies in the viewer’s experience of seeing our photographs. How a photograph catches someone’s attention, what hooks them into looking deeper into the entire image, and the emotions triggered by this process are what allow them to create stories in their heads. The emotions they feel when looking at the photographs act like subtle little seeds that grow into their own interpretation as they relate their emotions to something applicable to them. Storytelling in landscape photography isn’t so much as actually narrating something that happened but may instead be better described as tapping into a person’s emotions and their related experiences.

Shooting the night sky from this beach initially gave me this idea to combine two exposures wherein I would use a foreground shot later on when there was already a bit of light. However, much later in the process, I came up with an idea to express something more significant (see next photo below).

So, how does one infuse emotion into a landscape photograph? The simplest way is to harness what you are feeling during the moment of capturing the image yourself. Limitations of what our cameras can record may hinder us from entirely completing the process with the press of the button, but being able to preserve that emotion that will translate into something you envision can help you later on render the image in a way that better expresses that emotion. It’s safe to assume that most of us take photos of landscapes for reasons beyond just merely taking photos. Many landscape photographers enjoy the process of exploring new places, others love the experience of watching things unfold and the environment change. No matter which part of it you enjoy the most, for you to travel miles and miles away from your comfort zone means that there's something in the process that triggers a strong emotion in you enough to make you seek it over and over. To be able to share and transmit that emotion can definitely make you an effective visual artist and storyteller.

This resulting image wherein I used the door of my balcony as a frame to the landscape image is entitled "Breaking Cabin Fever." It illustrates the longing for the outdoors that I had during all that time when travel and mobility were restricted.

On the other hand, the emotion can take form much later. Various photographers have different ways of dealing with the collective set of images taken from one shoot and perhaps a common practice is to have different versions of similar photos. Landscape photographers don’t always have the luxury of being able to go out and shoot any time they feel like creating, which is why in many instances, a separate creative process happens when we revisit our images. As we take these photos, we harness the potential of the scene, and as we process and reprocess these images with different treatments, we can use them as ways to illustrate how we feel at the time. Every single color and how they interact with each other, the various textures and the harmony of contrasts, the use of space, and the context of scale all merge into one complex experience. How we design the experience of the viewer with the aim of transporting them to the place and radiating our own emotional response to the scene allows us to spark a similar feeling and convey the emotion to them.

Storytelling in landscape photography is not as direct and straightforward as other genres of photography and other art forms. However, beyond the beauty of a place and the curiosity it triggers, an expressively executed landscape photograph can transport the viewer to a whole new perspective and convey to them an emotion that is entirely unique. 

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2 Comments
Robert Wiggs's picture

I have read this article several times, now. We need more like this. Photography beyond techniques and more internal topics that are, by far, much harder to master. I’m looking forward to more of your work.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Thanks Robert! I really appreciate that. It makes me happy to know that topics like these are valuable to readers. Cheers!