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Monday, 19 January 2015


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I'm sure that choosing the correct equipment would correct all your mentioned problems with mentally shooting scenics.
And removing contrails? The Sony x8 does that automatically.

I used to rely on the “Kodak Scenic Spot” signs as a warning not to stop.

This post made me chuckle because I began mostly photographing the landscape since I'm something of a loner and it was there. I know what you mean about looking for meaning and finding meaning lacking in scenic photography.
Many years ago when I was considerably younger I found the hubris to make copy slides from a scenic calendar and prepare a lecture on "Why Scenic Photography is not Art." I did my presentation and the entire class to a person exclaimed, "But, we like those pictures!"
I had to admit the pictures were pretty, and, deflated, I learned I couldn't control people's taste. I also learned a lesson in humility.

"It's almost like the places themselves are no longer experienced for what they are, but are reduced to their status as photo opportunities."

Do you find that when you take photos in a social setting, a family gathering for example, that focusing on the visual situation reduces your own involvement in the social side?

Your initial comments remind me of the book "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Great read if you haven't enjoyed it already.

Funny how your mood can drastically effect how you perceive a location. My wife and I were out snowshoeing on the weekend. Our destination was, coincidentally, a frozen water fall. In a gorge. I was totally uninspired with what I could compose using the 20mm lens I had on my GX1. Wrong light, to far away, blah blah blah. On the other hand my wife saw lots of things that excited her and scampered (scampering is very difficult in snowshoes, I will let you try and visualize this yourself) around burning up ones and zeros on her SD card. She was truly excited about what she was seeing..

My images at the end of the day were boring. Her's on the other hand were outstanding. She saw lots of interesting compositions that I seemed to have been blind to. I had let myself get turned off by first impressions. A rookie mistake for sure. The middle-aged women you describe sounds like she was in the same mind set I allowed myself to fall into.

Oh well at least I got some exercise.

"...I'm not a "scenic" photographer. I think the reason is because I'm almost always interested in the specific rather than the generic. There needs to be some kind of information in pictures to attract my interest."

Interesting. I consider myself a landscape photographer (I don't know if that's the same thing as a scenic photographer) but I am very interested in the specifics of a particular landscape rather than the generic "look at this wonderful place" kind of photography. Finding the details that make a place unique, whether they're spectacular or not, are what photography is all about for me.

I wonder if you're familiar with the work of Jem Southam? His Painter's Pool book is one of the best examples I can think of exploring a specific landscape very closely. The individual photographs are deep and beautiful, but the book as a whole gives a wonderful impression of a place that can't be captured in a single photograph.

Unfortunately it's hard to find good images from this series online, the PhotoEye book tease is the best I've found

>>If you're looking for meaning and informational content, a lot of scenic photography is inherently disappointing.

This is an excellent summary of why I too have no interest in scenic photography -- and why I have no interest in glamour or flower photography either. No disrespect to people who love these genres; they're just not something that comes naturally to me (no pun intended) or excites me.

Sometimes, Mike, I feel like you're reading my mind. This is one of those times.

Frozen waterfall = Icefall?

The great failing of "scenic" photography is the lack of meaning, I think. It's all aesthetics, with no intellectual or emotional context to fill it out.

I struggle with that myself. I think of myself as a landscape photographer: a traditional, aesthetics-and-tripod-and-mental-arithmetic-and-coming-back-over-and-over-again-until-it's-right landscapist. I take pictures whenever I travel. Lots of pictures. I refuse to travel without a camera, even.

I just got back from a three day trip. I took four thousand pictures. Even winnowing out all the duplicates (at 1/60 or below, I'll shoot half a dozen three image bursts so I have a good chance of one that's critically sharp), and allowing for the rapid fire spray-n-pray nature of stochastic imaging, that's a whole lot of pictures. Pictures with meaning. A picture without meaning is nice...but that's not why I carry a camera.

I try--really hard--to upload three new photos every week, but I just can't keep it up for very long. My problem isn't that I don't take enough photos--it's that they photos don't mean anything when I dole them out more or less at random.

Meaning is everything: when I can look at a shot, close my eyes, and relive twenty years of experiences tied to that place, as well as the creative moment, I know I have a good photo. Unfortunately, this person, and that back yard, and these trees, and every other photo I've linked to, mean nothing to anyone but me.

So I try to imbue them with meaning by giving them context.

My entire web presence is all about putting pictures together in such a way that they do something more than just sit on the screen. I try to assemble portfolios so that you can construct a narrative to go with them: they're processed and ordered so they fit together, and then given a title that sums them up and gives a launching point for the imagination. I like to think that the title reiterates to people that this group of photos is a curated album, not a shoebox of snapshots. Additionally, my titles tend towards the geographic--if you live in little corner of the world, you'll know where you are. Even the portfolios with less literal names are placed on the index page geographically.

But still, I don't think I succeed. I think my pictures are just pretty. I don't think anyone looks at them and gets any meaning out of them beyond "Ooooh...prettyy." (or, more likely, "WTF?!"). I'm not really sure it matters, either--I make photos, I do my best to present them in a way that gives them meaning. It either works or it doesn't.

"... feeling frustrated wondering which gorge, where?!?"

Actually, my thought was, "There are gorges around Milwaukee?"

I'd draw a distinction between 'beautiful' and the merely pretty. Beauty is a worthy goal, one that much art aims for, with various degrees of success. But 'pretty' seems trite, as if it alone was the aim (as you suggested), not the subject depicted to achieve it, the result being more decorative than artistic. Scenic photographs can be either beautiful or pretty.

It was photographs of Yosemite Valley made by Carlton Watkins in the 19th century that led Congress to pass legislation protecting the area. Were they scenic?

"... but her appraisal of the gorge and its visual gifts was not complimentary. The light was too flat; the blue sky, rare enough in winter, was not blue enough; "you have to avoid the contrails"; there's not enough color in winter; and so on."

So, you ran into someone who's photographic glass is half empty, who wants the world to be different than it is.

I photograph a quite range of subjects, and scenics are a large, but not majority, part of that. But my interest is in seeing clearly what is there, not what isn't there, and finding ways to capture some of that essence in photographs.

If life gives me contrails, I take their picture.

I know from experience that my better efforts often elicit an emotional response from people who have not even been there, let alone those who have.

For myself, these images recreate the experience of awe that I often have when confronted with natural places and phenomena.

The images I took of a spectacular sunset as our plane approached LA last week, from knock down intensity near/around the setting sun to ethereal wisps of colors without names and the Channel Islands floating in subtly colored mists, will forever remind me of something closer to a spiritual than a photographic experience.

Flying above the earth, jammed into a metal tube with 100+ other people, everyone else had closed their blinds against the strong sun and were interacting with phones, laptops and books, chatting, napping, etc. While physically with them, I was in another world, amazed, transfixed, by the visual drama taking place outside. That experience will be evoked again, with less intensity, but still wonderful, whenever I look at those images.

"Of course the flip side of that coin is the way that practicing scenic photography can enhance our experience of land and landscape, and of the natural world, by sharpening our seeing and enhancing our powers of observation." It seems I experience that more powerfully than do you.

One of my little delights is to be in the same places as others and surprise them later with images they had in front of them, but didn't notice. In Cabo last week, we, and especially my wife, spent a fair amount of time on the deck outside our room.

When I did my usual sort of thing, setting up a tripod and fussing with camera one evening, she paid little attention. When I showed her the shot on the LCD, she said "That's beautiful; I didn't even notice

For me, photography has been, and is, something that leads me to actually 'see' more of the world than I otherwise would. Ram Dass succinctly summed up a great deal of spiritual advice from millennia, "Be here now." Good advice for the photographer, too.

Great post, Mike, as some of the points you raise are interesting.

I do a fair bit of scenic photography, especially when on vacation, and something I find that helps to add context and meaning to scenic photography is to provide descriptors; bringing in a photojournalism aspect to the scene. At the very least, venue and time (or date) can add a lot to the viewer's understanding, e.g. Grand Tetons Nat'l Park, October 2013, etc., etc. Sometimes, I'll add even more, if it helps to provide even greater context, e.g. Sunrise over Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons Nat'l Park, Jackson, WY, October 2014.

Mike - Which gorge, where? ;-)

I suspect that the woman who was so concerned about the various deficiencies in light, blueness, etc. has been subjected to the kind of critique that's all too common. There's a checklist of items that have to be satisfied to make the photograph worthy, and none of them have to do with meaning. Not to pick on this woman too much, but note that almost every comment of hers you report has to do with rating the scene against some quantifiable notion of photographic goodness. She was trying to find a particular picture, and the scene didn't match her needs. If the gorge is interesting in itself, and your description makes it sound interesting, then she and other photographers would do well to look at the gorge for what it is, not what it isn't, and attempt to show that in their photographs, rather than some idealized notion of what isn't there.

"...we hiked a dramatic stony gorge to see a frozen waterfall." And nary a shot of the frozen Waterfall. Meh ;-)

Yes, I've ruined many good walks by trying for the perfect scenic picture. However, over the years I've evolved somewhat. Now, rather than going to a location with preconceived notions of the picture I want to acquire, I accept things as they are -- the weather, the light, and the crowds. Then, playing with tricks and techniques, and running experiments, I game at capturing the essence of the location at that particular moment. With the pressure turned off, photography is relaxing and fun. And, if I have a good day, my photos take the viewer on a unique journey. If I'm really lucky, I get that one rare shot that transcends the location and lives on its own outside context. Those photos are the juice that fuels my photography. I think that's the diamond the lady was hoping to pull out of the mine.

"I bought SanDisk's RescuePRO Deluxe software and I'm running it on the card."

Unfortunately you now have an opportunity to compare data recovery software.

In the past I've had success with TestDisk which is free software.


I'm guessing Watkins Glen. Do I get the prize?

I believe one of the things that makes scenic or "landscape" photography so often disappointing is that people go and take pictures of "what's out there." In some styles of photography -- street, documentary, journalism -- "what's out there" is all you have to work with. But if you look at, say, the Group f/64, it becomes apparent that what the best of those photographers were doing was taking pictures of something that was already in their minds. They would repeatedly go back to the same locations, or the same subjects (nudes, peppers, winter storms) that they had in their minds, and if "what's out there" didn't work, they didn't try to force it -- they'd wait until what they saw matched what was already in their heads. That's a totally different thing than walking down a path and hoping for the best, or going to some famous scenic site and shooting whatever it is.

If we are at the point where we can't find meaning in our natural world, perhaps we don't deserve the planet we live on.

Most scenic photography is not very good because the photographers are only trying to portray beauty and often according to a pre-conceived template like the photographer you encountered. Is Eliot Porter’s redbud image only about beauty? For me there is a feeling of peace and loss but also a celebration of the richness of nature's fractal geometry.

Or how about John Gossage's "The Pond"?)

Mike, if you didn't take many (any?) scenic pictures that you liked in the gorge, why convert them to B&W?

I'm somewhat colorblind, so when shooting scenics I depend on the camera to deliver a reasonably accurate rendering of the scene. Winter is naturally grey and dull and flat - perhaps that's it's beauty. However the lady you spoke with saw blue skies and some color in the trees. If perhaps you'd post one or two of those pix the way your Fuji recorded them ( with blues & whites & browns and greys) - that might be a different interpretation of your experience that we could see.

To me one of the thrilling aspects of digital is the ability to shoot color and B&W at the same instant, allowing the photographer to re-imagine and re-interpret as he or she wishes to.

I remember carrying two CLs - one, a 90mm color shooter, and the other a 40mm with Tri-x. A couple of extra lenses in the bag and I was all set. Now - wonderful zooms and both mediums on one shot.
Who'd a thunk?


I have a problem with the concept that a photo which has only "aesthetic" value is of no value. I guess that much of art in all media is valueless. I assume that this position also implies that all abstract art is of no value. For at least some, purely aesthetic art is capable of generating emotional response, even though there is no "informational" content. Photography can fill many roles. It is not limited to documentary, educational or other informational content. Sure, lots of scenic photos are blah. So is much of other photography. Different types of photo appeal to different people, so lets not dis scenics.

[You're not usually the kind of guy to put words in my mouth Richard...I didn't diss scenics and I didn't say they have no value. You're reading what you think I said, not what I said! --Mike]

I have taped to my monitor a quote from Gary Winogrand: "A photograph must be more interesting than the thing photographed." So my goal in making a photograph (other than happy snaps or mementos) is to produce an image that someone will want to tell a story about. I'd find the contrails helpful, a possible story line. (Now to track down a copy of The Painter's Pool.)

Susan Sontag - her writing can be hard to take for some - had much to state about pictures replacing / stand in for “reality”. In this case - A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it - by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.

And, re: your statement - I'm not a "scenic" photographer. It's not my thing … Sontag also wrote: Certain glories of nature, for example. have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.

I'm actually surprised about your comment that you don't like scenic photographs, given that you've offered so many in your print sales (off the top of my head: Ken Tanaka's gathering storm over Chicago; Keck Observatory; Peter Turnley's famous Paris landscape; the platinum print of the church; Ctein's bay bridge with moon). Maybe I just don't understand what a "scenic" is. Or maybe what you really don't like are just run-of-the-mill scenics.

Like Bernie Kubiak in an earlier comment, I too have Gary Winogrand's "A photograph must be more interesting than the thing photographed" on my wall.
And I would like to share two other quotes which I have next to that.
One is from Paul Graham: "You form the meaningless world into photographs, then form those photographs into a meaningful world"
The other is by Tod Papageorge: "A pictures not the world but a new thing"

I find these three quotes inspirational.

"Scenic photography sometimes seems to me to refer to itself more than it does to the actual places photographed. It's almost like the places themselves are no longer experienced for what they are, but are reduced to their status as photo opportunities."

This can be true of any type of photography. Street in particular seems susceptible to this, where people can also have their status reduced to being simply photo opportunities.

You managed to put me on the defensive almost immediately as I do shoot a lot of outdoor photography. However, there is a lot of stuff taken that I categorize as "record shots", where althought the photographer may have carefully exposed correctly and arraigned the composition according to the rule of turds, somehow any awe, passion, or any other emotion is filtered out completely. It sounds like the woman you spoke of was firmly in the grasp of this kind of thinking. [I wouldn't like to judge her without seeing her work. --Mike] Once you filter the passion out you are not likely to bring it back with a Photoshop trick either. You have to have a passion for what you are looking at, whether it is a frozen waterfall, a rusty radiator, or a street vendor. Stuff you have a passion for will have elements that are meaningful to you and you will highlight them, whereas someone else shooting the same subject randomly will not even be aware of them.
Separately i think that landscape photography has a problem that traces back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle wrote about the relation between Comedy and Tragedy. Comedy is always the less serious form. I think that the same kind of thinking is often applied to landscape as opposed to "more serious" genres such as street photography, or photojournalism. I find this classification way too oversimplified, as we have recently seen Comedy can be very serious indeed.
My takeaway is photograph what you care about and share the pictures and the passion.

"My entire web presence is all about putting pictures together in such a way that they do something more than just sit on the screen. I try to assemble portfolios so that you can construct a narrative to go with them: they're processed and ordered so they fit together, and then given a title that sums them up and gives a launching point for the imagination. I like to think that the title reiterates to people that this group of photos is a curated album, not a shoebox of snapshots.

Hi James,

I liked the few images I've seen so far on your site.

But back to the point. I've concluded that the kind of portfolio you describe above is very difficult to pull off on the web, perhaps impossible for me, to my ideas of what it should be. Lots of major photographers have tried, with varying degrees of fanciness and success, but none really work for me.

Where I have a book of their images, I always have found it superior to the web site.

So, I've moved to books. It's possible today to make amazingly good photo books using on-line publishers at not unreasonable prices. I see you are trying to make a little money selling your images and through product links. A non-commercial book can't do that, but I've found the physical object to please me a great deal. I've also had family, friends, acquaintances (even the occasional stranger) react to the physical object in a far more intense and engaged way than ever from my images, even the same ones, on the web.

Watching, sometimes interacting, as a person goes through a book of mine is far more rewarding than checking the number of views on a web site.

The link WTF isn't landscape, in any traditional sense, but I like it and it's something I would do, too. In fact, it would have fit right into my book Extracts from Artifacts

There are many fine landscape photographers and artists, but I am not one.

I see many interesting and beautiful things, but when their sheer grandeur scorns my attempts to confine them to a two dimensional straight-jacket, I simply enjoy them and put my camera back in the bag.

When I try homage photography, I usually end up giving offence.

However there is so much humble detail we seldom notice - just dots in a halftone print that blend into their surroundings. Focusing on the dots and cropping out the distractions gives them a significance and grandeur of their own. If the resulting image also compels you to fill the missing spaces in your imagination, then it is a great image.

I have never quite managed to create a great image either, but I seem to have more luck looking for interesting dots than trying to reproduce the whole print.

"I just got back from a three day trip. I took four thousand pictures."
Let' say you get 10 hours a day to photograph, more than generous in our winter light here in North America. Each day you take 1300+ photos, 130 per hour, averaging more than two a minute. OK, you took some bursts, a bit hard for me to understand for scenics, but you still took a lot of photos.
Perhaps taking some more time looking around at your surroundings might lead to more satisfying results. That has been my experience.

Not to sound like a broken record or anything but you truly should visit:


I think Vincent Munier is probably the finest landscape/wildlife photographer now working. If you look carefully at his pictures you feel like you're there. He's a poet.


I think it is too simplistic to label this type of photography into just one term, of "scenic". There are many types of "scenic" photography, depending on the objective of it. For example, one can photograph a scenery because of it's beauty; to document a disappearing ecosystem or landscape; to register the passing seasons, or the passing of time.

So, it is not fair to say that scenic photography is reduced to only being "pretty" or "beautiful". Quality scenic photography, besides being pretty, can also be rich in information and documentation.

My favourite picture by Robert Adams, has a person in it ( anybody who knows Adams can guess which one that is), it's not what most people would describe as a landscape picture. Adams is is one of the rare landscape photographers that can use the exterior to describe the interior. There's beauty in his landscapes, much of it is borne from some inner pain.

That's a hard place to get to.

I entirely agree about our need for information in a photo, and that comes from our brains. Our eyes are just extensions of our brains. A landscape photograph of a wilderness may contain a vast amount of information about geography, geology, botany and meteorology for a brain that is wired and trained to appreciate those kinds of information. If the landscape has been influenced by people, add in information about agriculture, architecture, engineering and so on.
Aesthetics matter too of course: the thing that continues to amaze me about photography is that it is sometimes possible to capture a beautiful image containing all sorts of detailed information in a few milliseconds.
Of course the corollary is that many brains are not able to appreciate all the information in the image. We all have our blind spots: I rarely find anything worthwhile in 'street photography', my brain just doesn't appreciate those images. In your situation I would have got as close as I could to the rock face and looked for macro shots of the snow and the rock; my brain likes details like that.

Sometimes, "I was there and it made me feel good" is all the meaning I need.

Back when I first got back into photography I did a lot of nature/macro/landscape because for some reason much of the "how to" technical literature on shooting color slides is about that subject matter. This is one of the last pictures I took along those lines.


I eventually realized that one of my failures as a human being is simply not *really* caring that much about the sorts of things that show up in these pictures. I realize their majesty and beauty and overall importance in the grand scheme, but taking pictures was the extent of my personal involvement with the places and things. So my pictures would never be that good, and I should leave the places to people who really cared about them, was my thinking.

Just to show you how messed up my brain is, the spaces I like to photograph are the man-made ones ... cities, towns, whatever. But not really the people. Just the spaces. In addition to requiring and uncomfortable level of possible human interaction, people photography has too many external complications for my taste.

So, I take pictures of people places, with no people in them ... or just abstract people. I'll never figure it out.

Beauty is meaning, my friend. But I would wholeheartedly agree that most photographs of scenic beauty fall far short of conveying it. It's an old saw to say that the task of the photographer lies in translating the inherent beauty to a two dimensional format but therein lies the rub. And there isn't any formula that I have found to pull this off. For me it's a new struggle and a new challenge every time my heart quickens at the scene before me.

Taughannock Falls in Ithaca?

[How'd you do that? Is there GPS data in the EXIF or something? --Mike]

There is some science to back up what you said in your exchange with Dave Jenkins regarding the motivation one can enjoy from a significant other in pursuing health and fitness goals. This item ran on CBC radio yesterday: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/couples-mutual-support-spells-success-to-quit-smoking-lose-weight-get-fit-1.2917810

Taughannock Falls. Ulysses, NY. What do I win?

A little late to the party: Dave, I definitely second your recommendation to look at Vincent Munier for something different in nature photography. And James Sinks - I like some of your photos; I find them interesting despite not having your personal connection. Not so much the trees or the person that you said only have meaning to you - I agree, they're meaningful to you and not photographed in a way that makes them interesting to me. But many other shots - buildings, windows, "scenes from a horror movie" - are interesting to look at.
And to me, that's it ... "meaning" is a loaded word; I'm not sure what it "means" in this context. I can find a Stephen Shore photo endlessly fascinating without knowing why. Does it have "meaning" ? I've never bought into the idea that photos should tell a story; never found it a universal law that a photo should "evoke an emotion" or "make me FEEL something". It just has to be interesting to look at. For whatever reason. Different photos for different reasons. And if it isn't (interesting to me) it's likely interesting to someone else. What's interesting to us says more about us than it does about the photo.

Moose, thank you for the kind words. I'm a great believer in physical photographs--I spent every penny I had an Epson 7900 recently--and I adore a well-constructed photobook, but I have yet to run across a POD service whose printing doesn't make dark, low contrast photos look like excrement. They all mash detail in the shadows and 3/4 tones down to black and the color and resolution rarely rise to the level of acceptable.

Re: WTF, I think it's a perfect fit for that particular collection of landscapes (or scenics, if you prefer). The scale of landscapes goes from human to monumental, and I try to include both ends of the spectrum in a portfolio. There are lotsa handprints and footprints and little human reminders scattered around my website. The landscapist focus on the grand dramatic vista, the vertiginous abstract mid-range shot, and the safe flower/rock/driftwood detail is a mistake, I think.

I just got back from a three day trip. I took four thousand pictures.

Let's say you get 10 hours a day to photograph, more than generous in our winter light here in North America. Each day you take 1300+ photos, 130 per hour, averaging more than two a minute.

I take some issue with your math. My pictures may be average but I don't think anyone's shooting habits--not even the most avid time-lapser--can be divined by your method.

For instance, I took the train down. I like the train. It's a lot of fun and I like to photograph it. The view out the window is always great. I took 1500 shots on the way there 'n back, and at least 500 more out of various car windows. I don't care how good you are at anticipation or pre-visualization, no one knows with any certainty what a quarter of a second shutter from the speeding train is going look like. I've taken this trip several times, and I'm more than familiar with the landscape, but I'm still surprised by what I see and what winds up in my camera every trip.

I also spent many hours in a dimly lit museum. That was another 800 or 900 shots (see point #2). And yes, I did spend time with the art. I visited the new stuff, revisited some old favorites, fondled the architecture, and wandered through the building playing with my camera. Then I went out to feed some geese with a painter friend and had an interesting discussion about artists as anatomists, none of which inspired much in the way of snapping.

OK, you took some bursts, a bit hard for me to understand for scenics, but you still took a lot of photos.

Two points to consider:

1) Who says scenic photographs are always static?

2) Who says scenic photographers are always static? Much as I'd like to take my tripod everywhere, I can't. I'd rather shoot thirty frames at 1/30 and probably get one that's very sharp than take four and hope that one of them is "sharp enough".

In either case, electrons are cheap and don't weigh much, so why not use 'em?

Perhaps taking some more time looking around at your surroundings might lead to more satisfying results. That has been my experience.

I'm not dissatisfied with my results at all. I spent a great deal of time considering my surroundings, I spent time with people I care about, I had fun, and I took a whole lot of pictures.

My dissatisfaction is that giving scenic photos a public meaning beyond my private engagement with them is hard. I don't view that frustration as a photographic failing. I could cut my photography back to ten photos a day and restrict my subjects to blushing brides, despondent homeless people, crying babies, wrinkled octogenarians, and have photos that were instantly meaningful to viewers, but that wouldn't be fun, satisfying, or interesting.

I am an amateur. I don't pretend to be a good landscape or nature photographer. Some days I take "record" or "reconnaisance" shots. These are of interesting sites, wouldn't that tree look cool with the full moon illuminating it, hey what is that plant, etc. Some days I take close-ups and macros only. Some days I have no interest in photography and am hiking a well known trail for fitness and chilling out. Some days or nights I plan for "the" shot, the "formal" landscape photo. I am mostly interested in showing local scenery and organisms - photography is an exercise in appreciation, learning, and with a successful shot, sharing. Success to me is having a viewer think the scene / organism is beautiful and worthy of care.

It took me years to figure out why scenic photography — the act of doing it as well as the results — is so boring ... and Mike points it out in just a couple of lines of text. Couldn't you have written this for me to read two decades ago?

The first person who rhymed sun with fun was a genius. The thousandth, an idiot. Carlton Watkins and Ansel Adams had their times, we have ours. Every great artist will stand on the shoulders of her or his precursors. It's great to have strong shoulders to stand upon, but the hard part is to actually climb them and then look out farther than others did before rather than just leaning on them.

Everybody who's fed up with Ansel-Adams-style of scenic photography (or whatever) might enjoy this article:

Make sure to go back in the fall!

I was at Taughannock Falls the same day you were and I believe I encountered the same woman with a tripod and Canon telephoto lens. She told me the same as she told you but my impression of her differs from yours. The first thing I noticed was the long lens. If she was after scenics the lens is too long. She was interested in textures and patterns. I watched her photographing the stream cutting through the ice. She was concerned about Getting white on white images. She was there for the art not the scenics. She wanted more snow for more texture and a different sky for better patterns. She seemed interested only in pleasing herself and not the general public. She was concerned for the people walking on the unsafe ice which made her anxious. She related a story of a photographrer who fell to his death in some gorge and of one of the rescue people who perished while reclaiming his body.
I admit that in all the years I have photographed there I was a little disappointed in the amount of snow and ice there that day. In previous years I have seen a field of chunks of ice bigger than cars near the entrance that were crushing the remaining picnic tables. It was surreal.

[You shoulda said hello! About our fellow photographer, it's inevitable to misrepresent her after such a short encounter. I was really just interested in the thoughts she inspired, not judging who she is and certainly not her work. No offense meant to her at all. As I said she was very friendly, intelligent, and nice. --Mike]

Reading "Scenic Photography" and the comments has reminded me of a Vermont photographer named Fred Picker who died 10 years or so ago. You may remember him as the proprietor of Zone VI Studios, the publisher of a photo newsletter, and a regular contributor to photo magazines. Sometimes he was pretty dogged in going after his subject, which was usually the landscape, with a view camera. In one of his columns he described cutting away brush and even, I believe, some small trees to get the uncluttered view he wanted. He got a lot of criticism for that. I don't know if that made him a "scenic" photographer, but he sure was single minded when it came to getting his image. You wouldn't have wanted to let him loose in the National Parks.

"[How'd you do that? Is there GPS data in the EXIF or something? --Mike]"

It was your comment about the plaque describing different microclimates. I'm spending a year in Ithaca, have walked that path and read that plaque. You mentioned earlier that your partner lives in the Ithaca area, which narrowed it down.

"This is one of the last pictures I took along those lines.


I eventually realized that one of my failures as a human being is simply not *really* caring that much about the sorts of things that show up in these pictures. I realize their majesty and beauty and overall importance in the grand scheme, but taking pictures was the extent of my personal involvement with the places and things. So my pictures would never be that good, and I should leave the places to people who really cared about them, was my thinking."

Interesting that you would have those feelings. My reaction to this particular image was instant, visceral engagement. I've not been to that particular place. Yet I do know that sort of land, and was and am moved by your image of it.

This particular is that good, to at least one viewer.

Hi Mike,

I went to a concert last night. It was reportedly a sell out which meant that there were about 2000 people in attendance. By conservative estimate, 95% of them were wielding small cameras, mostly smart phones. The place was lit up. There were even those who felt that the big screens on either side of the stage were worthy subjects.

So I began thinking about "meaning" in photography again after your "Scenic Photography" posting.

I struggle with this issue frequently in my own picture making. Sometimes I think (which could be my first mistake) that a subject to which I have a strong attraction will be meaningless in my life, will never appear on my wall in a frame, and it gives me pause. Maybe I've just taken so many pictures that I've begun unconsciously to hone my understanding of their value to me.

At any rate, I'm wondering if you and/or others who are clear about this would be willing to post an image that does have meaning to you, not necessarily including any explanation as to why?


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