Friday Foto Talk: Intimate Landscapes   14 comments

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. 55 mm., 20 sec. @ f/22, tripod.

Last week I posted under the somewhat ambitious title How to Shoot Landscapes.  I mentioned that landscapes come in all sizes, so this week we’ll look at the small scale world of landscape photography.  Most of the photos here are of this type, what I call intimate landscapes.  But a few straddle the line or are definitely the more typical large-scale landscape.  I like sharing recent images with you here on the blog even if they don’t match the topic precisely.  But I also think they help to illustrate the difference between the two kinds of images.

No clear dividing line exists between the more photographed grand landscape and the less common intimate variety.  The same goes for the lower boundary between intimate landscape and macro photography.  In general if you’re shooting something less than the size of a football field/pitch (often much smaller), but you’re including more real estate than a typical macro photo (and not using your macro lens), then you’re shooting an intimate landscape.

Entrance to the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California.

Entering the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park.  16 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100, tripod.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia, shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia.  Shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away, this one straddles the line between intimate and large landscape. 135 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200, handheld.

HOW TO SHOOT AN INTIMATE LANDSCAPE

  • Which one to shoot?  Let your unconscious be your guide, but realize it’s easier to miss smaller, intimate landscapes.  When a grand landscape inspires you, shoot that.  But always be on the lookout for smaller scenes as well, and photograph those when they interest you in some way.  Try not to go out with the goal of shooting one or the other.
  • Composition is still king.  The same things that make large landscapes work well (subject off-center, sense of depth, use of leading lines, layers, tone and color, and balancing elements) will strengthen your intimate landscapes.
In central Oregon's Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands.  19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

In central Oregon’s Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands. 19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Strong subjects help.  Of course a strong main subject helps any landscape image, but in smaller more intimate scenes, where all of the elements tend to appear the same size and are usually lighted similarly, a good strong subject is even more important.  Remember a striking color contrast can also make for a strong subject.

Shot under an overcast sky, Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is a very popular intimate landscape to shoot. 45 mm., 1 sec. @ f/10, ISO 160, tripod.

  • Issues of light and sky.  Oftentimes intimate landscapes are more appropriate when the sky is overcast and the light is even (image above).  Typical small-scale landscapes don’t include much (if any) sky.  But those aren’t rules!  Now we know that great light, whether it’s strong & directional or filtered & reflected by clouds is perfect for grand landscapes that include a lot of sky.  But that light is also great for intimate landscapes, even when you don’t include any sky (image below).

Beautiful light filters into Oregon’s Eagle Creek Canyon near sunset. 24 mm., 3.2 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Careful with clutter. This point is closely related to the one about strong subjects above.  It’s important to be careful with clutter in all landscape photos.  But when your landscapes are composed of elements that are all close to you, it’s even more important to simplify compositions as much as possible.  With big wide-angle landscapes, more distant things tend to look small in the frame, so are not as likely to distract the viewer.  When everything is close, that stuff may easily distract.
These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon.  A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.

These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon. A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.  To limit clutter it isn’t a wide-angle shot.  55 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/8, ISO 800, handheld.

  • Images with a sense of depth.  Shooting near to far compositions (one good way to lend a sense of depth) are more challenging when working on smaller scales.  But it’s possible.  You may be focusing very close to the lens, so choose a lens that has a so-called “macro” setting.  It’s not truly macro of course (marketing).  Always wide-angle with fairly short focal lengths, these kinds of lenses open up a lot of possibilities for intimate landscapes because they can focus very close, in some cases less than a foot away.  Getting down low can also help add depth.
Recent shot in Washington's Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge.  Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth.

Recent shot in Washington’s Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth. 16 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Sky and depth.  While we’re talking about a sense of depth, here’s something to try.  After shooting an intimate landscape that excludes the sky, zoom out a little or shift the camera up a bit and include just a small bit of sky, not much.  Compare and see if that doesn’t add more depth to the image.  The image above makes use of both this and the above tips on adding a sense of depth.

So next time you’re out photographing your favorite landscape, try to find more intimate scenes.  It adds variety to your portfolio and can yield some of your favorite images.  Tune in next week for Friday Foto Talk for some tips on focus and depth of field when shooting intimate landscapes.  Have a great weekend!

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset.

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset. 16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200, tripod.

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14 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Intimate Landscapes

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  1. These images are beautiful!

  2. Awesome info to think about and do.

  3. Hi Michael, Terrific post filled with important shooting ideas and your images, as always, have a unique perspective and stunning results. I love your post-processing. Do you use Nik? I may have missed that.

  4. I’ve learned the intimate sort of pictures are more difficult than the large scale landscapes, also more satisfying. Seem to be more decisions to make with the smaller scale photos. Nice bunch you have posted here, I think I’m detecting the Orton effect in a few. I like that effect on shots that have a lot of vegetation.

    • It’s true Patrick. I like that effect with vegetation since with digital it tends to look a bit too crunchy & detailed. I’m hoping it’s not overdone; trying to be fairly subtle with it. The last image I processed to look like film so that’s another option to simplify the look, which is even more important with intimate landscapes.

      • I think you hit the processing about right. Fun effect to play around with. Sometimes it really helps, sometimes it just looks crummy. How would you process something to look like film? If that’s not too much to explain down here in the comments.

        • Actually I was mistaken. That last image I processed ala film and then did this version and posted that. I just use plugins since I’m no Photoshop expert. Nik Analog Effex does a pretty good job. For B&W film effects you can’t beat Nik Silver Effex. Now looking at the one from Eagle Creek I think I may have done that one when I first started softening things – a little overdone.

  5. Nice photoset, I like your processing. Looks a great place too:)

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