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5 Tips for Compelling Intimate Landscape Photography

How to make your landscape photos more intimate

A few years back, I spent seven days traveling across the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Anyone who has been there knows it’s a beautiful place. I often hear photographers talk about New Zealand as a dream destination. Who can blame them? It’s a spectacular country with breathtaking landscapes.

However, this road trip reminded me of a crucial aspect for all landscape photographers: landscape photography is hard. Really hard.

Not only do you need a beautiful location, but you also rely on the weather and light to be conducive to the type of photo you want to take. If it isn’t, there may not be time on a short trip to wait for ideal conditions.

It’s also challenging to find an original way to photograph the landscape. Many other photographers have been there before you, making it difficult to create something new in a short amount of time. That’s why I encourage you to try a more intimate approach to landscape photography. It’ll help you capture more original images, and it’ll also ensure that you have a more enjoyable photography experience along the way!

What is intimate landscape photography?

How to make your landscape photos more intimate
Split Apple Rock, near Abel Tasman National Park, is a great example. I like this photo, but is it original? Not really – it’s a popular landmark photographed by hundreds of photographers. It’s very difficult to create something new here.

Intimacy comes from a deep knowledge of and connection with the landscape. It’s an appreciation of the local people and the history of the location, plus an understanding of how the landscape changes through the seasons. People who have an intimate relationship with a region usually live there or visit often. They are not just passing through (like I was on the South Island). They know the best places to take photos and when the light, seasons, and weather are most likely to align to create the best results.

How to make your landscape photos more intimate

If you are struggling to find ways to photograph your local landscape, maybe it’s time to approach it from a different perspective. How can you turn your familiarity with your local landscape into an advantage?

Let me give you some practical examples. I live in Wellington, a city at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. I’ve never thought of it as a great location for landscape photography. It doesn’t have the spectacular landscapes of the South Island or the subtropical bush and white sand beaches of the northern North Island. However, I’ve found other ways to incorporate the landscape into my photos (some of which I discuss elsewhere in this article!).

1. Do your research (and rely on local knowledge)

Intimate landscape photography

For truly intimate landscape shots, thorough research is essential before heading out. Start by looking at photos taken by other photographers of the area you plan to visit. Study their compositions, the time of day they shot, and the specific locations they chose.

Additionally, read guides and articles that offer insights into the area. If possible, speak to the locals. They can provide invaluable information about hidden spots, the best times to visit, and the unique features of the landscape that might not be obvious to an outsider.

Your goal is to develop a real connection with and sense of the landscape as it truly is. By immersing yourself in the local knowledge, you can capture photos that reflect the beauty and character of the area, rather than just the popular or obvious sights.

This is why it’s such a good idea to try landscape photography in the area where you live. You’re already full of local knowledge, so you have what you need to find more intimate landscape opportunities!

2. Use a telephoto lens

Intimate landscape photography

While landscape photographers often favor wide-angle lenses to capture expansive views, it’s perfectly okay to go against the grain. Using a telephoto lens allows you to capture close-up photos of the landscape, emphasizing specific features. You can highlight the layers of the mountains, the flow of the water, and the patterns of the trees with remarkable detail.

I’m not saying you always need to use a telephoto lens for intimate landscape shots, but it’s a fantastic tool for focusing on the smaller, often overlooked parts of the landscape that deserve to be highlighted. This approach can bring a fresh perspective to your work, showcasing the intricate details that make the scenery unique.

3. Try long exposure and night photography

How to make your landscape photos more intimate

Both long-exposure techniques and night photography work great for shooting landscapes. They also lend themselves well to locations that are closer to home. This is because you can return repeatedly to the same location until you get the perfect conditions for a great shot.

I know some good locations for these techniques close to where I live, including places I would never have found on a short visit. The coastline south of the city has some beautiful, rugged spots. Walking along the seafront during all four seasons has given me an appreciation of how beautiful and changeable it is. The light and landscape change with the seasons and the weather, and I’d never understand that if I didn’t live here. Best of all, once I’ve found a location, I can wait out periods of bad weather and return when the light is best to take advantage of it.

The biggest benefit of these techniques is that they help you create photos with a very different look from what many photographers take!

For instance, I recently came across the work of Mark Gee, another Wellington resident. He’s rather good at night photography. Most of his photos are taken in the local area and show an intimacy with the landscape that only comes with local knowledge and time.

4. Try some creative techniques

How to make your landscape photos more intimate

If you combine a more intimate composition or subject with creative techniques, then you can capture great shots practically anywhere.

Light painting and steel wool spinning are two that come to mind. The lack of spectacular landscapes in my local area has pushed me to explore different directions as I look for more ways to make the most of the scenery we have here. Mark Gee’s work has inspired me to try some night photography, and that ties in neatly with these techniques. Again, the freedom to return to the locations I want to use when the sky is clear and there is no wind is priceless.

If you are looking for original ways to photograph your local landscape, perhaps either of these techniques will help!

5. Use storytelling

Here’s another compelling way to create intimate shots: tell a story. Perhaps there’s potential for a landscape-based documentary project in your area. Stories are inherently about people, so consider how local individuals interact with or depend on the landscape. For instance, activities such as running, sea kayaking, cycling, surfing, and windsurfing are popular here in Wellington. Any one of these could make for an intriguing documentary project. Or, take inspiration from something simpler, like Nathan Wirth’s seascapes with a Buddha.

What options do you have in your local area? Think about it, and see what you can come up with!

Elevate your landscape photos with an intimate perspective!

Intimate landscape photography

Capturing intimate landscape shots requires more than just technical skill; it demands a deep connection with the environment. By incorporating using storytelling to add depth to your images, leveraging local knowledge to discover hidden gems, and experimenting with telephoto lenses to highlight specific features, you can create powerful and evocative photographs.

Remember, the key to great photography lies in the depth of your engagement with your subject. Take the time to explore, understand, and connect with your surroundings. This intimacy will be reflected in your photos, and the results will speak for themselves!

Mastering Photography – additional learning

My ebook Mastering Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Digital Cameras introduces you to photography and helps you make the most out of your digital cameras. It covers concepts such as lighting and composition as well as the camera settings you need to take landscape photos like the ones in this article.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

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