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The Future of Landscape Photography

On What Path will the Future Take Us?

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Joe Cornish

Joe Cornish

Professional landscape photographer. His personal website is www.joecornishphotographer.com/

The phone rings. It is Mr P, chief finance officer (and every other officer) of the On Landscape Corporation…

"How about a piece on the future of Landscape Photography?" Tim suggested brightly.

"Hmmm, great idea, I'd love to read something on that. Obviously a job for the Professor (David Ward)."

"He's off to Tasmania so you'll have to do it. Oh yes, and I am going online with the redesign of the magazine monday so it needs to be in before then. It's a big issue for us so the content needs to be really good. Got that? Excellent, catch you later." Click, the phone hangs up.

I'm not sure about every detail of the conversation, but in a nutshell, that's what led me to this moment. So today, in between editing, formatting cards from the last shoot, backing up, more editing, answering emails, meeting a client, and wrapping up prints, I have been thinking about the future of landscape photography.

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  • Scott A Murray

    Brilliant article Joe, had a quick skim through it and will give it a re-read later.
    The last paragraph really stood out to me. I think whatever medium we are capturing the landscape on we all share a love of the outdoors and I guess that is what matters most.

  • Michael SA

    Thank you, Joe, and beautifully written as always. I think we are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world with perfect weather for landscape photography (though not so perfect for sunbathing!). We have a wealth of opportunities, and now ‘everyone’ has a camera, be it a phone, or a view camera. It’s amazing how rapidly technology has progressed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if – in 5 years time – one can get image quality which is close to the high end medium format backs from a mirrorless camera (with a Zeiss lens?!) for a ‘reasonable’ price. So, perhaps the future means more emphasis on artistic ability, and perhaps also on passion/effort? On the downside, for those trying to make a living from photography, there may well be even more competition from tens of thousands of people who do this as a hobby. Does that mean that we can look forward to an increase in exciting, beautiful images overall, perhaps with more ‘outstanding’ photographers/artists being revealed? However, I agree that the general perception of landscape photography (as a skill/art) could be further damaged, which would be a real shame.

    I’m really enjoying the new website – thank you so much to all involved.



  • Robinj

    A great subject for the relaunch and wonderfully written. You skipped through the minefield very well. Landscape photography is a vibrant,dynamic and should be an inclusive pastime/passion/profession. Whatever the technology involved Photography still requires you to get the boots on and point your camera at a subject,make technical and creative decisions and press the shutter to create the image. And the image on paper or screen is what it is about. Everyone will have an opinion on the ethical debates of the day and I feel sure the On Landscape team will give us the facts,views and forum for discussion. keep it, keep it real and keep it about the picture .

  • Duncan Fawkes

    This is a really interesting article, thanks Joe!

    It’s the final few paragraphs that stand out. The democratisation of photography will continue apace to the point that technology and the tools we use become increasingly irrelevant. Though many – across all genres – decry this as dumbing down or diluting the art, I think this is both natural and right. The tool should support the realisation of our vision, not be the defining point. And so it becomes the artist’s vision and craftsmanship that differentiates rather than the technology.

    Those of us that love it, the pursuit, being out there when it would be easier to be home, having something to say and the desire to say it, and for no other reason than we need to do this – that becomes the important factor. It is something we will always have and we should be grateful.

    How society perceives the value we create is a totally different matter, and how easily others can get close or good enough results versus the best is sure to be a key influence. As someone who wants to make landscape photography an ever greater part of his life, this is of course a concern. To what extent this passion might sustain me (us) and my family is a question mark that hangs over ‘living your dream’ in the future. In the meantime there’s naught to do but push your own work and vision as far as you can and as fast as you can (and support peers in doing the same) and see where the ‘future’ will take us.

    Thanks again Joe, and to Tim and the OL team for the great revamp.

  • Johnirvineimages

    Just a quick note. I think it says alot about your photography Joe, that despite the dramatic increase in landscape photographers, resources (be it camera bodys or the associated equipment) and locations awareness, your photography still stands out as among the best anywhere in the world.

    You must be proud.

    Kind regards, John.

  • Roger Voller

    I’m glad onlandscape is back on again. Interesting article, and a worry that lurked in the back of my mind whether landscape photography will lose its on-field craft in the next decade perhaps and maybe the recent controversy, landscape photographer of the year competition needs to catch up with the capabilities of composing an image and branding a mood using software. Though I admit I’m not brought up using film being hooked on landscape photography only last year but the digital camera technology has allowed me to appreciate fairly high image quality with some useful free trial and error on exposure. Whatever happens, the modern fast moving technological-ridden lifestyle is what makes me escape to the outdoors, where we once came from, human evolution hasn’t catched up yet.

  • peadarmac

    Great article Joe. My own view is that technology, driven by advancements in sensor technology will make smartphones more capable of producing high quality files, that can be used for prints or advertising. Dare I say it, but those same technological advancements, will one day in the not to distant future make tripods obsolete (much to my horror).

    Despite all of that. Mother nature, in those hours at dawn and dusk provides drama and a feeling of being that no software can provide. That feeling, is the drug that makes me wants to be there and capture images.

  • Robin Hudson

    As usual, a well written and thought out article Joe. As an enthusiastic amateur landscape photographer with limited experience and no artistic background coupled with a (now) unbounded enthusiasm, I have learnt enough over the last four years to appreciate that however good the technology, the real skill in creating a truly authentic, moving and stimulating image lies in the vision, experience and passion of the photographer. Perhaps this is why, in my humble opinion, you remain one of the best! I will happily take advantage of new technoglogy but accept that it will not improve my photography if I fail to develop and perfect my vision…

  • Simon Miles

    I’m also liking the new website. Nicely done and great to see it back in action. Really enjoyed this article and it stirred a few memories too. I certainly recall all the fuss when autofocus came on the scene. A timely reminder then that the technology always moves on. I wonder if the pace of recent change is possibly deceptive, as the digital revolution or whatever you want to call it caused a bit of a paradigm shift. My feeling is things are beginning to settle down a bit now. That’s probably a good thing, if it means we can all get on with the real business of image making. As it happens I was out on the hills of Dartmoor near my home this very day. I certainly agree that some of the technology gets easier. My pack is a lot lighter than it used to be for one thing. And Live View and Histograms have pretty much eliminated focus and exposure error. But some things never change. It was still a struggle climbing up that steep hill. I still got battered on the way up by the wind and rain. A passing dog out for a walk still stopped and barked at my tripod (what is it with dogs and tripods?). I still experienced that heady mix of wonder, excitement, worry and doubt as I sought to make something of my efforts. And I was still enthralled when the rain clouds parted to allow a brief window of light and magic to transform the landscape. Plus ca change, I suppose.

  • Just a quick thanks for the comments from Joe – He’s currently in South Africa with little internet access but says he will reply when he gets back.

  • Simon Gulliver

    What a wonderful article to sum up the state of the art.
    For me the sentence that most rings true has to be – “For these amateurs, experts and enthusiasts, the reward is the photography itself and the life-enriching experiences that their passion brings them.”
    Well said that man.

  • Bruce Cairns

    Thank you, Joe, for a typically thoughtful and measured approach to a subject that often engenders lack of balance, and sometimes even panic or hysteria!

    I love the revamp of the site – well done, Tim!

  • Rod Bird

    As others have said, this is a very well-written piece which puts, succinctly and elegantly, into words what many of us feel.

    I’d like to add something though. The landscape itself is changing. My main stamping grounds are the Chilterns and Iceland, and gradually but surely the landscape is being cluttered up by grain silos, radio masts and so on (even before HS2 arrives). Digital manipulation lets us revert it to an ideal. Should someone setting out to capture the essence of the landscape feel any qualms about doing so? Probably not. Will “those anxious to retain the integrity of the captured moment” have to accept such intrusions as part of the new reality?

  • Philip King

    If the future is anything like this revamped website then the future looks bright.

    Breathtaking . . well done to the OnLandscape team and Mr P

  • Jason Theaker

    The very best image makers have unique ways of seeing; they offer us insight to the banal. What technology they choose to use, be it old or new isn’t important beyond their personal preference, but it is their way of seeing that captures the emotions, stimulates and catalyses the viewing proses.

  • Ian Purves

    Well I have just subscribed … of course I am on a train North from London on WiFi and in two days time I will be in Namibia … what a changing world.

    In the mid 80’s my photography questions for a 6 month working trip to Papua New Guinea involved how many rolls and the balance between B&W and colour? Now it’s how to manage the power (I will be in a Landrover with a tent on the roof for 3 weeks) … of course I am a frustrated Photographer posing as a medical doctor/company director.

    My reflections are not about consumerisation (I have an iPhone5)… the “laws” of optics dictate the size of glass and increasing sensor resolution lead to further technical discussion on the balance between DOF and refraction. Is this real? My own experiments with D800 and Zeiss 21mm (stopped below f5.6) in a real world suggest not … at the moment.

    What is real? … books from Blurb are now easy from Lightroom … and it complains with less than 200dpi … friends can really see! Opticians keep upgrading the humans. Time to upgrade the D7000.

    In my new world (no auto focus, AMAZING colour and 14 stops of contrast) my questions are no longer byzantine hyperfocals but what is my focal “plane” (or was that wave?) and graduation of blur plus how can post processing bring back what I saw? Or is that see … MacBook Pro with Retina display being part of the Landrover power management issue.

    Like others I reflect on your last paragraph … and the fact we can have this conversation without ever meeting or knowing each other … from a train …

  • Pingback: Better The Camera, Better The Image.... Right? | Kyle McDougall Photography()

  • Many apologies for failing to respond to anyone individually, but it may a bit late now.
    First things first, huge credit to Tim for the marathon work that has gone into the redesign, and to Andrew for his design expertise and guidance.
    … And many thanks to all for your kind and thoughtful comments on the article above. What makes Onlandscape what it is, for us its regular contributors, is the quality of the conversation that follows; the sheer insight, depth, support, humour and sometimes poignancy of the thread contributions illustrates the passion and vitality of this community. So please keep encouraging and inspiring us with your feedback, and we are confident Onlandscape will be able to continue to provide a focus for this loose group of enthusiasts, experts, artists and mavericks – you! – for the foreseeable future.

  • Michael SA

    Hi Joe

    Given that your article briefly refers to competitions, I thought I would highlight that there are now 89 posts (and growing) on a separate article in this issue about a landscape photography competition! Whilst there will be a number of reasons for this, and not to dismiss the comments in any way, as an observation it is interesting how a competition has attracted what appears to be a disproportionate amount of debate. I wonder if this becomes unhealthy at some point (not the quality of the debate itself, but the fact that it relates to a competition)? Aren’t competitions just a bit of fun (and perhaps an opportunity to encourage entrants/subjectively recognise talent) but largely irrelevant to the art of making images? I hope that the future of landscape photography involves a huge amount of effort enjoying making images and sharing insights (and great work) within a ‘community’, but a good sense of perspective about competitions!

    Regards, Michael

    • Probably the fact that this is a topic of huge controversy explains the abundance of posts here Michael, rather than reflecting the number of people reading/corresponding on the specific topic. But saying that you might be right! Pay-to-enter competitions inevitably engender expectation, and this too is reflected in the correspondence. Whereas the future of landscape photography might be a harder topic to comment on. Ultimately, competitions are about subjective judgments (albeit the subjective judgments of a group of well-informed judges) and therefore the dissent of the the many disappointed who entered and feel their images are at least as worthy as the winner is probably inevitable. I can’t help observing that this controversy still doesn’t seem to stop dissenters entering the following years competition though. Is that the same triumph of hope over expectation that keeps people playing the national lottery?

  • TB2012

    I’d like to echo the comments others have made about this being a great benchmark article to go with the renovated site.
    Having recently visited Greenwich to see Ansel’s print exhibition, two things struck a chord with me.
    Firstly is that like Group f.64 you Joe, and other notable photographers, got the chance to hang out with a guru. Despite all this instant messaging stuff we have now, I’d love to be a part of a pioneering group who hang out (at Charlie’s or elsewhere is fine ;-)) and re-imagine their craft but perhaps those days are gone?

    Secondly, and again linked to the exhibition I just mentioned, I think it’s easy to underestimated the power images can have. I spent some time reading the visitor comments and watching people’s faces as they stood in front of ‘Clearing winter storm’ amongst others.
    People would all walk up to it, stand back, stand back a bit more and then look around as if to find someone who they could just say ‘wow’ to. So whatever happens in the future, I am pleased that humans need visual art to give them a metaphorical slap in the face, show them how incredible the landscape can be, and demonstrate how even the mundane can be rendered beautiful…. and whether on digital or film, I hope all of us do their bit to keep this happening.

    • I believe that getting together with others and sharing a common bond in photography and nature is a wonderful idea; and especially in your ‘early days’ can be inspiring, motivating and confidence-building. I will always remember that I owe Charlie a debt of gratitude for that.
      I also know Tim is thinking of organising future Onlandscape events, getting together for a symposium or just relaxed get-together. So, watch this space.
      The anecdote about Ansel’s Clearing Winter Storm is really well told and a point well made. It illustrates that the fusion of photography and nature can truly fire the imagination.

      • David Higgs

        Meetups or whatever format would be a great idea, I can see that being very popular.

      • TB2012

        Thanks Joe… and now you’ve written that Symposium ideas down, we can officially add it to a list of things Tim has to do… (Tim, when the time is right I;d be happy to help with this!)

  • Charles Twist

    Some interesting insights. I would appreciate your views on this question: Is a whole slab of knowledge about to disappear from our art?

    LF film (especially colour) is disappearing slowly or becoming the preserve of rich hobbyists. Digital backs are pricey, not to mention MF view cameras and associated lenses. So full view camera capability is gradually being restricted to the rich rather than the creative (although some lucky people are both).

    To make matters worse, the public is increasingly happy to experience photography on screen rather than in print. This masks the softness of over-pixellated sensors. It also makes it hard to perceive the subtlety of focal plane selection.

    Very few people have a piano forte and most experience Beethoven’s sonatas second hand. The closest substitute is a home keyboard, just as Nikon and Canon have introduced tilt & shift lenses – good but limited, and a very different physical experience. Is this where we are headed: landscape photography without the visceral vision of the view camera? We would be losing creativity here and gaining in the digi-sphere, so swings and round-abouts, but it still could amount to a big loss in skill and ways of experiencing the landscape.


    • Guy Aubertin

      Great question Charles

    • It is worth remembering that the adoption of large format film photography by non-professional enthusiasts is only a relatively new phenomenon. Thirty years ago, LF was pretty much exclusively used by professional photographers, and a very small number of (relatively) wealthy, skilful amateurs. Its adoption into a more mainstream amateur market I would suggest came at the end of the ’90s. LF film is still available, and apart from some commercial processing price rises (and, admittedly, film more difficult to obtain), is not inherently more expensive, especially with regard to hardware acquired second hand. Wealth and creativity obviously do not have to be mutually exclusive. However, large format is much more about commitment to an idea and to a way of working that is essentially about craft and creativity (possibly in that order) than it is about wealth.

      It is true that photographs are being consumed on screen. But that does not mean that they are not being experienced in print. The one does not cancel out the other. You are right to make the point though, as it is undoubtedly harder to produce a great result in print, and also (in my opinion) much more satisfying when you get it right.

      Recently I worked for a couple of days with my friend David Chalmers making carbon prints. We shot on 10×8, and David introduced me to the mystery, complexity, frustrations and wonder of making prints via this very rare, offset printing process. It was a joy to use the 10×8 camera of course, but also humbling to observe the phenomenal degree of commitment to the “the Old Ways’ of a working photographer who shoots dslr in his commercial studio, but is in love with the traditional chemical workflow of photography. Carbon printing is not expensive in terms of materials, but it is in terms of time.

      The beauty of this commitment is that such work differentiates itself from the mainstream. The trends may change, but many alternative working methods are still available for those with the desire to be different. And if the visceral vision of the view camera still is still valuable, then why not continue to use it?

      • David Higgs

        Sorry Joe, replied without reading that you’d commented on the same thing.

        An interesting change in the last decade has been the career path for Landscape Photographers. The number of career/professional Landscape Photographers is finite, and in this digital age ,where the limiting step for most – film, has been removed, the number of potential photographers is almost infinite.
        The number of people that can make Landscape Photography their only income is surely going to decline. There are more and more truly excellent photographers who are doing gallery shows, books and some ad hoc work as well as having another profession or job. I’m not sure what you’d call them, but hobbyist doesn’t sound right. I guess these are the group that maybe are rich enough to be able to play with LF/ high end digital that Charles was referring to.
        I wonder whether we’ll end up with two tiers. The already established Landscapers (Kenna, Cornish et al) and a swathe of the new crop, who must be finding it increasingly hard to rise to the top in a large sea of talent. Where will the next ‘greats’ come from?

        • Charles Twist

          In reference to the last paragraph, two comments: (i) there is an abundance of information these days. There is so much technology and so many people trying so many different ideas, that keeping abreast of it all is nigh impossible for me. This is the information age and there isn’t the time to do any part of it any justice. Odd, really. (ii) Greats will come from where they have always come: self-promotion and getting others to praise them publicly, lavishly and loudly. Celebrity has much to do with brain-washing, methinks. I’ll stand back now.


      • Charles Twist

        We are agreed on the values of craft and creativity, but if I told Phase One that I was deserving of a P80, they won’t be giving me one. It requires some lucre.

        For now, there is plenty of film about and I fully intend to continue using my view camera. But how long for and how long will it remain affordable (as I reply to David Higgs below)? Even for black and white, there is really only Harman / Ilford left – quite a fragile situation.

        I am taking the 10-20year perspective. I agree that the Noughties saw a LF boom and an explosion of creativity thanks to the drop in price of gear and the realisation by amateurs of what could be achieved. Will we be able to sustain that development or will we lose it? That is the question.


    • David Higgs

      I wouldn’t say that full view camera capability is the reserve of the rich. You can get a perfectly decent monorail, lens and some holders for less than £200.
      Film is £2 a sheet including processing if you do it yourself.

      I’d argue that the rich can go out and buy the latest whizz bang DSLR with tilt shift lenses, and get to a technically high level quite quickly. I certainly couldn’t afford a D800, but can afford to do LF.

      Your last paragraph is right on, I exhibit a few times a year, all LF or 617 and whether they like the subject matter or not, most people are blown away by the quality of the prints. ‘I didn’t realise photos could look this good’ was one comment. Most people are used to seeing overenlarged dig pictures, and LF and film certainly looks different. I’m not arguing which is better, but it’s certainly a different look.

      • Charles Twist

        Just to comment on your first paragraph.

        With Fuji discontinuing their 2 most popular films in 5×4 – V50 and V100F – remaining stocks are quite easily £2 a sheet. Once they’re gone, it’s Kodak for colour (I don’t see Provia and V100 lasting the course given Fuji’s mindset). Kodak is £3 a sheet presently.

        How long will that last? Converting negs to pos will deter a few photographers. I can see that LF gear is being sold hurriedly. The number of enthusiasts is dropping as the enthusiasm of the remaining few waxes. Doesn’t help to shift lots of film. So prices will have to go up further. This will lead to fewer users and the spiral continues. Mere speculation, I know.

        Yes, we’re OK for now and view cameras are the way to go for me as much as anyone. I wonder about what will happen beyond a few years’ time. Things can change. Fuji may have a change of heart or somebody might buy the plant. Or Kodak may thrive. Or we may have 5×4 sensors for less than the cost of a D800.


        • David Higgs

          Like most things in life you can make things as expensive as you want. Shooting a catalogue on 54 now is clearly maddness and very expensive.
          I think in the future, the view camera will be the reserve of the hobbyist and the insane. The professionals will count the cost of increasing need for higher through-put and images per year, and the last few remaining will either give up or move to digital MF. Most professionals also make a living from teaching, they’ll have to keep up with their pupils digitally speaking.
          There are too many advantages to digital, not least that the image customers cannot tell the difference from a 5×4 film image.
          I can tell the difference and I’m sure you can Charles, but if 99.9% cannot tell, and don’t care – only a few mad enough will continue to shoot sheets.

          That number is larger than you think especially in the USA. B+W film will never go away, and colour will move to C41 (which is pretty good actually). Your choice of emulsions will probably get less with time.
          The reality remains that I can get film online and delivered in 24 hrs. I’ve just received a big order today, despite Morco having no power for most of yesterday!
          This as you rightly say is all speculation.
          I’ll never give up on my Linhof, but can image the worst case scenario that I can only shoot 612 or B+W on it.

  • Yes its a great article Joe, and as ever your writing is clear and fresh. You sum up the present state of photography well and the unknowns ahead. I always worry that in the digital age will great images get lost along the way, as formats, cards, storage systems, operating systems etc relentlessly move on and change. In 50 years time would we make discoveries of hidden treasures of photographs (like finding a lost box of Ansel Adams Negatives) or would someone just find an hopelessly out of date storage device and chuck it in the bin. Who knows but it would be sad if that sort of thing happened and I fear it will.
    But yes its a great time to be behind a camera and as you said in your last paragraph, being outdoors and experiencing nature and light (which sometimes makes you almost cry with what it can do) is the best bit of all :)

    • Peter, just a very brief response to the archiving issue… print your pictures, especially those captured digitally. Future generations will not value faceless memory cards, or discs, or hard drives, as you imply, especially if they don’t work on the equipment of the day. But they will value prints, and original transparencies and negatives too, of course. “Make Prints!” may well become a rallying cry for anyone with an interest in our collective photographic legacy. I am surprised that Epson and co have not seized that opportunity.

      • Hi Joe, yes perhaps printing is an answer though I am not sure how well the majority of prints from the average home printer would last over time, and perhaps a print is not quite the same as the original file in quality terms though that does depend on how well its printed. Whatever I fear it will be a problem for future generations. Perhaps cloud storage or for family snaps social networking sites are in some way the answer!

  • Roger Voller

    Hi Joe Cornish, I attended your presentation at Farnborough camera club as a non-member and would like to say it was a great show. Well constructed and so rich in content, it was great value for money. I’m sure your stature and way of thinking will lead new-comers and even the experienced in the right direction for now and for the unforeseen future.

  • Jack Marris

    Thanks Joe, for a very thoughtful article raising some interesting points. While the events of the past always affect the future, I think it is important to understand that those in the next generation are the only ones who will be able to change things – everything will lie in their hands.

    While I am only 20 myself, I am inspired when I see younger people experimenting with photography. Some may have film SLRs or perhaps a medium format camera passed down from family, some may have digital ones bought as birthday presents, but what strikes me is the fact that the device used to capture their imagination and experimentation is second in importance to how they use it! It is almost immediately apparent when the ‘student’ has outstanding artistic abilities.

    Sadly I think sometimes there is too much ‘snobbery’ when it comes to equipment and ‘gear’ used, and while of course it does affect the end result, by far the talent of the photographer is the key factor in the strength of image produced. Long may it be that way and long may we be able to help others realise their ambitions whilst following our own.

    • Hi Jack, you may have noticed the last sentence of my article, which clearly shows, I agree with your main point. Artistry, creativity, passion for the subject and the medium, these are what will drive the future of the medium. The possibilities are that much greater now than they once were, and that should ultimately mean even more exciting image making. Frankly, although we may be interested in gear, no-one who loves photography cares what camera has been used when looking at great pictures. It is the quality of the seeing that counts.

      • Jack Marris

        Hi Joe, I definitely did notice and I suppose I am echoing your views in a way. Thanks again for your fantastic contributions.

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