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Landscape Photographs From Early Photography to the Postmodern Era

written by: Zoe Van-de-Velde•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/18/2011

In this image gallery, a selection of landscape photographs can be viewed that reflect different styles, techniques and methods of photography. The photographs span from the 1890s through to the 2010s so the progression of photography, time and technique can be seen in the images.

  • slide 1 of 25

    Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

    Canyon de Chelly, Arizona 

    This Ansel Adams image uses a wide depth of field to capture the immensity of the Canyon. The light can be seen emerging from the back of the image, gently touching the side of the largest rock in the center. Ansel's use of light intensifies the impact of the image creating a brooding depth magnified by the storm clouds.

  • slide 2 of 25

    Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

    Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California 

    This image is titled "Monolith" and its massive proportions are accentuated by the white snow setting off the black rock. This monolith feels as if it could be anywhere and gives a sense of alienation and loneliness as it is surrounded by the winter wilderness. Natural light from the moon casts the light over the side of the rock contrasting beautifully with the snow.

  • slide 3 of 25

    Sand, Dunes, Death Valley

    Sand, Dunes, Death Valley 

    Even more than the Monolith previously shown, this image takes a step out of this world; looking at this photo causes you to feel like you're steeping onto another planet. The dunes give the impression of being sharp and sculpted as the light falls across the peak. It seems as if no human has ever set forth upon this natural landscape. Like the previous photo, the use of natural light comes into play - Adams uses the bright sunlight and sets up the camera so that the light comes in from the side creating these deep contrasts.

  • slide 4 of 25

    What Majestic World

    What Majestic World 

    Russel Varian was a physicist who invented the klystron radio tube and his work was important in the advancement of radar and microwave technology. Varian also wrote poems which accompanied images that Ansel Adams took. Adams said that Varian had "a life-long love affair with the rocks, trees, clouds, lights, and storms comprising the vast Divine Performance in which we live." (Ansel Adams: The DACC Connection).

  • slide 5 of 25

    Yosemite Valley

    Yosemite Valley 

    In this image Adams uses nature against itself; the cloud seems to overpower the massive mountains. The cloud itself is pure white contrasting perfectly with the black density of the mountain range. The sky itself also appears pitch black behind the cloud adding even more stark contrast to the image. Adams invented the "Zone System" which allowed the photographer to measure the amount of light and translate that into densities in the negative that would give the photographer more control over the image.

  • slide 6 of 25

    Iceberg Lake

    Iceberg Lake 

    Iceberg lake captures stark dark and light contrast in similarity to Ansel Adams' imagery. The difference with Weston's icebergs is that they have a more dream-like quality; the edges seem softer and more rounded. David Leland Hyde states that Edward Weston's Landscape photography is, "exhibit a strong sense of location, of place, of physicality and yet a universality. He showed us the extraordinary in the ordinary. Through details, textures, tactile sensations and the undulating forms of rocks, trees, nudes, ocean waves, vegetables and shells, he brought us the world." (Leland Hyde D, Edward Weston Landscape Philosophy)

  • slide 7 of 25

    Death Valley

    Death Valley 

    This image makes a really wonderful comparison to Ansel Adam's "Death Valley," where Adams has created the deepest contrast with stark black and white, Weston has used subtle gradations of grey to create the undulating feeling of movement. The texture can almost be felt; again there is a gentle dreamy quality to the image. To capture this, Weston would have waited for the right lighting at the right time of day but also much would have depended on how he processed the negative.

  • slide 8 of 25

    Shell

    Shell 

    This shell taken out of nature and placed in studio conditions becomes a modern art sculpture. The light plays down the center of the shell ensuring that the viewer's eye can caress the image from top to bottom. This is sensuality in nature removed and repositioned as fine art. In this photograph, Weston used studio techniques, using a light meter and a flash to create this effect.

  • slide 9 of 25

    Tomato Field, Big Sur

    Tomato Field, Big Sur 

    Here, Weston plays with the contrast of black and shades of grey; the tomato field becomes a pattern that makes you want to touch each plant to feel the bumps. The background is just one shade of light grey contrasting with the black of the field. Like the previous photo, how much the lights and darks are contrasted depend upon the processing of the image in the darkroom.

  • slide 10 of 25

    Dunes, Oceano

    Dunes, Oceano 

    Compare this image to Ansel Adams "Sand Dunes" and it can be seen that where Adams used stark black and white to create sharp edges, Weston has used the pure white and grey's to create an image that is softer and full of subtle texture. The shadow lines in the foreground of the image draw the eye up and over the undulating dunes. Again, there is a sensual quality to the image making the viewer want to touch the curves of the dunes.

  • slide 11 of 25

    Coin de Parc, Versailles

    Coin de Parc, Versailles 

    Atget's images were full of gentle nuance; often Atget would contrast nature with a manmade object. Here the tree seems greater than the statue. The chairs add a surreal touch to the image giving a sense of human presence to the scene. The use of shadow also gives a suggestive edge to the image inviting the viewer to look into the darkness behind the white of the statue. Atget liked to take images when there were few people about so would often go out very early in the morning or seek out deserted spots to take the pictures that pleased him.

  • slide 12 of 25

    Coin de Parc, Versailles

    Coin de Parc, Versailles 

    This second image of the Coin de Parc in Versailles also uses the natural with the manmade, juxtaposing the elements perfectly to create an almost fantastical scene. The statues rise out of the lake like nymphs surrounded by lily pads. In the background, other statues seem to be looking on and the reflection of the trees can be clearly seen in the lake. Here, Atget would have used the natural light available and set his aperture at f16 or smaller to ensure that he captured the reflections on the water.

  • slide 13 of 25

    Cone Shaped Trees

    Cone Shaped Trees 

    This Atget image has a surreal quality with the almost misty background the cone shaped trees seem strangely out of place. The dark of the cone shaped trees contrasts with the almost white graveled ground. Notice the use of shadows that create atmosphere in the image and suggest the time of day.

  • slide 14 of 25

    Trees

    Trees 

    This image seems to come straight from a fairytale, the misty landscape reaches out behind the trees. The trees fill the frame in their bare state suggesting the barrenness of the landscape. Atget's images reflect the pictorial style that was popular in his time but he honed the technique and began to take as much out of the image as he could to really get to the heart of what he wanted to take. Atget is known for printing highlights that seem "washed out" creating a dreamy quality and he considered the shadows and reflections in every image as essential to their composition.

  • slide 15 of 25

    Notre Dame

    Notre Dame 

    This image juxtaposes the tree in the foreground (nature) with the cathedral in the background (manmade). This image allows nature and landscape to fill the scene while the church looks mystical and far away. The most important parts of this image are the reflections and shadows upon the water.

  • slide 16 of 25

    Great Sand Dunes

    Great Sand Dunes 

    A modern color image of the National Park sand dunes is a really good way of showing the different ways in which photography can be used to interpret a landscape. This image uses the brooding clouds and dark mountains in the background to set off the vastness of the golden sand in the foreground. The use of sharp contrast between the light and dark areas mirrors the Ansel Adams method of taking this shot.

  • slide 17 of 25

    Autumn morning in Osbektal, near Flensburg, Germany

    Autumn morning in Osbektal, near Flensburg, Germany 

    This photograph is almost like a Casper David Friedrich painting, it has a romantic and mystical quality. The sun's rays of light are coming through the trees to create a kind of mistiness to the trees in the background. In this image, only natural light has been used and a slightly longer exposure to create this effect. Usually exposure time is 1/60th of a second to ensure that a sharp picture is maintained. Longer exposures can make an image appear softer, digital cameras often have setting that allow for longer exposures of up to 30 seconds. Trying out different exposure length will give your own landscape images a softer edge.

  • slide 18 of 25

    Kızılcahamam 1, Infrared Photograph

    Kızılcahamam 1, Infrared Photograph 

    This infrared photograph shows the different effects that can be achieved by using a different kind of camera. Infrared photography captures radiations (from light) reflected by the scene that is being photographed. Infrared sensors capture a wider spectrum of colors than the human eye can see and can capture light and colors through haze or pollution much better than an ordinary photograph.

  • slide 19 of 25

    Kızılcahamam 2, Infrared Photograph

    Kızılcahamam 2, Infrared Photograph 

    This is another infrared image taken in the same place. The colors in this image seem to have an almost greenish hue and the trees seem alien to the landscape. The textures in this image could be compared to those of Weston, as a viewer gets the sense of wanting to touch the undulating hills.

  • slide 20 of 25

    Industrialization from Remodeling Photo History

    Industrialization from Remodeling Photo History 

    This piece gives a new perspective to the landscape by adding the pylons juxtaposed with the human form the sense of man's effect on nature is exemplified here. Where Atget's photographs of statues of Kings, Gods and nymphs in the landscape gave a dream-like quality, Spence and Dennett's imagery gives a harsher more realistic look at the natural environment.

  • slide 21 of 25

    Ax- Foix : en marche dans le waggon terrasse, Goerz- anschütz

    Ax- Foix : en marche dans le waggon terrasse, Goerz- anschütz 

    This much earlier image from 1906 really exemplifies the march of industrialization through the western world. The picture taken from a train shows the train tracks cutting brutally through the landscape. The electric pylons are a bare version of the forest up ahead. This image again relies on the natural light available through the window; even with a tripod, this image taken on a moving train would have been a challenge to an early photographer.

  • slide 22 of 25

    Ariel Photograph of a Swedish Landscape

    Ariel Photograph of a Swedish Landscape 

    This photograph from the late 1800s shows the innovative techniques that were being created in early photography. This photographic technique was an early version of the "tilt and shift" photography that you see today that miniaturizes landscapes.

  • slide 23 of 25

    Port Glaud, Mahe, Seychelles

    Port Glaud, Mahe, Seychelles 

    This image is a great example of a panoramic shot that shows a moment in time, the beach and island remain fairly unspoiled. This beach today is probably a top tourist destination. The power of photography to capture places in a time capsule is really shown here. The panoramic image is easily achievable today with auto-stitching and a simply function provided on most digital cameras. Pre-digital it was a little harder to achieve and a special lens had to be used or negatives had to be painstakingly put together.

  • slide 24 of 25

    Landscape of Jackson Hole

    Landscape of Jackson Hole 

    This picture has the postmodern feel everything in this image is hyper-real, the landscape is no longer "natural" but an enhanced version. The colors from the mountains and the small house are too bright and vivid and the grass just slightly too green. Using Photoshop or other editing software, enhancement of colors and contrasts are easy to achieve.

  • slide 25 of 25

    Glacial Remnant of a Pond, Austria

    Glacial Remnant of a Pond, Austria 

    Although this image may not be enhanced, it still has that postmodern feel of being too bright, too real. The colors are rich and vibrant, the water so clear that every piece of wood can be seen that has fallen into the pond. The colors on this image could have been enhanced considerably in post-production to create this effect.