In the world of photography, a handful of famous landscape photographers stand out above the rest. Ansel Adams, Michael Kenna, and Sebastião Salgado are a few of the most recognized names in the genre. These photographers have captured some of the most breathtaking images of nature. This article will look at some of their most famous photos and see what makes them so unique.
Landscape photography is, without a doubt, one of the most (if not the most) famous members of the disciplined family of Straight Photography.
Known as the Supreme Master of Landscape Photography, Ansel Adams is by far the most important name among famous landscape photographers.
Ansel Adams was an American photographer and environmentalist whose prints are the perfect evidence that the work that happens after pressing the shutter button is extremely important. As a whole, his images depict a pure fascination with nature, as his landscape photographs of the American West—especially Yosemite National Park—are his most iconic body of work.
Anytime someone hears the phrase “Landscape Photography,” it’s no surprise that Adams is likely the first to come to mind since his passion for landscape photography transformed his skills into stunning mastery.
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Besides popularizing Landscape Photography, he gave the world a great tool for getting the best tones for each portion of a photograph in print, which is the summit of every photographer’s workflow. This priceless gift is called the Zone System, which Adams developed alongside Fred Archer. Basically, the Zone System refers to the amount of light a specific portion of the negative needs to imprint the best tones onto paper.
Ted Forbes created a great video that seamlessly and effectively explains the technique.
Adams primarily used large format cameras, also known as a view or field cameras. He used these particular cameras because of their ability to ensure extremely high resolution and sharpness when rendering images.
The large format starts at 4″ x 5″. To get an idea of the amount of information that this format is capable of capturing, you can fit 15 35mm negatives inside a 4″ x 5″ negative (the smallest of large format).
Inside an 8″ x 10″ (another standard of large format), you get the same amount of information with 60 35mm negatives.
In addition to his work on the Zone System, Adams also founded the photography group known as Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston. The group is much like Magnum Photo but for Straight Photography.
He also created three magnificent books that are considered the bibles of photography—The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. These three very dense and technical books, including the Zone System, cover the entire photographic workflow.
In The Camera, Adams discussed everything from visualization to special purpose equipment and techniques. In The Negative, he covered a wide range of topics from image values to value control in processing and emphasized the importance of darkroom processes, equipment, and procedures. And in The Print, he discussed expressive image and special printing applications.
Among numerous other published works, Adams’ photographs can also be enjoyed virtually here. If you ever have the chance to see his prints in person, I encourage you to do so. You’ll be blown away by his work and will better understand how deeply passionate he was about getting the best tones in his images during printing.
Hailing from Britain, Michael Kenna is famously known for his black and white landscapes that are unusual and almost ethereal. To achieve his iconic style, he has taken an extreme approach of shooting at night with exposures up to ten hours long.
The nature behind Kenna’s work has a very characteristic and peculiar quality that is filled with minimal compositions and a highly reflective or meditative nature.
Over the years, he has introduced us to a Zen-like and highly unseen world that truly exists but only unveils itself to him. As a result, the quality behind his work has been vastly awarded and is a constant reminder to photographers that landscapes are not simply waiting for us to shoot them. Instead, we must wait for landscapes to open themselves to us.
Getting his start as a commercial photographer, Kenna gratefully drifted apart from the world of commercial work and eventually discovered his own style after working alongside great photographers like Ruth Bernhard.
Delight yourself by visiting his website to see more of his incredible talent.
Nadav Kander has created a work that invites us to another world, as seen in his images that make up the book titled Dust. Photographing the desolate landscapes of the Aral Sea, he captured the abandoned and fascinating images of the restricted military zones of Priozersk and Kurchatov, two places that didn’t appear on any map until long after the end of the Cold War.
These ghostly landscapes became the main subject of Dust, where the impeccable consistency of the project serves as a reminder to all photographers to strive for in their own projects.
Kander’s work also reminds me of a more specific project by Danila Tkachenko titled Restricted Areas, which is yet another great example of consistency.
Trained as an economist and eventually earning a Master of Economics degree, Sebastião Salgado’s venture into photography initially took a different path as he worked as an economist for the International Coffee Organization (ICO).
Traveling frequently with the ICO and often ending up in Africa on missions for the World Bank, Salgado started taking photographs of his journey and grew more and more serious about his new hobby. In fact, he became so serious that he abandoned his career as an economist to become a full-time photographer in 1973.
First working on news assignments, Salgado later became more interested in documentary work. In 1979, he joined Magnum Photos, and he left the group in 1994 to team up with his wife, Lélia Wanick Salgado, to form their own agency known as Amazonas Images in Paris to represent his work.
After photographing the tragedies of the human race, he switched to nature and wildlife photography. He compiled his work with Taschen and published an impressive book titled Genesis, stating that his work is a true homage to nature and his attempt to give the environment something in return. The book has some of the most beautiful landscape shots I’ve ever seen, and the print quality alone is truly remarkable.
Salgado has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2001. There is a splendid documentary directed by Wim Wenders that details the whole philosophy behind Genesis and the artistry of Salgado and Taschen’s work.
You can also watch this inspiring and revealing TED Talk to learn more. Check Sebastiao Salgado page on Artsy, which provides visitors with Salgado’s bio, over 200 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Salgado exhibition listings.
Once referred to as the child genius of American photography by Van Deren Coke, Brett Wilson’s landscapes are undeniable proof of his genius and incredible talent. Studying under his father, the masterful Edward Weston, Brett became a talented photographer in his own right, with his father’s influence carrying through to his botanical work and the truly unique landscapes that embody his signature style.
The most valuable thing we can learn from Weston is that landscapes can be captured with both wide and long lenses. Many of his images have a tight focal feeling which may sound like a contradiction, but seeing his work encourages us to think outside the box and uncage the prejudices and the standard rules of photography.
You can see more of his work online in the Brett Weston archive.
Presenting quite an interesting style of landscape photography, Fontana’s view of the world is simply beautiful. His landscapes have been defined as abstract and colorful, and I couldn’t agree more.
Through his photography, Fontana teaches us that there are still things that can be discovered in landscape photography. He captures the interrelation and interplay of colors in natural scenes.
Working primarily with a 35mm camera where his studio is the world, Fontana pursues his own view of making the invisible visible through art. While browsing his work, I remembered a polemical shot taken by Frans Lanting for National Geographic that depicted a completely surreal landscape, which happened naturally inside the camera.
Fontana’s minimalist and abstract approach to landscapes is definitely worth studying. Every time we attempt to capture something different, try a tight focal length in order to see little portions of the landscape that will eventually render the abstraction of the whole nature in front of your very eyes. A great source for training our eyes to watch seamless abstractions of the world is through constant contemplation of abstract paintings.
You can never go wrong with Kandinsky or Miró.
After dropping out of the Faculty of Forestry at Tokyo University of Agriculture, Takeshi Mizukoshi worked as a naturalist and later as a mountain photographer after studying with the late Yukio Tabuchi, a fellow talented landscape photographer from Japan.
Although Mizukoshi is one of those hard-to-find landscape photographers with very little in terms of work readily available on the internet to contemplate and appreciate, the few things you can find are a complete ode to nature itself. His works are displayed in many domestic and international museums and art galleries which, besides books, is the only way to appreciate his work properly.
As a whole, his work portrays serene landscapes that remind us of our true smallness in comparison to the overwhelming beauty of nature.
Fujifilm published a brief excerpt of Mizukoshi’s work here.
Much like Ansel Adams, David Brookover is skilled in capturing the beauty and forming imagery through his lens before hand-crafting the image into an exceptional print, which is the true foundation of his art.
Besides his focus on traditional techniques that range from planning to printing, the intuitive, artistic detail in his wildlife, landscape, abstract and western photographs make up the core philosophy of his work.
He practices platinum palladium printing as well as silver gelatin printing. You can see some of his work on his online portfolio, or if you’re ever in the area of Jackson, Wyoming, you can stop by his gallery and see his talent firsthand.
With a great sense of aesthetics and beauty, Brookover’s landscapes are rendered in accordance with his own natural vision of the world.
A wilderness photographer, adventure photojournalist, and climber, Galen Rowell launched his career as a full-time photographer in 1972 despite being never formally trained.
Filled with passion and patience for photography, Rainbow over the Potala Palace is exceptional evidence of his immeasurable talent.
Rather than use a large format camera, Galen instead used the trusty and popular Nikon FE and FM2, which is a great example that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” Not only is it portable, it’s also extremely well built.
During his life, he built his famous reputation beyond the lens by answering “f/8.0” with great pride every time someone asked him, “How did you get that great shot?” It’s a great answer, indeed.
Exceptionally disciplined, Galen spent extensive time outdoors to ensure he was at the perfect location when the light was right. In turn, this gave him a huge advantage, which is obvious when comparing his work to that of other, less disciplined photographers.
An American landscape, nature, and wilderness photographer, Carr Clifton teaches us about the importance of conversation and never gets comfortable with the status quo, not even when it comes to format. Using a large format 4×5 film camera and, more recently, a digital camera, Clifton has created a large body of work with images that are the perfect portraits of nature at its purest breathtaking form and massive reality.
I think he has been humble and enthusiastic enough to change and evolve over time. As an early adopter of photography in the early 1970s, Clifton wanted to craft attractive images of beautiful places. Today, that same desire pushes him a little further into the great outdoors.
While National Parks have long been a favorite subject of photographers, Clifton believes that beauty is still there and that there is much more left to capture. In short, he believes that even though a single place has been endlessly photographed, there is always a lot left to see through the lens because landscapes always change and reveal new parts of themselves.
With his philosophy, we can start to think deeply about the importance of scouting our hometowns and remind ourselves not to take anyplace anywhere for granted.
To see more of Clifton’s images, click here.
And, for the treasure of the day and the golden egg of this list, be sure to check out Per Bak Jensen and his ephemeral and dreamy minimalist landscapes.
In conclusion, these famous landscape photographers and their photos have shown us the beauty of nature through their unique perspectives. They have also inspired us to explore the world and capture its wonders through our cameras.
Until next time, keep exploring and capture your own awesome landscapes!