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Grand landscapes provide some of the most eye catching and awe inspiring photographs. More times than not it is this type of image that dominates our preconceived vision of what we strive to capture when we head out the door with our camera. The reality is that grand landscapes, while stunning and eye catching, often distract us from other eye catching and inspiring photo subjects.
Intimate nature or landscape photographs focus on finer details or components of an otherwise larger scene. One of the most appealing aspects of intimate nature or landscape work is that subjects are more easily found, seldom identical (as most iconic grand landscapes are), and reflect a more personal vision of the photographer.
Intimate landscapes excel at highlighting textures, colors, shapes, light/shadow, etc. While it’s good to keep an eye out for magical moments that make for grand landscape or nature photos, keep an eye out behind you, below you and even above you. Where you find intimate nature or landscape subjects can be surprising. I’ve found great intimate nature and landscape photos underfoot, beside me while eating lunch, above me while waiting for great light to develop across a broader scene, and even just off the side of the road while driving. These types of subjects can be found most anywhere and almost always yield a great story to tell. Below are 5 tips and example images to help you discover intimate vs grand landscape and nature photographs. For more examples visit my collection of intimate landscape and nature photos on Flickr.
1. Take the time to look for subjects underfoot or in a 10 foot radius of where you are standing – your best photo subject might be underfoot, behind you, next to you or even above your head.
Evolution – Grand to Intimate Example #1:
This photo developed from the larger scene of a classic White Sands desert meadow. I very much wanted to capture how the wind impacted the plants and shifting landscape. Visiting after a wind storm, fresh circular patterns were left in the sand from grass that had been blowing in the wind. In the broader scene these patterns are lost (see below), while in the intimate nature photo (below) the relationship is more clearly portrayed.
2. Turn the focal point of your envisioned grand landscape into a background element to provide context and depth.
Evolution – Grand to Intimate Example #2:
The Grand Teton mountains no matter what the weather conditions are an amazing sight and it is far too easy to focus on them alone. While the image of the mountains are nice, a larger story is told when including more immediate foreground elements. The shape of the native plants, color of the flowers, long shutter speed to highlight the winds of the growing storm, and the looming clouds tie together the scene as a whole.
3. Focus on a particular element of visual interest rather than squeezing an entire scene into frame.
Evolution – Grand to Intimate Example #3:
The top photo is a reflection of my awe in viewing this surreal landscape above the Wave (see my podcast episode on the Wave). I of course wanted to document the entire scene as it was like nothing I had ever scene before. At the same time I also realized that the photo itself did not bring into focus the formations that were the center point of my interest. The “brain rock” formations, after deeper thought, were what captured my imagination most and after careful attention to composition I was able to capture the scene below.
4. Apply these concepts to subjects other than Nature or Landscape photos, as they are universal in helping tell a story through photographs.
Evolution – Grand to Intimate Example #4:
While visiting New York City I happened across a very interesting yet chaotic scene at Rockefeller Center. A charity event was underway to raise money by collecting small change. Once again capturing the enormity of the scene was impossible and did not lend itself to an eye catching image. The normal focal point of this area is the large Christmas Tree that is erected and the collection pit with all the change was off to the side. A little experimentation yielded the image below. By placing my camera on the change and adjusting the depth of field I was able to capture the vast scene of change collected while anchoring the scenes location by including the tree in the background.
5. Don’t rely on just one image to capture a scene. Think in terms of telling a larger story through multiple images via a small portfolio of photos. The sum of many “intimate” styled photographs can often paint a more complete picture than just one sweeping photo.