Photo Essay

So You Want to be a Landscape Photographer

Signature Shot

Once a person puts two and two together in that they can combine their love of the great outdoors and their hobby interest in photography, a landscape photographer is born. They quickly graduate from those "I was there" shots to the pursuit of expressing what they love about the outdoors, nature, and capturing the moment. If you look at what others have done, you will note that trees become a particular mark of a good landscape photographer. Ansel Adams set the bar when he started shooting dead trees in 1927 with the Hermit, Sierra Nevada; Detail Juiper Wood, Sierra Nevada shots and many after those. Galen Rowell also shot dead trees and included the Bristlecone Pine. Ansel loved its texture and Galen loved the redwood twisted pattern. Now every landscaper with a name has proven themselves with a dead tree shot. I guess it is like figure skating, where once upon a time an ice skater actually had to skate figures in the ice before they were considered Olympic material. I recall them doing figure 8 shapes on the ice which bored the television audience and eventually got dropped from the Olympics in 1990s. So do Landscape photographers need to prove the tree equivalent of the figure 8 shot before being recognized?

I don't know the answer, but a trip up from Lone Pine California into these trees is truly worth any serious photographer's effort for the answer. I got my grand prize shot that marks a high point in my personal accomplishments. It justifies what I am writing to you about. If you can avoid the Kaleidoscope effect (the problem where every turn you make you see a fantastic shot, until you get home and look at the disaster of missing what you really liked about the place). If you can concentrate, then it truly is an amazing place on earth. Back when the Earth was warmer than it is now (a few thousand years ago), these big dead trees grew higher up the mountain sides than Bristlecones do now. They would grow for thousands of years, then die and not rot. No bugs, fire, or fungus to eat the wood, too high up. They are only threatened by the weather that polishs the wood and can blow them over. It takes thousands of more years in many cases to blow them over. By the way, the trees are starting to grow higher up the mountain again, showing we are warming up. Back to my dead trees, they are the photogenic tree everyone seems to pay attention to when you put them on your site. Shot a live tree and see how many views and favorites you get. Ansel knew it, Galen also, and you will too eventually.

Now after you get that "signature" shot proving you have some talent, it really can become much more fun to be in the trees. Their weird shapes, different angles, and wonder texture pick up a pallet of how your own style can get going. I like to bring people into my shot, so they are with me lying on the ground or just hugging the tree. We all love to see patterns in abstract shapes, and these trees can accommodate weird shapes for lots of imaginative objects. Color blind, no problem, these dead trees have texture than Ansel love in his close up shot of bristlecone wood. Want something with a spiritual sense, seeing something dead, beautiful, and sad at the same time provides a transcendent moment that lasts for a lifetime. Oh, do you love the outdoors, well how many photographers can you count on being around Mono Lake at a sunrise now days? Feels more like LA traffic than the outdoors at Mono. Up in the White Mountains in the Inyo range, one can pick a spot and go explore with some of the best air and views of the Eastern Sierras anyone could ever imagine, all to yourself. Bristlecones grow in a band from California to Colorado, so there are lots of places to pick them up.

In the end, if a landscape photographer passes up the dead tree shot, they pass up one of the key art expressions a photographer can make a study on. They could claim, "just not my thing," and no one would judge them for no interest in studying them. But truth doesn't lie within the common "what works for me" is what is truth for me. Truth doesn't lie or lie within for that matter at all. Maybe that is something these old dead trees can teach us. They are reaching out to anyone who cares to look.

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8 responses

  • Davide Simone

    Davide Simone (Deleted) said (19 Aug 2012):


  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (19 Aug 2012):

    I KNEW it would be worth waiting for, and I was right! An outstanding series of photos, and a very well organized and presented narrative. Definitely gets my vote here and for Story of the Week!!

  • diana a

    diana a   gave props (19 Aug 2012):

    love the essay!!

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go gave props (20 Aug 2012):

    fantastic photo essay! voted.

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (21 Aug 2012):

    Wonderful story & pics!

  • niko niko

    niko niko gave props (5 Sep 2012):

    for sure voted! way to go.

  • Judy and Wayne Wanamaker

    Judy and Wayne Wanamaker gave props (20 Sep 2012):

    Thanks for giving us more than the superficial aspect of this type of photography. This is only one facet of your superb photography, but it is so refined. Thanks for sharing this. Voted.

  • Robert R. Gaines

    Robert R. Gaines gave props (23 Dec 2012):

    Excellent article Bruce - well written, great images and much wisdom.

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