I have lived in the West coast of Scotland for most of my adult life and got seriously into landscape photography when I bought a D700 camera a good few years ago now. I have since switched this out to a D800 camera which I am finding a pleasure to use for landscape and portraiture situations.
My take on landscape photography is a little different to the norm, (I think anyway). I try to avoid visiting cliched locations, e.g. certain mountain ranges, certain beaches, piers, etc that I feel have been done to death...but I do not always manage it. You can generally tell without looking on the internet as a photographer, where has been done to death. Anywhere that tourists frequent is a good starting point...I call it the danger zone.
My inner struggle is to try and avoid looking at landscape photography that other photographers do...in a sense to try and avoid the thoughts of trying to go out to that location and "copy" the shot at a slightly different angle. The reality is, nearly everything has been done...and nothing will be original; however it is a good mindset I think. My inspirations are mixed and varied. I do not hold any one landscape photographer as an inspiration as I find that often (as I assume many people are) some images I like, some I do not. Like I have said, I try not to browse the internet too often looking and if I do, I promise myself to deliberately avoid the locations of the images I saw, or at least if I do visit, do something that makes the location an unknown. This is a simple fact that everyone's taste is going to be different and whilst I might look at one print or image online and have trouble keeping my jaw in place, the next shot I look at from the same photographer may underwhelm me. It's just human nature and nothing significant.
With regards to my own work I am highly critical, and (I know their faults to obsessive levels - or as I perceive their faults) there are really only a handful of shots in years of shooting that I can say that I am quite happy with. That aside I have selected a few to show you here, not every one of them is what I consider my best work or some untouchable piece of art...however they all have meaning to me that I hope some of which conveys to the viewer. I am happy if once a year I can produce a shot that is wall-able as I call it. Heck, once every 5 years if I can produce a shot like that I am happy. Quality should always beat quantity. These things take time!
The first image I am showing I call "Timeless". It is taken in Gourock on the West Coast of Scotland, and it is one of the few images I have given an actual name to! This image was taken with my D800 camera and a 24mm lens. The image is obviously an extremely long (daylight exposure) of nearly 6 minutes. I have used a B&W screw in 10 stop filter and a very small f/22 aperture to obtain the exposure. I know many will be reading this thinking "Oh Good Lord! Not f/22, think of the diffraction issues!" Well I am here to tell you to free your mind of this nonsense. If you want to use an aperture for creative affect, be it for depth of field or exposure or whatever...do it. You can be mindful of what might be the drawbacks but don't limit yourself. Landscape photography should not be an exercise in pure image quality. Reading most forums you would think that this is the most important element of a shot. I am here to debunk this nonsense - the quality is important but it is the second most important thing after the image itself. What is the point in a sharp image...of a fuzzy concept, someone once said? This shot had more dynamic range at the point of capture, but I have crunched some of the blacks out to increase contrast as I have printed various versions I preferred the contrast element that has been added in post processing. It was shot, as are all my shots, in RAW format. This shot was taken in colour of course, the decision to change to black and white was easy, even though the blue sky and the sun hitting the mountains tempted my eyes. In my eyes this image is of a mountain range I have seen so many times that it's almost mundane to me. Changing the image to black and white took the image a little more out of reality for me (along with the exposure effect) and it all in all made more sense to do this. I have gone for shape and contrast to hopefully make this image jump out a little from the page - (well I can hope, can't I?)
The second image I am showing is shot on a D700 and is the view from North Ayrshire of the Island of Arran, Scotland. Again this is a simple 24mm lens stopped down to...again f/22! (I promise I am not having a go with the f/22 fear-mongers here) I have printed this image extremely large and I do not really see any of the issues that forum users tend to discuss for hours regarding diffraction, which is good because life is short enough! The sea was calm here but further smoothed by a subtle 5 second exposure also. That thing to the right is seaweed on the sand. This is a winter shot and the blueness certainly helps to convey the cold. I am always looking for textures like these in a shot and the sand certainly adds this interest. Focus is right up at the front of the image here...not the distance. The island Arran in the distance appears flatter than it does to the eyes, again a creative choice we often forget that perspective changes with lenses can create and entirely different feel to a shot. Most of my landscape photography is done with one 24mm lens. I do own a 50 that I sometimes use for this, and of course longer lenses for portraiture. I almost find the more lenses I bring out with me to do specifically this type of photography, the worse the shots get. My mind seems to just like 24mm.
The third image is a shot that I took of the Forth Rail Bridge, in Edinburgh on a D700 camera in 2011. This is an exposure at f/8 for 30 seconds. This was shot in winter on a cloudy night to avoid star trails in the image. I deliberately did not look at any Forth Bridge shots before I went to take this. Since taking this in 2011 I have looked at many and have been pleased in pulling off something (somewhat) original on this scene that has literally every tourist and person with a camera running to take it's picture. Trying to find a unique viewpoint is difficult. Trying to be different is difficult. We can use various techniques, focal length (perspective), angle the tripod and lens are set to, night and day, length of exposure, the conditions but there are limits. I certainly try to place all thoughts out of my mind when taking pictures in such a tourist like place as this...there is a real danger of something horribly samey and cliched being produced. I am however slightly nostalgic about this image so maybe I did perhaps fail and don't even realize it!
The forth image is taken in Ayrshire at a beach with strange erosion and rock shapes that I found quite interesting. I was right up at the water's edge as usual to begin with but was not happy until I found this large rock with the sun striking it an an angle. This is a shot that really broke the mould for me in terms of true focusing technique, allow me to explain. When most photographers take a landscape shot, they place the distance as the focal plane, and the foreground often is out of focus. Either this, or they use the dated hyperfocal focusing technique, which I truely dispise, or they go half hog and do a sort of 1/3 focusing in at f/11 (scared to use a smaller aperture of course) type pastiche. Hyperfocal focusing isn't really anything in focus. All you achieve is acceptable "blur" and no punch or depth cues to the image. If I think about how my eyes work when I study a scene, I see detail near, and blur far. I cannot focus on both parts of the scene, nor can any other human. Yet most landscape photography I have ever viewed has exactly the opposite of what our eyes can see. Why? Why is the foreground and distance sharp? Why does it have to be? If the distance is recognizable, and the photographer is using a wide angle that includes foreground interest, that nearly always takes precedence over the distance to me in terms of sharpness. Why include it otherwise? More often that not an out of focus foreground is just annoying to my eyes. If you are including a foreground in my opinion, it's usually (not always) best to make it the sharp focal plane, and I mean bang sharp. As in the actual focal plane, not just contained within the depth of field of the aperture. The D800 has a full frame sensor (the same as the D700) and of course the only physical difference is the massive difference in sensor resolution. Depth of field in images remains the same for both cameras (of course), however I find the D800's resolution reveals more clearly where the fall off in focus / depth of field really occurs. At first this was a little bit of a surprise to me. Focusing a 1/3 in and using f/16 just didn't cut it anymore, and it wasn't ever great technique really. Now I actually focus on what I want to be in focus, and let the rest drift off. I don't mind that the distance has a glowy haze in some shots. It makes me, and hopefully the viewer, the depth cues, the sense of dimension that you have standing in a place looking at a scene with your own eyes.
The fifth and last image I have included is only something that a Scottish person can truly understand. It is our national pride, symbolized in a beautiful thistle. This was with a D800, shot in 4 by 5 mode which basically clips off the ends of the sensor recording data so the picture ratio changes from 3:2 to 4:5 (something I do not normally do but decided to force it), with a 135mm f/2 Nikkor lens. This is more what I would describe as an intimate landscape shot, and something I do not do as much of. Lens is stopped down for optimal quality to f/4 and yet still an shallow enough dof to properly isolate the subject nicely.
And that's it, I hope I have not bored any of you and I hope some have nodded throughout reading this by what I have said (I am not talking about my photographs, purely some of my points I hope have rung true to at least some of you!)