The landscape as a character

The Proposition I am a landscape (and cityscape) photographer so naturally I love movies where the landscape itself is an integral part of the story, a character in itself. In some movies the landscape is almost the main character and through cinematography and music the landscape takes on a personality. I greatly admire the cinematographers of these movies for their work, being able to bring a personality to the landscape and make you feel as you’re actually there, suffering in the intense heat of the outback for example and not just sitting in a comfy seat at the cinema (wanting to kill everyone who eats popcorn and candy loudly but that’s another story).

10 to Yuma Almost any Western has the landscape as an important part of the story, and lately at the cinema there has been some great examples of various Western themed movies: 3:10 to Yuma, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men – all of them great movies with outstanding cinematography with the landscape itself as an important character. I recently re-watched The Proposition on DVD and this fantastic Australian western (highly recommended!) is one of the best examples ever of making the landscape a character in the movie. In Nicolas Roeg’s classic Walkabout set in the Australian outback the landscape is almost the main character. The movie is “Nic Roeg 70s weird” to the point of not making sense a lot of the time but it is still so spellbinding and so well shot and directed that it lingers in the visual cortex forever.

In still photography; Ansel Adams is one of my heroes and he created masterpieces of landscape photography. His photos, his darkroom work and his totally perfect black and white fine art printing techniques created huge prints that actually created an emotional response in the viewer. That’s hard with a landscape, easier with human portraits. I have a long way to go but I strive for the same, to someday have a landscape print that will not only make the viewer go “that’s gorgeous” but will floor them speechless (well it’s good to have ambitions!). Ansel managed to make the landscape a character.


Walkabout poster. Notice the burned highlights and high contrast

Conveying the landscape as a character and giving the landscape a personality is done through many different ways. Over and underexposure and different filters are often used just as we do in still photography. Overexposure is used a lot when you want the viewer to feel the intense and unforgiving heat, brightness and hostility of a desert or the outback. De-saturating the colours and upping the contrast is also a useful tool to make the image more striking, monochromatic and again make you almost feel the sun. The Proposition is shot this way, completely blown out skies and mostly brownish de-saturated colours. I really admire how you can do this and still make it look striking and beautiful. I do love the supersaturated tropical look, but it is also an easier and sometimes too easy look, to shoot a polarized and Velvia like saturated colour scene in places like Australia where the colours are already so intense. This look also fares much better on the web than the “Western” look because you need to catch the viewers eyes with a small thumbnail image and colours do this very well.

I want to experiment some more with the de-saturated, dusty, high-contrast and over-exposed Western look. This is quite possibly a look that works a lot better on print, not on the web so it will be a challenge to try and create striking images in this category.I’ll end this with a few recent examples, where I’ve experimented with a lot of different Photoshop techniques to try and find my “Western” look. Here’s the examples, click to see fullsize on my gallery:

Click to see large size on my gallery!

A new day at Hawk Dreaming

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Lancelin Sand Dunes in Ansel Adams style

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Gate to the Outback

If you have some tips for how to create this look, I’d love to hear them!

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