Grand landscapes verses intimate photos: beauty verses creativity and vision

After I came home from my trip to Zion during which I probably had the best two days of photography in my life, I have been thinking a lot about the “grand landscape” verses “intimate photos” discussion which seems to be everywhere in the photo world. “Intimate photography” seems to be having its day, and grand landscapes seem to be taking a back seat, at least if you look at what kind of photos are winning awards and being accepted for juried shows. About five years ago I had “intimate” photos accepted into a juried show, two years running. It was wonderful for my ego, but truthfully it ruined my photography for a couple of years. Here’s why. Photography for me is all about beauty. I have my most spiritual moments when I am in awe of natural beauty. When I take a photo like this one and the one below, I don’t feel especially creative. I am just capturing a miracle that “mom” has given us. Something beautiful. When I go out on photo trips to witness the beauty that mother nature creates it makes me happy…no, it makes me ecstatic. Creating the intimate photos did make me feel creative, and after getting photos into the show, it made me stop trying to take grand landscapes. Instead I concentrated on taking intimate photos. I stopped having estatic moments because I was trying too hard to make those intimate photos. The truth is I am much better at knowing when and where to go to find exquisite grand landscapes than I am at takes intimate photos. So for a couple of years I was miserable, not doing what I love most: getting myself to beautiful locations and taking beautiful photos . During the hard times at the beginning of the pandemic, what helped me more than anything else was getting out into nature and seeing beauty and trying to bring that beauty home with me to share with others. So, there you have it. I am a beauty junky rather than an extremely creative person and I am at peace with that. I have stopped trying so hard to find intimate photos and have stopped feeling guilty about shooting grand landscapes. I’ll take whatever comes.

Technical Details

Composite: No

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Glad you found your jam again. It’s a popular jam, but if it makes you ecstatic and keeps the creativity flowing, you shouldn’t feel as though it’s wrong. As they say, you do you and I’ll do me. Personally I’ve never followed the trends in contests, magazines or popular websites all that closely and so I just shoot to please me and intimate landscapes or what I’ve always called slices are an important part of what keeps me going out there. For a while I concentrated on microscapes as well. Those are camera on the ground landscapes of very small things. They made me happy and I loved the outside of the box process of seeing them in the first place and then applying traditional landscape rules for a scene just a few inches across. The point is, do what lights up your brain. If it’s big vistas, shoot them and shoot them well. We all need to feed our inner lives in whatever way we can.

BTW, I like both images. The bit of light and warmth on the river contrasts well to all that frosty goodness. The first one gives us a closer look at what might be too far away to appreciate in a grand landscape. They both help tell the story of the place in greater detail and depth than what a series of basically the same type of photo would do. At least in my estimation.

Kristen hit the nail on the head, you do you! We each have our own unique path and what is most important is to do what makes you happy and not follow the trends, follow your own path and vision instead. Some folks like our friend @Cole_Thompson take this to the extreme by practicing photo celibacy as to not be influenced by others. I fall somewhere in the middle where I only look at work that inspires me deeply and I have stopped looking at Instagram which is where the worst trends develop.

Intimate landscapes unleashed my creativity, but I can fully appreciate that is not the case for everyone. I still do both, I’ve found that only focusing on the grand scenes left me a bit frustrated because you’re limited by good light, so you can only photograph in these small bursts when the weather is just right or during sunrise/sunset. Now I have the opportunity to not only do that but also find intimate landscapes throughout the day, no matter what the light or weather, to me that is much more satisfying to be creative anytime.

Love the images by the way, Zion is such a magical place with snow!


I think that’s the key to what you wrote. We all derive pleasure at what we do well. The rest is just frustration.

Another thing that rang a bell is forcing the issue. When you purposely decide to do things a certain way, shoot images a certain way, shoot a certain location, a certain light or time of day it can kill something inside of you. I have learned that if things aren’t working for me inside I just leave. Following a program of shooting intimate images must just be suffocating. Making oneself happy is actually a complicated thing. Freedom is an important ingredient.

PS. This could be a great discussion. Perhaps it should be in the discussion section.

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Tony, your Zion images are outstanding. One of my favorite places to photograph.

I’m also glad you found you passion again. It’s most important, no matter what you’re doing, to be passionate about it.

I don’t feel like I concentrate on grand vistas or intimate images, at least not consciously. I photograph what I see and what I like. The place also sets the stage for the type of photographs. Out on the Oregon Coast it’s mostly grand landscapes, just this morning in the Japanese Garden, I was doing Focus Stacks of the Camellia flowers. Whatever I am shooting is hopefully its own reward.

Your grand landscapes are so magnificent that you should feel proud not guilty. Looking forward to seeing more of you master work, Tony.

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