Monthly Essay: The dynamic landscape

One of the things I have learnt after years of photographing the world is how dynamic all landscapes are. Before being bitten by the photography bug, my opinion was similar to that of most other people. Landscapes did not move. They were there, just waiting for me to be discovered, ready to show me that unique face I thought they had. I could just show up at any location, take my camera out and snap THE photograph. I too, thought that all variables related to the photographic possibilities were strictly limited to those imposed by the space. Timing was not considered. Those were the times when I travelled like millions of tourists do: Reach a location, step out of the car, snap a photograph and tick next to the place XYZ. Been there. Done that. Next one.

Fortunately, years later I fell under the charm of photography, and I saw the light, in the literal and symbolic way.  The first step was realizing the truth of that old adage “we do not photograph subjects, but the light reflected by them”. That opened the door to a new perception of the natural landscape. I realized how the combination of weather, atmospheric conditions and many other variables led to an almost infinite number of light scenarios. The landscape, after all, was a canvas on which light was poured onto. I discovered the magic of witnessing the very same landscape under the light of sunrise, sunset, noon and night, and under sunny, stormy, cloudy or grey skies. I learned how light quality, its direction and colour affected subject matter, and more importantly, how it implied different emotional connotations in the resulting photographs.

Little by little, it dawned on me how important timing was for landscape photography. Not only did the light conditions change, but also the very subject matter, the landscape itself. Irremediably tied to the clock, seasons came and went, dressing the landscape in different colours and tones. One single forest was actually four: A temple of blue naked columns in winter, a feast of warm colours in autumn, an explosion of raw green in spring and a kaleidoscope of muted tones in summer.

If all that was not enough, weather and cosmic variables were introduced to me as a budding landscape photographer. The very same landscape could adopt a minimalistic Zen character submerged by the mist, become a blank canvas of white under the snow or shake agitatedly under gusty winds. The moon, the sun, the milky way, the auroras…all these elements also entered into an equation which seemed to me never ending.

With such a realization, I was baffled. The places I once thought unique happened to have a zillion different faces. Light, weather, timing, astral juxtapositions….all these ingredients combined and became the real subject matter. Was the landscape, after all, only the playground where the real game was taking place?

Nowadays, I prefer travelling in time and light rather than travelling in space. When visiting a location, I allow myself plenty of time. I know that every day, the place will be different. I am also aware that I can visit a certain place every day of my life, never managing to “capture” it completely.  There are too many faces for just one life. I am also convinced that each of those faces will be equally valid, legitimate, and true. Nowadays, I try to understand and love a place for what it is at that time, not for what I would like it to be as although the landscape is dynamic, our preconceptions are nothing but static expectations. A dangerous combination, and always a guarantee of frustration.

categories: A photographer's vision, Essays, Philosophical
tags: , .


  1. saify says:

    fantastic essay

  2. John Van Marcke says:

    Great Essay and the thoughts about a dynamic landscape are so true. By being on a photo trip in Finland I saw the landscape as I had never seen it before. The frozen trees and endless sight I often had in Finland under blue skies and shades of red light by sunset or in the green reflections of the Northern Lights under millions of stars, I have seen them now in mist, by snow or under dark cloudy conditions. But … it opened another world for me, the same world, but still totally different, not less nice or impressive, on the contrary – I was overwhelmed by how … dynamic this place could be, how different, how challenging ….Giving the mood of that place at that moment in a photograph is very rewarding. Now I learned too look at things differently since a photo immersion trip in Finland – the landscape is truly dynamic. It was a rewarding experience and opened a new vision for me.

    • rafaelrojasphoto says:

      Dear John,
      Thanks so much for your kind comment. Yes, the truth is we had very good opportunities in Finland to discover “a different” landscape in the same landscape. Having been there in other occasions and under different light and weather conditions (and also company?) I am sure you could experience first hand the importance of being open to anything nature and this world has to offer. No matter when, where and how, new things are unveiled to be discovered by those who listen and avoid preconceptions and expectations. I am so glad you enjoyed the experience! :) All the best to you John and I hope our paths will cross again in the future… Warm regards, Rafael and Anca

  3. Manuela Theissen says:

    This is one of the most influential landscape photographers I have ever seen.

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