As a landscape photographer, you probably already have an emotional connection to nature. But, how do you convey the love, sense of awe, and that take-your-breath away beauty within the confines of a four-sided frame? How do you create landscape photos that are more emotionally engaging?
1. Get intimate with your subject.
Observe your own emotions in the scene. Whatever emotion you feel toward your subject will be reflected in your photographs. Before you decide to take out your camera, observe how the landscape is affecting your emotions. Do you feel at peace in the scene? Is it dark and moody? Are you in awe of the magnificence of nature? Does the scene feel expansive and give you a feeling of insignificance? Or is it intimate, like you are the first person to ever see this moment in time?
Chances are, if you can find an element that causes you to respond emotionally to the scene, then your photographs will have a better chance of communicating that emotion, and your viewers will feel more engaged with your work.
2. Understand all the moods of your subject.
If you want your audience to relate to your landscape photographs, then you need to first understand your subject. If you have a favorite place you like to photograph, go there again and again. Study the lighting, the weather patterns, and the seasons. Practice your craft under the same conditions and see how the subject changes over time and conditions.
3. Be original.
Originality can be difficult to achieve, especially when you are first learning your craft. Imitating other photographers whom you admire is a great way to study a method, but it will not set your work apart. With practice, you will naturally bring your own unique impressions to your photographs, even if you are photographing the same subject as your peers.
4. Study composition.
As photographers, we can either subliminally or intentionally create compositions that are emotionally provocative. So, study composition and understand why it is important to use purposefully.
- Horizontal lines create a sense of serenity because objects parallel to the Earth are at rest.
- Vertical lines create a sense of power, strength, and stature because they reach to the sky.
- Diagonal lines create movement and energy because they are either about to fall or are already in motion.
- Curvy lines suggest comfort and ease. They recall the lines of the human body and have a pleasing, sensual quality.
- Symmetry conveys a sense of stability.
5. Observe how color makes you feel.
People respond to color based on their gender, cultural background, and personal experiences. How do certain colors make you feel? Trust those emotions and work them into your photographs to tell a larger story. This is a deep subject, but in Western cultures, here are a few “rules” to consider.
- Cool colors are considered restful.
- Warm colors are considered high energy and can create a restless feeling.
- The color white stands for purity.
- Darker colors are somber.
I’ve written more about the subject of color on the Visual Wilderness blog, broken into three parts: Primary Colors, Secondary Colors, and the rest of the color wheel.
6. Understand the power of symbology.
Classic works of art drip with symbology. The masters understood how to tap into the collective unconsciousness to stir our emotions. You can bring deeper meaning to your work by training your eye to look for symbolic shapes in nature and working them into your compositions. Here are some examples.
- Triangles suggest male/female energy.
- An inverted triangle creates a sense of imbalance and tension.
- Circles are often seen as protective symbols.
- A cross, aside from its powerful Christian symbology, also represents the four elements of the physical universe: earth, water, fire, and air.
These steps may seem like a lot to think about when you are simply trying to take landscape photos, so I recommend baby steps. Pick just one of these ideas and work it into your practice, then see if you can notice a difference in the quality of your work. Over time, you won’t need to think about composition or color. It will come naturally!