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“The best way out is always through.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

Be a Landscape Minimalist

Landscape photos, by their very nature, often require including somewhat complex visual elements. If you're photographing an interesting pattern of ripples in a sandbar at the edge of the sea, for instance, and also want to include the surf, a few palm trees and some interesting clouds, you've got to find a way to organize those elements to strike a good and non-competitive visual balance. But sometimes the best way to organize them is to simply reduce, drastically, the number of visual elements.

Over the years I've tried to play a little mental game when I'm composing a landscape by challenging myself to reduce the number of graphic elements necessary to tell the story. I've shot lots of sunsets over the desert in Arizona, for instance, and they usually include a lot of elements: saguaro cactus, the sun, rock cliffs, a path, etc. The day I shot this photo though I was struck by how far down I could distill the elements and still capture the scene before me. I ended up just using two bold ingredients: a black silhouette of mountain and a colorful sky. What else did I need? This is exactly what sunset feels like to me in Arizona, so why clutter it up?

You may not always be able to reduce a landscape to two elements, but the more you whittle down and refine the primary ingredients, the more powerful each of them becomes. Again, by doing that with this scene, I've established a fierce contrast of earth and sky.

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