After writing today‘s photography article, it occurred to me that it
may seem like sometimes I am reaching a bit within the subject of
photography for things to write about. I mean, horizons in landscape
photography? An entire post? For me, that’s not reaching, it’s how I
look at life.
Since I was young and spry, I have journeyed to understand why we do
what we do, why we say what we say, why we believe what we believe.
Why and how we look at life and why and how we perceive things in the manner in which we do. I have explored dozens, maybe hundreds of such subjects in
politics, social order, photography and the arts, and in life itself.
It is that curiosity that drives me, and frankly, it is what keeps me
moving forward. I recently examined the terms “as long as it makes you
happy”, and “whatever makes you happy is okay“, and asked the question
are they really appropriate in accordance with all of those bad things
that can make the human animal happy.
So today it is merely about how photographers not just look at
landscape imagery, but how they view and use horizon lines in their
I always loved landscape/waterscape photography, but I often grew
weary of the traditional image with land or water, and then the sky
appearing at a horizon line, frequently either 1/3rd or 2/rds of the
way up the picture frame. So like many photographers, I began making
more and more landscape “type” images where only the land (or water)
showed. In other words, no traditional scapes with a beginning and
middle and an end. Such pictures are not new by any means, but I
tried to “see them” with the same amount of frequency as I did the
traditional land/waterscape. It became one more way of looking at the
One way to eliminate a typical landscape with its usual finish, is to
hang your tripod and camera ( and yourself) over a 3,000 foot cliff
and photograph the river below. For this shot I used a short telephoto
(70mm) and cropped the image somewhat.
As an aside, I should say that I am in no way a specially brave
person. Just a common guy at best. All the risks that I took while
making or getting to where I was going to make pictures, were done
with meticulous care and thoughtful planning. Even when I was lost in
northern Minnesota or the Sonora Desert, I knew beforehand that could
happen and I had plans so I could be at least reasonably sure I would
survive and do so in good shape.
One of my favorite subjects for landscape photography is sand dunes.
While you can make (and I did) traditional compositions of this
subject with a distant sky, dunes are naturally adaptable for pictures
with all sand. The hills and the contours make for what appear as
abstractions, but are truly just reality when you are in the company
This first image technically has a horizon but it is not of the sort
that will lead you into infinity as would a sky.
This second picture is certainly “horizon-less“. It does however
point us, via the lines in the sand, towards where we would logically
find a horizon.
This image is neat and ordered.
This final dune shot has no order to it except that which viewers can
find amongst the chaos.
It of course also has no defined horizon line.
While this wilderness road in autumn clearly has no sky in the
distance, if you follow the road there is a horizon here. That road
reaches the top of the hill and turns left. The horizon is where it
does that, but where this picture will take us, is a mystery. It’s a
journey worth traveling so I did.
The rock country of the west, lends itself to landscape style imagery
very well. This picture was made along the Arkansas River in Colorado
and I made plenty of traditional compositions with water and/or land
or sky while I was there, but sometimes horizon lines distract us from
what might be what attracted us to the scene in the first place.
This next more traditional picture was created high in the Rocky Mts.
It is a traditional land + sky image, except as I often do, I show
just a kiss of sky.
This next image is simply a crop of the first. I am okay with either
shot as it is the rock, and the light that attracted me, and those
subjects are both prominent either way. One reason for that is the sky
is “grayish” and unobtrusive in that first image. Now if the skylight
was more colorful in and of itself, the first image would be my
With or without a horizon, it served my purpose as the one with the
camera, telling a story.
The Badlands of South Dakota make great horizon-rimmed images, but
they make sensational abstract style, horizon-less pictures. Grasses,
dirt, rock….who needs a sky?
The third image here is not merely a crop of the second. I changed
from 86mm on a zoom lens to 300mm. Cropping in the editing process is
a viable way to create new perspectives of an image, but it is never
as satisfying (to me) as “artistic intent” at the moment of
My favorite of the three? The middle image hands down.
Landscape images can be complex in their simplicity, or so complicated
that they become simple. That is a part of the joy of landscapes. That
is a part of the joy of life.
There is always room to expand our horizons, have a happy time finding yours.
Have a great day,