Storytelling in Landscape Photography

Storytelling in Landscape Photography

Originally written for and published by CaptureLandscapes.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Dazed and Confused, Tasmania, Australia

There is something strangely captivating about landscape photography; the open horizons, soaring alps, thundering rivers and lush valleys seep into you with each encounter. Curiosity sucks at your consciousness until you become restless, longing for the rhythms and dangers associated with the living presence of this world.

The land makes us who we are – we are part of the land, as it is part of us. This is the underlying context which epitomises the essence of a landscape memoir and which, when utilised to its full potential, can assist any landscape photographer in bringing forth a deeper, meaningful story.

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Creating a Landscape Memoir

Creating a landscape memoir can be the key to understanding your own interpretation of the world and in finding context to existence, as well as a personal connection with the land. However, telling a story with the use of landscapes can often be a challenge.

The aim of a landscape memoir is to unravel the elements within the reality of nature itself and to display these visually, without the use of post-processing to bring out anything that wasn’t already there.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Arrow to the Unknown, Tasmania, Australia

When developing a landscape memoir, it is important to consider how your audience will connect with the fundamental themes. The focus here is not on sunrises and sunsets or unachievable scenes of altered reality, nor is it the mere reflection of what we see. Like all artistry, a landscape memoir is used to demonstrate an individual’s profound impression of the subject matter.

While it is entirely possible to create emotion to assist with storytelling in landscape photography, a landscape memoir is not about substituting for what failed to appear or what wasn’t already there.

Although others may draw different conclusions from your work, your vision is what ultimately underpins the composition of your image and the subsequent message that you communicate. From the changing seasons to private, untold moments, it is the visually expressed story that effectively makes or breaks the strength of an image and which is crucial in the construction of a project such as this.

Beginning the Narrative

When the subject of your work is as fluid as that of a landscape, it can be challenging to find a place to even begin the narrative. As you stand faced with the natural world, how do you overcome the paralysing feeling of not knowing where and how to start?

This is a question that I have asked myself on many occasions. In fact, I often find it easier to begin a story when I am far away from the familiar. Perhaps the difficulty of overcoming the perceived mundanity of our surroundings is why many people travel to distant countries in order to document something more interesting. It is entirely possible though to create a meaningful body of work that tells a story closer to home; in fact, there is no better place to embark upon your landscape journey.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
The Great Escape, Tasmania, Australia

When you first begin your own landscape memoir, keep in mind that it will evolve over time. This is the kind of project that will undulate with your philosophy and reflect your ever-changing grasp on the world around you. Observe your experiences and try to emulate the details in the overall image that you capture with your lens. Break down the fragments in the landscape around you as you piece together your composition.

What does each piece mean and how does it convey the bigger picture? What exactly is your story and does this image fit into the overall storyline? How do you want your audience to feel when they step away from your collection and ponder it afterwards? Is there harmony between all facets of the story that you are telling, or have you only focused on one part of the whole?

Does it matter if you only focus on one part or are you still able to get your message across?

Island Home

The photos contained in this article are from one of my own landscape memoirs, which portray my perception of none other than the ‘Land Down Under’.

For me, Australia is a place where the environment is ultimately wild, untamed, harsh and fascinating. It is my backyard – a world of beauty that I largely neglect when the alluring strength of wanderlust takes hold. This dry continent with its unique landscape is my island home.

My story is about standing on the land’s edge with no one else around, windblown with the sweet relief of a life and a place in this vast expanse.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Dreamlight, Tasmania, Australia

It has taken me a long time to develop this particular memoir into the form that it currently takes. Although it isn’t displayed in its entirety here, it is a glimpse into a project that is ongoing and will likely never be complete. Along this journey, I have spent months and even blocks of years feeling threadbare and uninspired.

Photographers are not immune to creative blocks. When this occurs, the narrative in a landscape memoir may become lost and the story somewhat unhinged. During these moments, the urge to take a sub-par photo and to create the magic in post-processing can be somewhat staggering. However, if and when you feel this way, it is important to remind yourself of what the land means to you and how this can be portrayed. It may be as simple as putting the camera down and taking in your surroundings, grounding yourself by concentrating on what you find interesting about the world in which you live.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
The Coast Divides, Tasmania, Australia

Invariably, by telling your story through landscape photography, you may be able to find your own place in this boundless space that we call home. Locating a starting point is as simple as envisioning what it all means to you; capturing it is like documenting your innermost contemplations as metaphors within the land.

It may be difficult at first to find any cohesion within your images, though with effective unwritten communication and by challenging the boundaries of natural artistry, you can create your own landscape memoir that uses the environment to tell the fundamental story of who you are and your personal connection with the world.

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