One of the most prevalent pieces of advice offered to landscape photographers is also one of the most limiting: “Shoot during the golden hour.” And, if you observe a mass of photographers at some popular locations, the advice actually seems to be put in practice as “Shoot during the golden fifteen minutes and only if there are colorful clouds filling the sky.” For photographers living by this golden hour mantra, you may be missing a lot of what nature has to offer.
While I thoroughly enjoy photographing grand landscapes under beautiful light, I have come to enjoy photographing small scenes – abstracts, intimate landscapes, and macro photographs – even more. Years ago, one of the main reasons that I took up landscape photography was because it offered one of the only times I could quiet my mind. At the time, I was in graduate school and working a stressful, full-time job. I was almost always working through a long to-do list or thinking about working through a long to-do list. During the brief periods of time I could get out for photography, the act of focusing enough to create a photograph was an escape from that stressful and busy life I had created for myself. Photographing smaller scenes in nature – like finding a beautiful patch of corn lilies or exploring a set of sand dunes to photograph the light and shadows at the end of the day – was so rejuvenating.
I started seeking that feeling of a focused, relaxed mind more frequently through photography and eventually realized that something was wrong if the only time I was able to have a quieted mind was while photographing, out in nature. That realization came more than three years ago, at which point I decided to scale back my work and take some time off for photography and travel. Although I did not really have any formal goals for this break, I did want to spend significantly more time on taking photographs of smaller scenes and develop a stronger portfolio of those kinds of images because they have always felt more personally significant to me and the process of crafting these kinds of photographs is meditative, relaxing, and rejuvenating – all things I seriously needed at the time.
I have been very fortunate to spend most of my time in the field over the last few years with a like-minded photographer, my partner Ron. It is probably rare to find someone else who is excited about photographing a small seed pod for an hour (said seed pod below) or who is content to wander around a forest with no real plan for an afternoon, photographing along the way. This mutual appreciation for these kinds of experiences and photographs has led us to spend a great deal of our photography time focused on these smaller scenes and we both have developed much more extensive portfolios of these types of photos as a result.
Since we both really enjoy making these kinds of photographs, we decided sometime last year that this topic would make a good ebook – maybe something about 30 to 40 pages, a few tips, and some photos. Well, fast-forward to today and we are thrilled to release our latest e-book, Beyond the Grand Landscape: A Guide to Photographing Nature’s Smaller Scenes. Our project got a little out of control, since the e-book comes in at around 175 pages and features more than 250 photographs. In addition to covering information about our creative approach to photographing these kinds of scenes, a review of key compositional practices, the importance of light, technical fundamentals, and a detailed discussion of twelve of our photos from start to finish, we also include interviews with four photographers with strong and inspiring portfolios of intimate landscapes (Alex Mody, Justin Reznick, Greg Russell, and Robin Black).
While each and every ebook sale goes directly into our Airstream trailer fund (so we can work from the road for longer stretches next year – hopefully!), we did not write this ebook for the sole purpose of making money. We wrote it because we find a great deal of meaning and satisfaction in making these kinds of images and frankly, would like to encourage more photographers to pursue these kinds of subjects instead of relentlessly focusing on those limiting golden fifteen minutes.