Fine Art Landscape Photography Workshops

Learn How To Create Fine Art Landscape Photography

A good travel & landscape photograph communicates more than just the location

Lightroom automation and instant gratification

First, let’s look at the world we live in now. Digital photography is different to all other forms of art; we do not need any skill to produce an initial image. Digital cameras make photography accessible to millions of people who gain great pleasure from travel and landscape photography as a relaxing and creative pastime. Modern digital cameras and Lightroom sliders make life easy to produce polished results very quickly. The internet allows everyone to show those polished results to the world. Manufacturers create new products aimed at automating photography to make it more simple, people adopt those new products because they save time and are intuitive and easy to use. Photographic quality now defined by how technically polished the result is. The better the photographer learns to make that polished look, the better they believe their photography is. The best photographers being those producing the most polished results consistently while in exotic locations around the world. The ease of making these polished images makes them highly prolific and the internet makes them highly visible. The combination of both makes them highly desired to learn. This creates a demand for teaching, so creates an enormous industry in photography workshops, websites, and YouTube videos all offering paid tuition. Travel and landscape photography are now driven by the desire to make quick, technically polished, ‘slick’ looking results with minimum effort. Simple ‘automation and instant gratification’. Most of the conversation focused on equipment.

This results in ‘dumbing-down’ photography. Not because good photographers have become ‘dumb’ – but because ‘dumb’ photographers think they’re good – and then teach. Empty vessels make most noise’! – A tsunami of internet and social media ‘self-proclaimed experts’, teachers with more social media talent than photographic ability. The great majority totally ignorant about ‘How to make good visual imagery’, with no professional work experience to back up their teachings. Incredibly talented photographers do exist but are drowned out by this flood of untalented experts who view teaching as just quick income. If you teach you have the moral responsibility to first possess the knowledge, skill, and experience. The self-respect of knowing your knowledge and craftsmanship skills have a proven value. Enthusiasts are teaching enthusiasts just to support their own hobbies and photography standards are suffering for it. The whole perception of what it takes to be a good fine art travel and landscape photographer, corrupted.

I have all the patience in the world for enthusiasts who want to learn; passion to better their skills and their landscape photography. I don’t have patience for ‘self-proclaimed experts’ that promote good, creative fine art travel and landscape photography can be degraded to simple ‘automation and instant gratification’. This totally undermines the creativity, intelligence and dedication required to be a good photographer and produce good quality photography. Simple ‘automation and instant gratification’ and all those teaching this approach are saturating the world with dead, soulless, and generic images. Travel and landscape photography often reduced to clinical renditions of locations lacking personality, style, creativity, or imagination. The great majority who enjoy taking pictures are very happy with the results they produce and don’t want to complicate their life further. They have no wish to become ‘masters’. This is totally understandable and fully acceptable. Equally, there are many who want to become ‘masters’, who are passionate about improving the quality of their travel and landscape photography. This requires a totally different approach to ‘automation and instant gratification’.

‘All that glitters is not gold’

Why would we buy a book that had no story? What we buy is the story; the book is only the tool to communicate the story. ‘All that glitters is not gold’. The simple ‘automation and instant gratification’ approach combined with the teachings of uneducated ‘self-proclaimed experts,’ will only make you produce ‘glitter’, not gold! What turns ‘glitter’ into gold is understanding the art of visual communication – the ‘Art of Image Making’ – How to visually communicate ideas and emotions using artistic principles without needing words. A travel and landscape photograph that is only a literal rendition of the scene, regardless of how ‘slick’ and polished looking, only means achieving the first step; making a book. What we buy is the idea, story, or emotion the travel and landscape photograph communicates or it fails on a visual communication level and so by default, as a good travel and landscape photograph. The book is the ‘glitter’ and what it communicates is the ‘gold’. Do you want to make cheap ‘glitter’, or do you want to make quality ‘gold’?

The term ‘the art of visual communication’ is too abstract to be educational, so let me give you an example using portraits. When working as a photographer, shooting portraits was a very large part of the job. The key to a good portrait is ‘photograph the mind, not the body’. Capture the mind at work, the life in their eyes, their expression, the emotion they communicate through gestures and body language. Then hunt for the appropriate expression or body language that communicates the story you are employed to cover. This is the ‘gold’. Getting a well exposed, sharp photograph of the person is just the ‘glitter’; the basic ability required of any photographer but not what defines them as being a good photographer. The ability to communicate the story visually is what defines them as being a good photographer. I worked as a news photographer and picture editor for Reuter News Pictures when the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher; ‘The Iron Lady’. Let’s say she was angry over some current situation and she held a press conference. The news photograph to capture would be a powerful tight headshot emphasizing her expression of anger both as her reaction to the situation and portrayal of her reputation as ‘The Iron Lady’. Equally, let’s say the Prime Minister then launched a new ship, the emphasis would change from her, to the ship so the Prime Minister would be much smaller in the picture. If a royal attended a funeral it would be inappropriate to show them happy and if an athlete won a medal it would be inappropriate to show them sad. Just getting a well-polished photograph of the event does not make it a good photograph. Understanding what the event is, then successfully communicating the ‘story’ is what makes it a good photograph.

Travel and landscape photography are no different but the emphasis is more on communicating emotions. View the landscape as having a personality then communicate that personality and mood along with its ‘geographical signature’. Geographically unique content that indicates where in the world the landscape is. Portraying the landscapes personality is what will make it a successful landscape photograph, however, sunrise and sunset is a seriously limited repertoire of story, I think we need a little more imagination if the landscape can only be seen with only these two choices. Light is the universal theme of all landscapes, the subject just an excuse to portray light. Light comes in an unlimited number of choices, beyond just the sunrise and sunset formula. It’s not about just producing pretty, glossy pictures, you need to communicate something more, something deeper. Visual communication skills are rarely taught, the emphasis placed on just getting a well composed and technically polished photographs. It’s totally missing the whole point of travel and landscape photography. The world is flooded with ‘experts’ teaching how to make ‘books’, very few teach how to write ‘stories’.

The quality of the tools, the equipment has a direct impact on the technical quality of the product you produce. Therefore, a direct impact on how well you can communicate the idea, story and emotion. The tools can be divided between capture and retouching. High quality cameras and lenses capture higher quality data, the essential basic building material of any fine art travel and landscape photograph, essential. Image editing software turning the basic building material into the final product. There are two approaches. The automated slider approach with Lightroom or the craftsmanship approach with Photoshop. Lightroom has limited tools. If you limit the creative tools, you limit creativity possible. Limitations, limit diversity. Lightroom pictures all look similar because there is a limit on how far you can alter the image. One major reason why most of the travel and landscape photography now all looks similar. Lightroom assumes human intelligence, craftsmanship and creativity, can be reduced to the choice of a few sliders or even worse, someone else’s creativity, a preset! Lightroom is like working with ‘one hand tied behind your back’; the price you pay for speed and ease. Technique is like learning French. The more words you learn, the more conversation you can have in France. However, if you have nothing to say, then learning French has no purpose. Technique alone is pointless unless you have something to say. Equally, if you are restricted to only a few words of French, you are limited in the conversations you can have. There are only two reasons not to use Photoshop. Price and effort. Photoshop and Lightroom together cost £9.95 per month. That is the same as buying one Nikon D850 body every 21-years! – come on, price is an excuse to justify laziness. Effort, correct! Lightroom, sliders and presets bread lazy attitudes. If you want to create something better than other people, all it takes is more effort than other people and accept there is a learning curve.

Simple ‘automation and instant gratification’ is not only limited as a tool, it also requires little skill or intelligence, thought or skill. It does not force you to think about the visual communication aspect. The story That’s what nobody is teaching yet is the core skill required to create images. while creating lazy attitudes in photographers. This raises the obvious question: Am I one of those ‘self-proclaimed expert? I have spent a lifetime being paid to turn ideas, concepts, stories, and emotions into photographs. I can’t be too bad at it, it has kept me employed as a professional working photographer for over 35-years, the only job I have ever had. I ‘practice what I preach’. My career gives me a unique perspective and knowledge of ‘what works’ – 35-years professional work proves, it works! Technology may have changed, the ‘qualities that make a good photograph’ – have not. To create high quality, creative fine art travel and landscape photography requires a complete change in your approach to travel and landscape photography at the most fundamental level. This includes a return to good old-fashioned craftsmanship. Michelangelo lay on his back for four-years creating the Sistine Chapel. If you enjoy the ‘journey’ then creative fine art travel and landscape photography is for you, if you just want quick results, it’s not.

Landscapes must create an emotional response

Learning how to create good quality fine art landscape photography is not hard, in fact it’s very enjoyable and personally rewarding. First, you need a teacher that can actually ‘create good quality fine art landscape photography’ themselves. Second, an easy to follow and logical teaching structure, communicated well. I break-down the workflow into the four major subjects, then break-down those subjects into small, easy to learn, ‘bite-size’ steps. Learn only one step at a time, add the steps together and the ‘Art of Image Making’ workflow is learnt. Photoshop is a large part of the fine art landscape photography workshop, but must be kept in perspective, it is only a means to an end; where we bring everything together, a tool. Photoshop is irrelevant if we haven’t got the photography correct first and both are irrelevant if we haven’t got the visual theory correct.

Creating good fine art landscape photography requires broader knowledge than the ‘automation and instant gratification’ approach. Aesthetic knowledge to understand how to create artistic quality and scientific knowledge to understand how to create technical quality. Aesthetic quality being how to visually communicate your ideas and emotions using artistic principles without needing words. How to communicate the light, mood, drama, and atmosphere then create an optical illusion of reality; spatial-distance, three-dimensional form, and texture, with composition, balance and cohesion. The old master painters are history’s most qualified practitioners of aesthetic quality for hundreds of years. They have refined the skill and their universal principles have lasted the ‘test of time’. Learn their principles and you have a great head-start because the quality of your photography is defined by its aesthetic quality, not the camera or technique. We respond and judge images on an emotional level first, content, and technical second.

So, how does this all come together? The following may help your landscape photography straight away, by helping you look at creating fine art landscape photography the correct way, the intelligent way. First, we must grab the viewer’s attention by using simple, bold composition then keep that viewer our prisoner; captivated by the detail. We must then reward that viewer by communicating a clear idea or story to give the landscape photograph purpose. Finally, create an emotional response in that viewer through communicating the light, mood, and drama in the landscape. Achieve all this and you have a great landscape photograph, indeed it applies to all photography.

Think of creating the fine art landscape photograph as a theatre stage. We must have one, clearly defined, main subject. The ‘lead actor’ and hero of the landscape photograph. Secondary objects are the ‘supporting cast’ and distant landscape is the ‘theatre backdrop’, setting the context. Finally, sky supplies the ‘stage lighting’. Everything in the fine art landscape photograph must center around making our main hero look fantastic. Bold, clear, and center stage without conflict. The hero also acts like a ‘hotel’, a place to travel from and then return too. Without the hero, your eye is left wandering with nowhere to call home. The essential emotional response is the synergy created from the cohesion of everything working together, content and craftsmanship towards a single goal. Photographs that create an emotional response, we bond with, they draw us in psychologically and invite us to walk in and around the landscape, searching, exploring, and discovering. They trigger our imagination providing a rewarding personal and emotional journey. We look at those photographs longer, they are the photographs we want to buy. Why buy a photograph we don’t connect with?

A powerful way to create that psychological connection in a fine art landscape photograph and so draw them in, is to give the viewer a convincing optical illusion of three-dimensional reality because that is how our brain expects to see the world. We need aesthetic knowledge to know how to create that optical illusion of three-dimensional form and spatial distance, this is where we look back to old master painters. The camera alters the tones we see and flattens the three-dimensional quality during capture, so we must manually replace, then exaggerate it. We need scientific knowledge to understand how the camera alters the tones during capture so we can counteract the defects and create rich shadows the way we see them in reality. In reality there is minimal pure black in the world we see, yet in landscape photography it is very common to see very black, filled in, heavy shadows. This breaks the illusion of reality; stops us connecting with the photograph creating a barrier that stops us accepting the landscape as real.

Why would a fish bite a hook, that had no bait?

Why would a fish bite a hook, that had no bait? If the fish doesn’t bite the hook, you don’t get the fish! – Fishing requires more knowledge than just putting a hook in the water. The simple ‘automation and instant gratification’ approach may make images, but they don’t captivate the viewer because they don’t have any bait. That’s like fishing and never catching a fish! Pointless. ‘Traditional and predictable’ photographs made with this ‘automation and instant gratification’ approach only offer us ‘what we expect to see’ or ‘this is what I saw’. The fish wants a free meal and we want more than just a polished recording without any soul. If there is no reward, why should we invest time looking?

‘Think first, act second’ makes you take less landscape photography, but what you do take will be high quality landscape photography. Invest all your time and energy in one well thought out and beautifully crafted fine art landscape photograph, not hundreds of variations you discard later. Plan for only one landscape composition, then invest all your time and effort making that one landscape composition, a great landscape photograph. If you keep moving about, shooting hundreds of various angles all you achieve is getting certain elements correct in certain pictures, but you don’t get all the elements correct in one picture. Stay put you get the best elements and the best composition. Winner! Transfer all the questions you ask while editing your hundred images at home after the shoot, to being THE questions to ask at the camera – before you shoot. Try to imagine what the photograph could become, ‘Photoshop’ the landscape in your mind and then ask: – Is this a good photograph? If so, start production, take photographs. This way you create your own success, you don’t rely on one lucky shot in a hundred. You goal is just to create one stunning beautiful fine art landscape photograph of pure quality. Above all else, think about why you are taking the photograph. It’s not about the book, it’s about the story. What do you want to tell me as the viewer about the landscape you see? Compose the subject, photograph the light, print the atmosphere. Tell me a story visually communicated with aesthetic quality and technical perfection.

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