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Hi Robert,

I hope things are going well for you. Thank you again for your insight into landscape photography, and your help for those of us who are learning.

I do have a question for you. Since I started into photography three years ago, I have been an addict of Flickr. It has been good for me to see other photographers work and then have input from others. However, recently I have noticed something. A landscape photo may have all the necessary elements of a good photo but because it does not have that “Wow” factor, then not many are interested.

I must admit that my preference is the dynamic look and something that really has a pop. But, is this what makes a great photo? A lot of Ansel Adams photos are great and they have stood the test of time, but they don’t necessarily have the pop that attracts attention on one of the social photographic pages. Am I missing something or is there something that I need to learn?

I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Thanks,
Tony in Australia

Hi Tony,

Your question could take a whole book to answer, and in fact many books have been written about this very subject. I’ll try to answer as best I can, but know that this is only my perspective and opinion, and there are others that are just as valid. In fact that reminds me of a great quote I heard recently:

“An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’” – Frank Lloyd Wright

I love that idea, which is why you should always continue to ask questions, especially when it comes to any art form.

Near Home, Hudson River

Near Home, Hudson River

In general, photography can be broken down into two very broad categories – “fine art” and “commercial, documentary or journalistic.”

We can all agree that it’s easy to see the difference between fine art and commercial, the latter being mostly “work for hire.” But I often use the term “documentary” when I talk about fine art as a way to draw a comparison that I think works pretty well.

Documentary photography deals with capturing something in reality for what it is, without the biased interpretation of the photographer. Fine art however, is all about the photographer and his perspective, opinion, and life experiences. It attempts to convey an emotion, story, or interpretation about reality. In other words, not showing the viewer what something looks like, but rather showing the viewer how or what the photographer “feels” about his/her subject.

And in general terms, this is what great art is all about. Conveying emotions, feeling, and stories. As a photographer you need to share your opinion, personality, style, and vision.

[jbox color=”gray”] Side Note
For me Ansel Adams’ greatest contribution to photography (along with others in his generation) was raising it up to the level of fine art. Until then it had been relegated to something less “worthy” of being accepted in a gallery or museum. Others like critic and curator Beaumont Newhall, helped as well when he organized the first ever photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937.
[/jbox]

We have to look for something deeper than just the visual, more that what is actually captured. We look for symbols, meaning, allegory, and other qualities that make an image timeless – not based on current trends or fads, or on popularity, but rather on something personal.

An image that always delivers something different on repeated viewings usually does not have that initial WOW factor. And those images that do usually leave the viewer less interested on repeated viewings.

The “Mona Lisa” by Da Vinci is not great because it has the same wow as a hot model on a fashion mag cover. It is great because since the viewer can interpret it in so many different ways it can convey something different, something personal to each person…and has for centuries. That is great art.

In no way am I saying this is easy, or just a matter of “deciding” to make fine art photographs. But you can learn to become a more creative photographer and develop a personal style.

My recommendation to you is stop looking at Flickr for a while, and study the masters of photography. I’ve recommended many books and photographers in the past, but I’d start with the following in terms of nature and landscape:

Also check out two great books for inspiration and great ideas you put into practice:

Avoid magazines, quick tips, “shoot like…”, etc. These are all aimed at creating the wow you speak of, but rarely do buyers/collectors buy these types of images. They are easily forgotten. The internet has created a culture of attention demand, and so people have resorted to superficial attention grabbers (contrast, saturation, technical excellence without emotion) to get more attention. The technique should never be seen – if it is then in most cases the art fails.

And also once you get bored with wow, what will keep you motivated unless you’re creating something you’re passionate about, even if the popular culture isn’t? Photography is not a popularity contest, and too many photographers today lack the confidence to take risks for fear of rejection or criticism. I hope that helps and keeps you asking questions.

Feedback

Have you struggled with some of these issues? Have a different perspective to share? Let me know in the comments below. I’m always happy to hear from you.

RR Jr

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This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. Great advice, Robert. With such short attention spans on the internet, most stuff is forgettable anyway after the 3 second wow factor. I too prefer opening up a great photo book than of browsing social media sites for inspiration.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Richard, and yes I totally agree. Great photo books are something I’ll never get tired of enjoying, and hopefully they never go away. I always recommend “buy photo books” if you love photography and want to learn from a great source.

      RR

  2. I would suggest “quieter” photographers like Eliot Porter’s work and Joel Meyerowitz’s “Cape Light” and “A Summer’s Day” photos.

    1. All great suggestions Howard, I’m especially fond of Porter and am proud to have several out of print books of his…there are so many great examples to guide us as photographers, I appreciate your recommendations. Thanks for the feedback.

      RR

  3. Thanks Robert for the advice. I will now be more comfortable about what I am doing, rather than trying to impress the Internet culture. I will also take your advice and read some of the masters of our form of art.
    A couple of years ago my wife and I had the chance to see, in person, the Mona Lisa. You are right it does not have the pop that would make it a sensation on the social photographic pages. But who can argue the timelessness of this wonderful piece of art.

    Thanks again,

    Tony

    1. Thank you for the the great question Tony. I have not seen the Mona Lisa in person, it is on my short bucket list if things to see before I die.

      RR

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Hillel. I’m always looking for more inspiration myself, it’s one of the great things about sharing, it always seems to reward me in relation to how much I share with others. You feedback is my reward…many thanks.

      RR

  4. Great insights and thoughts. At one time I was entering local and a few national photo contests. Most of these seemed to be all about “WOW” and little about art. I found myself shooting to get images that I thought a judge would like. After a few years I got over that and don’t miss it. I now shoot what I like and don’t worry about what others think. I occasionally get criticized because my photos are artistic and not documentary. Some people feel if a photo is abstract or has been edited then it’s not a real photography. I don’t worry about those criticisms either.

    Good point about the magazines. What I see in the photo mags is often over saturated with contrast that is over the top. I’m going to have to check out some of the books you suggested.

    1. Great points Richard, and thanks for reminding us about the importance of shooting for yourself first. I can tell you from experience that as soon as you start to make images for others, that’s the end of your path as a creative person. It is contradictory to why you enjoy making images in the first place, and that always involves shooting what inspires you.

      RR

  5. Thanks for the great advice on taking some time to develop your style- and recommending those books to check out! I am just an amateur – love florals and nature … and am learning new things everyday- also loved the article about aperture … Thanks for your website and blog!

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