How does one start on an artistic journey in landscape photography? I knew from the first time I invested in my first “good” digital camera; I would eventually want to express something unique in my work. It was an ill-defined something that was only to become clear many years down the road.
I did not formally attend a school for art with an emphasis on photography. What I have learned comes from accomplished landscape artists, following their lead and direction. I like the master-apprentice model of learning. That style of learning expects, even demands, maintaining a spirit of learning, which allows a bit of humility to remember to always keep an open heart for learning something new.
Previously, during my self-taught years, I took typical, snapshot-style travel photos. Years ago, while attending an early photography workshop, I was told that a great place to start making art was to exaggerate. “Whatever you do, exaggerate something” was the advice.
So, what did that that practically mean? Exaggerate what, and how to do it? I remembered being puzzled at that statement. Thankfully, clarity came shortly. I’ve been experimenting with this technique ever since.
I’ve come up with some ways that this can be incorporated into a photographer’s work.
The first is to exaggerate through composition. Use a wide-angle lens to exaggerate the foreground. Make the foreground half of the image itself. A wide angle lens can also be used to emphasize the sky, making it seem bigger and a focal point of the image. Change your perspective to get an exaggeration of a single element, something close to you, such as a single large plant or rock.
If you do not have a wide angle lens, then take two pictures and merge them in Lightroom or Photoshop. This technique requires you to be carefully change your focal point and shoot with the lens stopped down as much as you dare so that everything remains in focus.
A second idea for exaggeration can be accomplished while processing. You can change the image by stretching or warping. Exaggerate a specific element by using many of the transformation tools in Photoshop. You can also design a specific color palette. Embellish the color and transform your image into a uniquely personal expression of your art.
I have spent many years focusing on this technique. I still find it valuable whether it’s something I see at my feet or in the distance. And when I process, I find exaggeration expands my creative horizons as well.
Throughout these years my favorite lens for exaggeration has been the Zeiss 18 mm for the Canon EF system. I found the Zeiss to be a clearly superior lens to the Canon offerings in the sub-20mm range. The clarity throughout the image capture and in print is truly amazing.
When I am unsure what the scene will need, I have successfully used the Canon EF 12-24mm lens.
The idea of exaggeration may be difficult to grasp for anyone just beginning in traditional landscape photography. It is certainly not in the vernacular of portrait, journalistic, or street photography. However, a simple look at successful landscape photographers shows the common use of foreground exaggeration to add an artistic presentation.
Once your landscape photography adventures become stale and looks like everyone else’s (as mine had), think about adding exaggeration for some creativity and interest.