Has landscape photography changed? Or...

…have I just changed?

[ Warning: Random musing ahead – May or may not be of any value! ]

As I recall, looking back it seems landscape photography used to take me somewhere, “carry me away”, as it were. When I looked at a photo I was transported in my mind to another place. I felt, at least a little bit, of what it must be like standing / sitting there, viewing the Real Thing the photographer had captured.

  • Sidebar: In fact that’s always been a (currently unrealized*) goal of my photography: To somehow capture an echo of that visceral moment when “I”, the photographer, first stepped out on the crag / rock / ledge / platform / shore / whatever and took in (with all my senses) the vista in front of me. Whether high, low, big, small, narrow, wide, whatever – The goal of the photo is to somehow, in a necessarily limited fashion, at least communicate to “you”, the viewer, a bit of that punch in the chest.

* That’s actually why I don’t think I’ve (yet) made a truly successful landscape photo – I’ve not felt that impact from the image.

But back to landscape photography in general…

There’s always a gap between a final image and on-site reality. The photographer chooses what to include and what to exclude. So while, for example, Lake Louise may indeed be overrun with tourists at times, the first time any of us saw a carefully framed photo of its gorgeous water and mountain backdrop it “took us there” nonetheless. And this isn’t about strictly literal / realistic photographic rendering vs. interpretation, abstraction and the like. It’s not about old-school vs. new art. It’s about communication and presentation of a Real, Actual Place, literally or otherwise.

But in comparison to my recollections I find a lot of current (i.e., digital) landscape photography less often transports me anywhere.

The photographers themselves are highly skilled, creative and I have tremendous respect for them. Technically, the shots are very good. They’re executed very well, the compositions are solid, camera work and post-processing are of a high level and usually the subject matter is interesting. But quite often newer landscape images seem more anonymous and not as “connected” to the actual landscape as the older stuff. There are more “leaf on the forest floor”, “tree silhouette against the sunset”, “cloud over mountain” and “trees in fog” images.

For me, a valuable aspect of a landscape photo’s impact is that it’s this mountain or that river, not just a mountain or river. As a viewer I want to be taken there, not simply admire a nice anonymous image. Maybe that could be addressed by including location data (when appropriate)?

In terms of processing, for lack of a better term they sometimes have a veneer of plastic, if that makes sense. Maybe they’re too perfect? Too perfectly illuminated, too cloned and too cleaned up, too balanced and too exposed? I can certainly understand how that could happen! They are no doubt beautiful works of art and I do enjoy them. But I often don’t find much connection between them and the Real World from whence they ostensibly sprang.

Is this, at least in part, a natural byproduct of the exploding volume and availability of landscape photography? That is, the photographer thinks “There must be a gazillion shots of <iconic location>, so I need to find something else… Hey look, a strange joint on a tree limb!”?

Please note – I’m not dismissing nor minimizing any type of subject matter, images nor photography, it’s just an observation. I like literal and abstract imagery, grand vistas and intimate textures. What I’m on about is a more general thing about a natural connection. And it’s not a complaint, per se, just kinda wishful (wistful?) thinking.

Am I way off-base? Do I need to get out more and open my eyes? Anyone else feel the same way?

Anyway, just musings and pontifications on a Saturday evening… I probably need to go to bed.


I’ve been seeing a ton of these too the last couple of years. There seems to be a trend away from the grand wide-angle vistas that provide context and toward using a longer lens to pick out small areas. I know it has influenced my own shooting…I simplify a lot and make sure there is a single obvious subject, and I’m at least somewhat aware of the fact that doing so is reducing a sense of place in my images.

Some people’s woodland shots look like someone went out and raked the forest beforehand. That actually does bug me. That and heavy-handed sharpening and saturation.

Maybe the answer is to put together groups of photos that together portray the place. Not that I’ve been doing that myself!


I think you’re right about the death of the grand vista landscape. Instagram and the emergence of photography as the lingua franca of social media has killed the single shot, grand vista shot.

I think if you’re interested in making art, then you can’t simply repeat the same things over and over again, the need to create should take you other places.

The trend towards smaller scenes is refreshing, and I feel like you get a better sense of the photographers style and vision from these smaller landscapes than the grand vista.

The other part that you hit on seems to be “camera as reality photo copier” which I think is extremely boring. The photograph should evoke the emotional response of being at the scene (as well as other emotions), but it doesn’t, and I think shouldn’t, strive to give you a visual replication of the scene.


The problem with places like Lake Louise is that unless you get there at dawn, you are unlikely to even find a parking place. When we were there, we turned around after looking at the number of coaches in front of us waiting to park.

I like these, but also the small and minimal. I think you have to choose your photographer, as much as anything else. New Zealand is stunning, and to my mind the photographer who shows it best is Andris Apse. Around the north of England, then Joe Cornish does work that you might like.

A book that I have mentioned and recommended before is Ross Hoddinott’s Masters of Landscape Photography, which includes pictures in a whole variety of styles.

1 Like

Completely agree with this, sometimes even going further. Whenever I look at paintings and there’s a certain archetypal quality to what they are showing, it’s often times much more visceral and evokes more feelings than the most technical and “pretty” landscape photograph. Almost like the painter is showing his ideal or perfect vision of the scene and the feeling, not the scene in of itself(as real life is never that perfect), only using it as a tool.

Not saying one is better than the other or that it’s impossible to achieve it with photography. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many landscape photos, but a lot is missing in the grand majority of them, “that feeling”. I’m sorry if I’m not being very clear, it’s hard to describe and I have no skill writing about such topics.

The sublime?

Very good points/thoughts/ideas I think… I don’t know that I’ve thought about this much tbh.
I wonder if maybe the move away from the ‘vista’ kind of shot (which I think may well be less popular now) might be that with all the access we have to viewing other people’s photos now, the photographer feels that any image he/she makes will somehow have been ‘done already’?
I’m not expressing myself very well but that’s kind of what I’m thinking… not sure that the more intimate/closeup/details kind of shot is really much different though.
I think I’ll join in musing about this for a while…

If you look at instagram or flickr, I tend to agree. So much of today’s landscape photography is a formulaic wide-angle scene with a structured foreground, some mountainscape in the background, and a colorful sky. It’s boring. But this is not a new phenomenon. Formulaic photos have always been boring. They make for pretty prints, though.

Going beyond that, I think we lost something in the transition from film to digital: in some sense the limitations of film imitate our own fragility, capturing something endearingly human. Look at these two pictures from Ralen Rowell’s fantastic “Mountain Light”:

The first picture is grainy and spotted and ill-exposed (by today’s standards). But how else would you be able to convey this moment of struggle of the first people ever to climb that Himalayan peak? Its imperfections express the hardship and beauty of the moment the way a “cleaner” picture never would.

The second picture has drowned shadows and a blown, hue-shifted sky. The film’s latitude was obviously not up to the task of capturing the dynamic range of this scene. Yet that that’s precisely what conveys the mood, by taking us into that liminal space between the bright sun and the dark shadows.

I have come to see the perfection of digital capture is a trap. A modern photographer might have been tempted to lift the shadow detail, might have reigned in those sky colors. And would have made the pictures boring and bland.

So resist the urge to “rescue” detail. Let those skies blow. Let those shadows drown. Focus on what you want to express, technical perfection be damned. And resist the formula.

In my ongoing fascination with film photography (the medium, not the tedium), I have come to appreciate the tasteful pastels of overexposed negative film, the subtle emphasis on detail of a small measure of grain, and the deep colors of underexposed positive film. Thankfully, these are traits we can easily imitate in my digital processing. Perhaps I will look back on this phase of mine and cringe just like I cringe when I look back on other phases. It is maybe just part of the journey.

At any rate, we actually didn’t lose any capability from film to digital, but we must be careful not to lose our images’ character just because we can.


I agree with many of your observations. I don’t “consume” a lot of landscape photography but I feel I see the problem you describe but also in other genres and even media. I think it’s driven by the following.

  1. Strict adherence to genres. Conscious or not.
  2. To much control over both the subject and the tech
  3. Weak or non existent “intent” behind the photo. Why is the photograph taken.
  4. Photography as a pure visual thing. Nothing beyond imagemaking.

I interpret the grand vista vs detail discussion as being a sidetrack to the OP post. It’s not the tree silhouette vs wide valley shot but the tree silhouette executed so that it becomes generic and with no feeling or intent for capturing the actual tree (as a silhouette).

I’ve mentioned it before but I find that colour grading and colour theming of movies have gone way over the top. After colour film was invented they always did control it but it’s gone to the next level. It seems props, wardrobe and post processing now allow for such control that the nerve is lost. it becomes “plastic”

Someone shared new topographics photographs where several new photographers copied the style of the original seventies photos down to picking scenes with older cars. It can’t be overstated how wrong this is in this particular genre. Again they just made images that looked like the genre but completely failed at understanding why the photos where taken.

I think these problems come with the enormous amount of images being consumed. A sort of increased visual literacy but only a very superficial one. People have seen so many images and know what they “should” be like.


Has landscape photography changed, or do we just now have way more exposure to average photography? I think the latter. Social media allows us to see a lot of average shots we never would have seen otherwise. A lot of stock photography is just ho hum and that all gets used on the Web

That said, its not just about exposure. Early digital photography really suffered from limitations of the medium and poor colour science. In some ways the tech is less limited now but in many ways the popular colour science still panders to the novice more than the expert.

Taste has also changed. Many early landscape photographers would have been influenced by the master oil painters. Now modern art dominates, and photographers become more influenced by the abstract and avant garde, rather than the beautiful, ideal or majestic.

@nosle also mention movies, which is important. The trend since the 90s has been to make everything look moody and dark, and more young photographers today would be influenced by bleach bypass than technicolour.


^Very important point!

Publishers did do (still do) an important job sifting the chaff from the wheat. We never had to see the low quality stuff unless the photographer was a personal friend. It took a lot of people with a lot of education and knowledge a huge amount of man hours to do that sifting. Of course mistakes were made but it’s way better than social media algorithms.


I may not have mentioned it before, but I live in Pitlochry :rofl:. According to our next door neighbours, before the Covid lockdown, the town used to get about 30 coaches per day during the season.

One of the most popular places within reach of the town is Queen’s View, which has parking for the majority of these coaches. The itinerary tends to be:

  1. Park in the visitor centre car park
  2. Walk up to the view point (70 metres from the car park)
  3. Take selfie, with you in the foreground and the view hidden by your head
  4. Ensure that others can’t get to take pictures, by taking additional photographs of you, your companions, your dog…
  5. If you aren’t caffeined out, walk down to the café for a coffee and a cake
  6. Get back on the bus for the next scenic spot

As a result, the view has become difficult for people who want to take pictures of the actual view, and clichéd. Like many other tourist places, the only time to take good pictures are at sunrise or sunset, when there are fewer people about.

If you want the huge landscapes, then the only way to get them is to be prepared to hike and climb a good distance.


Maybe sometimes we should be taking pictures of the queues of tourist coaches rather than pretending they don’t exist? Or at least include some of those in a series. That would be honest and also say something about the pressure on nature (from photographers, too). It might even be more interesting than the endless perfect vistas (I admit I try to do this, too). There are landscape photographers who use often technically limited equipment to do something that’s out of the ordinary. Kate Kirkwood, who I think lives on a farm, is one. She has a lot of interesting pics on Flickr.


This one is particularly relevant, I think



I made some half-arshed efforts to do this myself recently in Cyprus by leaving things in rather hiding them behind foliage.


Good old survivorship bias, the past looks better because we’ve already lost track of the garbage.


Sounds like a restatement of Sturgeon’s Law.

I can almost see some people’s mouse hands twitching as they fight the urge to start cloning… :rofl:

Haha. Brilliant. It’s as if Stephen Shore decided to clone out all the “shitty” 70s American cars from his pics because they look so boring. Maybe we’ll look back and think, wow those Toyota Camry’s are classic

1 Like

We will. This is how the passage of time & human’s longing for nostalgia works.

1 Like

Wow! Those are a lot of replies… :slight_smile:

First, a clarification on my somewhat Magellanesque wanderings… I’m not promoting nor decrying any particular style. I’m neither realist nor stylist, grand vista-ist nor detail-ist, digital-ist nor film-ist (or is that filmic? :smiley:). I like them all on any given day. I tend toward realism but with drama if possible. Kinda like I’d rather hear a skilled human drummer ultra-accurately killing a pattern rather than a drum machine ultra-accurately playing the same pattern. Same result either way (basically) but I like the idea of the work, effort, craftsmanship and (dare I say) professionalism of the human approach. It’s just that after looking at a lot of landscape photography, some of it seems rather generic, even if immaculately executed and (in terms of subject matter) fundamentally awe-inspiring. I guess that means I’ve seen too much? LOL

An interesting thought that occurred to me last night was that while “we” (for some value of “we”) generally decry the effect of AI-generated images on photography, the shooting and processing lengths some go to (in order to create perfect images) ends up looking quite like AI imagery. Just sayin’ … :upside_down_face:

Yeah, our woodlands here (Louisiana, USA) are very messy, densely undergrown with lots of briers, thorns, vines, etc. And LOTS of pine needles covering everything in site. So I guess a little clean-up wouldn’t be objectionable! :slight_smile:

I suspect there’s also another factor. Although there are lots of scenic areas worldwide, I strongly suspect (without any hard data to back me up) that there are still far, far more ordinary, bland (if not outright ugly) views. And now that the Internet makes viewing images from everywhere so easy, it seems like “all” the grand vistas have been photographed. Of course, that’s not true but to “see” the less obvious grand vistas will require seeing and capturing “grandness” in views that might not have traditionally been considered grand. That’s quite a challenge, simultaneously interesting and frustrating.

I can’t argue that point too much, but I think if the rendering is strictly literal, it’s incumbent to select “grand” subject matter that can carry the load solo, so to speak. Then again, for those of us who live in boring areas, even a marginal snapshot of a grand view intrinsically has some value. For example, the only time I can view a hill is either by traveling or looking at an imge.

I’ve seen a bit of Joe’s work and it’s extremely nice. In NZ, William Patino does some stunning (entirely hand-held, BTW) work. I also like Mads Peter Iversen, although he’s pretty stylistic at times. Also Nick Page, Sean Bagshaw and Thomas Heaton. Mitch Dobrowner creates phenomenal B&W imagery of weather and the natural landscape. Gavin Hardcastle puts a lot of humor into his YT videos, but his photographs are very nice, too. Of the older, film photographers, John Shaw’s work was really nice.

That’s a good word. Sublime.

Yeah, exactly (as I pointed out above). I can tell you for a fact I’ve walked by many, many tree bark shots and such thinking, “yeah, like no one’s done that before.” Well, the Actual Fact is if I want to do something truly unique, I’m setting a very tough row to how for myself. As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. So I need to loosen up. :smiley:

I understand what you’re saying and don’t really disagree (it’s a similar idea to my drummer analogy above) but I tend to think of digital and film as two coexisting media, not replacements for each other (despite the reality that digital has functionally replaced film). But as some move back to film – for film’s sake – I think they’ll be more “different but equal” in many ways.

Yep, same here, kind of like the muted colors some past-era-targeting TV shows have used . And the same goes for CG replacing live effects. I totally get the practical factors, from safety to expense to whatever. But it seems there are basically no real action, actually filmed, effects any more. And as good as CG has become, it’s still instantly recognizable. But now with AI? Who knows…

Yeah. like about 1,500 miles for me! LOL

Not quite the same thing, but sort of similar – I’ve thought more than once about shooting a series of (probably B&W or very de-sat) images showing the trash that’s found everywhere in my home state. You can go for a walk in the woods and in the middle of nowhere there will be bottles, paper, broken ice chests, major appliances… It’s almost impossible to drive down any significant road without seeing trash. It would be interesting to shoot nothing but that sort of thing in a gritty style, but it would probably also be a bit disingenuous. Not everyone in Louisiana throws trash on the ground, but obviously are more than a few who do.

Hey, I resemble that remark!! :slight_smile: Actually that’s why I mentioned a gritty style - it would need to be obvious what’s being done so that the images don’t come across as just a bunch of poorly composed / cropped snapshots.

Anyway, it’s all just my pontificating at the end of the day. Excuse me, I need to go in search of that Killer Grand Vista Sunset. :smiley: