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“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” – Jim Richardson
I’ve just spent several months in northern Spain. The landscape was beautiful and magical – I’m not there now but I can still feel its spell. My memories of long summer evenings and hauntingly lovely landscapes will stay with me forever.
I had the opportunity to create many beautiful black and white landscape photos in Spain, but only because I had made the effort to be there.
I made more successful black and white landscapes in Asturias in a few months than I did during several years living in Wellington in New Zealand or Oxfordshire in the UK. The landscape in Asturias is much more photogenic and has so much more potential for landscape photography. That allowed me to achieve in months what would have taken years (or been impossible) elsewhere.
If you look at the work of good landscape photographers then you will see that travel plays an important role in their work.
When I interviewed photographer Cole Thompson for my ebook The Black & White Landscape he told me that one advantage of travelling is that he can dedicate his time away to photography. There are too many distractions for him at home, and it’s difficult to fully immerse himself in his work.
If you want to evolve as a black and white landscape photographer it’s essential that you travel as frequently as you can. You need to go somewhere that has both rich potential and where you have the time to dedicate yourself to landscape photography. Not everybody wants to hear this, but there is no way around it.
Black & white landscape photos close to home
But don’t be discouraged. You can also look closer to home for interesting subjects.
A lot depends on where you live. Some photographers are lucky enough to live in a photogenic region, and they have an unfair advantage over those who don’t.
For example, Trevor Cotton lives in the south of England, and has built a strong body of work based on this region.
But for those of you who don’t live somewhere so obviously photogenic, perhaps it’s time to think about what is interesting about your local landscape, or at least somewhere within easy driving distance.
Earlier this year I visited my parents who live in Norfolk in the east of England. The landscape is very familiar to me because I lived there when I was younger. It’s not the sort of place that people think of as a destination for landscape photography. There are no mountains (or hills), no canyons, no rock stacks, no waterfalls. You might go there on holiday, but I doubt you’d choose it over Yorkshire, the Lake District, the Peak District or the west country as a destination for landscape photography in the UK.
But while I was there I had my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 camera converted to infrared and started using it to take photos. I wasn’t trying to create great art. It was more to test my newly converted camera than anything else.
But at one point I realised that I was creating a series of images that captured the things about the Norfolk landscape that were personal to me. Old barns, bee hives in fields, ivy covered walls, country lanes, campervans by the sea and so on. These photos are an intimate exploration of the local landscape. Many of them were created within walking distance of my parent’s house.
If you’re using the landscape close to home as a subject, then you have time to take this highly personal approach. It helps if you are naturally curious and enjoy exploring, because this is how you find interesting places.
I didn’t take many landscape photos when I lived in Wellington, but I did take a lot of portraits using the landscape as a background. For me, the landscape was more interesting with people in it, and this was my method of exploring the landscape.
Mark Gee, a photographer based in Wellington, photographs the night sky. He found his own way of creating interesting photos of the local landscape.
Many photographers combine both approaches.
Bruce Percy photographs the local Scottish landscape as well as more exotic destinations.
Arnaud Bertrande (a French photographer who lives in the Bordeaux region) photographs his local landscape as well as more exotic destinations like Iceland and Spain.
If you want to become a better photographer and take your landscape photography to the next level, then this combination of exploring your local landscape, and finding your own, personalised and intimate, way of photographing it, and travelling to more exotic locations when you can and immersing yourself in landscape photography while you are there, is the way to do it.