Category Archives: Landscape Photography

Wandering Around

Copyright © Jim Banks

Quite a few years ago, I was showing a portfolio of commercially-oriented work around in an effort to drum up more business. I met with an art director who looked through my portfolio carefully, and then remarked, “you just wander around and take photos of interesting things.”

I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but I later concluded that he was right.  That’s what I liked to do, and that’s what I thought was one of photography’s major strengths: finding interesting subjects, compositions, patterns or drama, and capturing them through the magic of photography.

“Wandering around” has always been my approach to landscape photography as well.  I’ll have a general idea of where I want to look, but that’s about as far as my planning takes me.  I much prefer to wander around and let the photographs find me.

Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Twelve Significant Photographs

Ansel Adams wrote, “twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”  In today’s age of cell phone cameras, Facebook and Instagram, is this a hopelessly outdated notion?

It’s estimated that there are currently about 90 billion photos on Facebook, with 6 billion more added each month.  Granted, most are posted as a means of personal communication rather than as any kind of artistic expression, but that’s a lot of photos!  Flickr, a photo-sharing site where the photos presumably have more creative intent, already hosts about 5 billion images.

The technological sea change that photography has seen in the last decade has exponentially increased the quantity of photographs, but not necessarily the quality.  While it’s generally easier, faster and cheaper to make photographs than ever before, that doesn’t necessarily translate into better photographs.

Oceano #1, Oceano, California © Jim Banks

The key word in Ansel’s quote is “significant”.  Of course that means different things to different people, but in this case I think he meant portfolio- and exhibition-worthy prints that would stand the test of time.

I feel that this seemingly modest goal is still valid in fine art landscape photography.  Although it’s very easy now to make hundreds (or thousands) of images in a day, the best still come from deliberate observation, selectivity, timing, and circumstance, with a little bit of luck thrown in.  They then have to survive a ruthless edit and pass the most important test of all, the test of time.

All in all, twelve significant photographs in a year is quite an accomplishment.

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roots in the Landscape

People sometimes ask how I got interested in landscape photography.  I think the answer lies first in my interest in the landscape.

When I was growing up, family outings and vacations usually involved lots of time in out-of-the-way places. My parents were “rock hounds”, and my grandfather, H.H. Nininger, was a pioneer in the study of meteorites.  We would spend days (or weeks) in remote areas, camping and exploring. As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of patience for actually looking for rocks, but I really loved the requisite traveling, camping and being outdoors.  I always enjoyed looking at and being in the landscape. I clearly remember struggling to stay awake on long car rides so as not to miss anything interesting along the way (which I still do today).

Like many photographers, I developed an interest in photography at an early age, although it was initially fairly casual and secondary to the experience of actually being in the landscape.  I have vague memories of having an old Kodak Brownie camera when I was very young, and clear memories of receiving a Kodak Instamatic camera for my 12th birthday.  These piqued my interest in photography, and I eventually got a hand-me-down Argus “Brick” camera from my mother, and finally my own 35mm SLR.

Initially, as with most photographers, my photos were primarily records of places and things.  Photography was a way to enjoy and remember the experience of being someplace.  While the technical aspects of photography came to me easily, and I think strong compositions were fairly natural for me, photography really didn’t get much deeper than that for me until I was in my 20s.

Throughout my formative years, I think I was most interested in the landscape itself, with photography being a strong, but secondary, interest.

Tagged , | Leave a comment

Scattering Leaves

I picked up a photography magazine the other day while I was waiting for an appointment.  As I was flipping through the pages, I saw an article that struck a chord.  In it, the author talked about how Autumn was a favorite time of year for landscape photography.  While I don’t have any quarrel with the conclusion, the reasoning seemed a bit odd to me.  The author stated that unlike in other seasons, where a photographer had to work with the hand they were dealt, in the Fall, a photographer could scatter leaves throughout the scene to improve his photographs.

While there are no general ethical principles in landscape photography, as there are in journalism for instance, in my mind there is an implication that landscape photographs are rooted in fact. Yes, photographs are abstractions of reality, and yes, they can be selective in what they show and manipulated in printing, but one usually assumes they are based on what was actually present in the scene as it was found.  At least I make that assumption.  To think otherwise removes a bit of their allure, in my opinion.

While there are many valid approaches to photography, the images I make are true to the scene as I found it.  I much prefer to discover and explore the subjects of my photographs as they exist in reality. Besides, who am I to try to improve upon what is naturally present?

(Tip from the article: if you do scatter leaves in your photographs, make sure they don’t all end up right side up, as that’s a sure giveaway that you did.)

Tagged , | Leave a comment