Can a realistic landscape photograph be creative? I think the answer is yes, but only if you have a clear understanding of what creativity really means. For a landscape photographer, creativity doesn’t emerge, fully formed, from the void. It emerges when the photographer makes a new, unexpected, but suddenly obvious connection between bits of seemingly unrelated knowledge already stored in that photographer’s head. Unlike painters and novelists, landscape photographers can’t sit in a darkened room, conjure an image or story out of nothing, then put their vision down on canvas or the printed page. Landscape photographs must be grounded in reality.
Creativity in landscape photography is founded on knowledge of the terrain where the photographer plans to shoot, coupled with an understanding of key concepts in atmospheric optics, geography, astronomy, botany, meteorology and psychology.
Knowledge of the terrain lets photographers focus their efforts on the land’s most dramatic and iconic features.
Understanding atmospheric optics, the science of light, allows photographers to predict the most vivid displays of alpenglow, where rainbows will appear and how polarizers will interact with reflections.
Understanding geography helps photographers observe how the angle of sunrise and sunset varies throughout the year.
A study of astronomy lets photographers predict where to go to shoot moonrise and moonset, the Milky Way, meteor showers, star trails and lunar eclipses.