Some godfathers of photography, including Ansel Adams, produced images of landscapes that shaped the US’s national identity. His iconic work captured the beauty of this country one photograph at a time, particularly that of the American West. People came to know and love the dramatic landscapes of national parks through his imagery, recognizing a form of beauty that has stood the test of time. Art historians think his work was instrumental in forging a love for the outdoors, which is still apparent today. While Adams’ photos are revered to this day, some dismiss contemporary landscape photography as a genre for amateur photographers, as hobbyists flood image-sharing platforms with predictable imagery.
However, that’s not doing justice to many highly accomplished photographers who capture outstanding landscape images as part of their personal, commercial, and editorial work.
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When we think of landscape photography, usually mountain ranges and waterfalls spring to mind, but it can be urban or rural, on land or water, at night, or during the day. It can include people, animals, and buildings, but all landscape photos deal with the vastness of a space, rather than a particular subject.
Many photographers (professional and amateur) see their landscape photography as recreational and escapist. It can be a restorative activity away from the pressures of everyday life and the rigid briefs of commercial photography. This is why it’s often classed as ‘fine art’ or a personal project, done for the pure joy of taking photos and the sake of producing beautiful imagery, rather than fulfilling a client’s brief.
Although it’s the dream of many, only a very few determined photographers, such as the Ukrainian landscape photographer Yevhen Samuchenko, make a living out of fine art landscape photography. He enters his work in awards, leading to exhibitions, books, sales of landscape photo prints, and travel photography commissions.
Anthony Lindsey is a San Francisco lifestyle and architecture photographer who often shoots landscapes as part of his professional and personal work. To him, it’s a most welcome change of pace.
I really enjoy landscape photography because it requires such a different pace and mindset than other genres – I find it to be a much quieter process, although it can still be intense. It’s a chance to slow down, open up to your environment, and get your mind into a different place. I think of my landscape work as mood pieces more than anything else.
Despite its strong link to recreational photography, landscape imagery is frequently used commercially. A beautiful landscape photo can often be used decoratively: for calendars, coffee-table books, wall art, and screen savers, for example. The first two are often commissioned, while the latter two are usually sourced through photo libraries.
On the editorial front, amateur photography magazines often feature landscape photographers to inspire their non-professional readers. There are the obvious titles, such as Outdoor Photographer, who often run such assignments. Additionally, they may run landscape assignments alongside advice from the photographer on how to get the best images. So if you have a series of stunning photographs, it can be worth pitching the story to these titles.
Despite this, most photo editors source landscape images through photo libraries, making pure landscape photography assignments relatively rare. However, landscape photography is often a substantial part of aerial, travel, architecture, or reportage photography. So, a photographer’s outstanding landscape portfolio may well sway a client if they want to commission a landscape-heavy assignment.
Many photographers will sell their landscape images through photo libraries or offer landscape photography as part of other specializations, such as travel or aerial photography. This is also how Anthony incorporates this specialty into his commercial work.
Usually, the landscape work is part of a larger package of images building a story. For example, place and setting are important in hospitality work or architectural projects. A client rarely comes to me with a project that is only landscapes, but it has happened.
It’s the same for Sheffield-based photographer Denice Hough.
I’ve never been hired to photograph a pure landscape assignment. I’ve always taken them as part of my travels or when I’m doing other jobs. It’s more of a passion of mine rather than a work choice. I’ve always promoted myself as an architecture photographer, but I would love to be hired to shoot landscapes.
Landscape-heavy assignments are usually paid at the same rate as general photography. Unfortunately, high levels of competition tend to drive down prices.
Most commissioned landscape photography is part of travel assignments, a notoriously competitive space given the number of photographers in this specialization. This means that the pay for travel photography is lower, or the assignment is given to somebody based in the destination country.
Photographing landscapes for hotels, venues, and travel destinations is usually paid at normal commercial rates. However, they can be higher if aerial photography is involved, and on other occasions, if landscape images are to be displayed in large formats. Such situations require special high-resolution cameras, which often means a higher commission.
Landscape images can also earn passive income in stock libraries, especially if photographers build up a bank of photos. However, maximizing income involves a lot of trial and error. For instance, Shutterstock images are cheap and pay photographers relatively low rates, but there’s potential for high sales numbers if the content and keywords are spot on. Of course, a more exclusive picture library like Getty offers higher amounts per image sold (25 to 45% of the price), but sales volumes are often lower.
As with any genre, building a regular base of clients takes time and tenacity, depending on how the photographer positions themselves. But few specialize in landscape photography, limiting the number of clients and assignments in the discipline. Denice landed the job for Habitat in 2011 through a former colleague, which shows that staying in touch with your professional network is often a good way of getting new work.
Both she and Anthony find work by focusing on landscape-heavy assignments. As these aren’t as frequent as more general projects, it’s worth reminding potential clients from time to time of your projects – many photographers find that a regular email newsletter works well for this.
For editorial landscape photography, sending story ideas and pitches to editors also works. Even if they don’t commission the particular project you pitch, they may keep you in mind for future assignments based on your previous work.
Almost every tourist comes home with a few impressive landscapes on their smartphone, but it takes a lot of skill to make a landscape truly stand out or fulfill the client’s brief. Most commercial assignments are not about the landscape but what the client wants to get across. Should the landscape set a peaceful and tranquil scene? Or should it be edgy and intriguing? Or even come across as menacing and dangerous? A skilled photographer can make the same place convey all those qualities, which takes a special eye. Anthony agreed.
Shooting landscapes requires patience, tenacity, and a tolerance for physical discomfort. Quite often, you are at the mercy of the elements, and it can take multiple trips or attempts to get all the pieces to fall into place. Good planning is important, too – success requires being in the right place at the right time.
Separately, Denice emphasized the importance of composition.
You need to know how to do great compositions and where the sun will be, so you know the best time of day to take the photo. You also need to be willing to drive around or hike up a mountain to get the shot.
Few individuals make it as pure landscape photographers. But this genre can still be extraordinarily satisfying and remind photographers why they chose this wonderful profession. Despite the misconception that it’s an easy genre, nothing could be further from the truth. We asked Anthony if there was anything he wished he had known before he started.
How hard it is to make a really good landscape image!
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