Landscape photography is more than just capturing beautiful images—it’s a way to reconnect with nature and get a little headspace in a fast-moving digital world, says Graeme Green.
“Photography is, for me, about being outside and experiencing the planet,” photographer Antony Spencer says. “It’s about experiencing places and feeling like you can still get lost in a world.”
In the digital age of smartphones and social media, where it can feel like every inch of the planet has been snapped and shared, it’s still possible to get ‘lost’ and find unique locations to produce original photographs. Spencer, who won the prestigious Landscape Photographer of the Year award back in 2010, travels around the world, from Cornwall to Colorado, often guiding tours to little known corners.
Over the years, previously ‘unexplored’ areas of Norway and Iceland have, he says, started to become more popular with photographers, pushing him towards lesser known locations in Greenland, or using helicopters to access tourist-free glaciers and river deltas in Iceland. “One of the reasons I was drawn to landscapes is because I have a major fascination with the outside world,” says Spencer. “It’s also a chance to slow down in a world that is so fast-paced. The world changes all the time, perhaps not always for the better. Having a chance to slow down is more and more important.”
Slowing down is a major factor in the rise of landscape photography’s popularity. British landscape photographer Charlie Waite is the founder of Light & Land, a company that runs photography holidays and workshops in the UK and around the world. Over the past 25 years since the company started, he’s seen a steady increase in the number of people taking tours—some take two or more per year—and noticed a growing number of female photographers joining trips.
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A break from the full-on assault of modern life, work, family and social media, as well as the arrival of easy-to-use digital cameras and smartphones, could explain the uptake. “The faster we’re going as people, the less our feet are firmly on the ground,” Waite says. “We’ve become preoccupied with technology and communication, and we’ve become very dislocated. We can use the camera to re-engage with ourselves because it can help you notice things around you that otherwise you might miss. It certainly makes me feel more connected to the landscape and to the world.”
While wildlife photography or street photography can have an ‘adrenaline’ element as they often capture fleeting moments, landscape photography is often more contemplative. A ‘waiting game’ can be the difference between a good and a great landscape photo.
“I love to get out in the great outdoors. It’s the perfect antidote to what I do. I spend so much time cooped up in this little box, driving around a big congested city. To get somewhere quiet gives you time to think and to breathe. I think we all sometimes feel the need to escape.”
Terry Gibbins, photographer
Waite was recently behind a new landscape photography exhibition, Evolving Landscapes, which took place in July 2018 at London’s Oxo Gallery. For one of the pictures on show, Blue Window, taken in Andalusia in Spain, Waite constructed the shot he wanted, but had to wait patiently for the desired change in conditions through the window. “After an hour or so, a scattering of cloud developed sufficiently to offset the strict geometry in the picture,” he explains. Other times, he’s waited far longer for the right light, cloud or weather to arrive, or, in one instance, for a herd of cows to stand in line.
As well as time to contemplate, there’s the obvious benefit that exploring a landscape to photograph it requires exercise. “We’re all becoming more aware of our ‘five a day’, that we should focus more on nutrition and better health, and that we should exercise for at least 20 minutes a day,” says Waite. “Few of us are able to pursue any such regime, despite wanting to. Landscape photography can give you that little push. When I’m in the company of people who join me on our photography workshops, I feel they’re very much rewarded by the immersive experience that landscape photography can bring.”
A chance to reconnect with the natural world is also part of the appeal for Terry Gibbins. Working as a black cab driver in London, Gibbins also spends time photographing and guiding workshops in locations across the capital, such as Canary Wharf. But he also takes his camera out as often as possible to the wilds of Scotland, Northumberland and the South Downs. “I love to get out in the great outdoors,” he says. “It’s the perfect antidote to what I do. I spend so much time cooped up in this little box, driving around a big congested city. To get somewhere quiet gives you time to think and to breathe. I think we all sometimes feel the need to escape.”
In this way, landscape photography can serve a serious purpose. “I would be an anxious mess without it,” photographer Paul Sanders tells me. Sanders previously worked as a news photographer, then a picture editor for The Times. The workload and pressures of the job alongside the collapse of his marriage, led to stress, anxiety and severe depression. It was landscape photography and a mindful approach to taking photos, Sanders says, that offered him a route out.
“If you go out on your own to take pictures that you may never show anybody, you’re very honest with how you feel about yourself.”
Paul Sanders, photographer
“To stand and be totally aware of everything that’s going on, hearing everything, smelling everything, feeling the ground beneath your feet, and then seeing the changes of light, feeling the wind in the trees, the scents on the evening breeze … It all goes in and it has a huge calming effect. You realize your place in the world and what you need.”
Sanders left his job and started life as a landscape photographer. He also took photos he had produced into therapy sessions with Simone Crowley at The Butterfly Rooms, where the subject, tone and composition of an image triggered conversations about how he felt when taking the picture—and this led to deeper emotions or anxieties that he’d found difficult to talk about in traditional therapy.
“As photography is a form of self-expression, it can help liberate people in allowing them to gain a deeper sense of connection to their feelings,” therapist Simone Crowley explains. “Each image possesses its own unique expression of an individual’s internal thoughts, allowing them to gain a greater self-awareness.”
“Sharing true feelings in a therapeutic setting can be challenging for any person though,” Crowley continues. “The beauty of working with photography is that you can also use it as a form of self-healing and take it outside of the therapy room. An individual spending time out in nature, being with their thoughts and feelings, can help capture photographs to express their present emotions.”
It’s that solitude, being alone in nature, that’s the biggest draw for Sanders. “If you go out on your own to take pictures that you may never show anybody, you’re very honest with how you feel about yourself,” he says. “It’s a way of getting rid of a lot of baggage, when you go out on your own. You spend time getting to know yourself. With a group, there’s always a bit of ego and competitiveness. It’s only when you stand alone in the middle of nowhere that you’re true to who you are. That honesty with yourself actually calms you down and brings you to a state of peace that makes you smile for no reason.”
All the photographers mentioned guide Light & Land photography holidays and workshops in the UK and around the world.
In 2018, the company celebrated their 25th anniversary with an exhibition, Evolving Landscapes, at the OXO Gallery on London’s Southbank. It took place from July 18-22, with works by the photographers above, as well as Joe Cornish, Phil Malpas, Valda Bailey, Graeme Green and others.