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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The precision of traditional landscape photography

I walk across a pedestrian bridge over the river Aare between the parishes of Interlaken and Unterseen when I visit the swimming pool and health centre, and used to travel back and forth across the neighbouring rail bridge on my way to and from work every day. However, almost ten years after moving to Switzerland, yesterday was the first time I actually took a camera and photographed the picturesque scene.

I love traditional landscape photography, with its attention to detail, meticulous composition, tiny details (such as the case of the woman sitting on the bench on the left of the image) and I spent a few hours today practicing just that: full concentration on the composition, great attention to detail, and a particular effort on making sure everything was perfect right at the moment I pressed the shutter. It’s been a while since I’ve absorbed myself completely in such attention to detail when photographing landscapes but although I’m sure the viewer won’t notice any difference between this photo and any other landscape I’ve photographed, it felt different to me. By spending the time to make sure the scene was perfect – no stray ducks or people cycling along the footpath – and only shooting two images instead of the usual half dozen, it somehow feels that I achieved more.

I bought a pair of old photographic books at a flea market some years ago, in which an amateur landscape photographer – presumably Swiss – collated a large number of landscape photographs, all of which were very classically shot. From the deliberate exclusion of people and vehicles wherever possible, to the perfect composition for each scene, it’s not just a visual diary of travelling but a collection of examples of the photographer’s skill. With the age of digital photography, where it’s much easier for anyone to achieve better photographs, the art and skill of the traditional, thought-out composition is not so much in decline, but less easy to recognize. The books, which were presumably put together on an amateur level as the picture locations are written in biro and there are no other indications of the photographer, are the ones I return to for inspiration when I want to shoot landscape photos.

The satisfaction of taking the time to properly expose a shot, precisely compose the scene, wait for the right moment and take just one frame wherever possible is one which gives me the most pleasure as a photographer.