And another thing...
I have come to terms with the fact that my own photography does not align with the conventional views of what makes a beautiful photo, particularly in the field of landscape photography, but its my photography, and it would be out of character for me to become like everyone else. Coupled with this is a constant stream of lovely landscape photos all made with the same recipe that are presented on social media. The concept of a beautiful day means something different to the landscape photographer than to most normal people. I wondered where are the pictures of a beautiful day? So being a scientist, I decided to take a more scientific approach to the question and I acquired some data about the content and construction of landscape photos.
I made use of the Landscape photographer of the year (LPOTY) website (www.lpoty.co.uk/ ) where there is a repository of what are considered the finest landscape photos for the last few years. I was interested in finding out what are the most popular subjects for LPOTY and what do they consist of? I had, of course my own expectations of what would appear, based on the many thousands of pictures seen over the years. But below this is the old nature versus nurture argument. Do we find particular pictures special because of the inherent beauty they represent, or are do we think them beautiful because we are consistently told that is what beauty looks like?
I looked at photos from 2012-2020 in the ‘Classic view’ category and the ‘Your view’ category. Other categories would not be appropriate because they are themed and would skew the statistics. The idea is that people are entirely free to choose the subject of the photos they want to submit, and the judges are free to choose the ones they like most. So this ought to be representative of the zeitgeist for each year. I first tried to classify the photo into a subject category: Woodland, Mountains, Coast, Urban, Rural and Water. Sometimes the category was not clear and occasionally a photo could be in more than one category, but in general this was possible. The results are given in the chart below.
As you can see mountains and coastal shots are the most popular and they make up more than 50% of all the LPOTY photos (this will not surprise anyone). Next woodland shots then rural with the others making up the difference.
For each picture I tried to identify the elements of the picture that are used in the composition. This would particularly include weather conditions, sun, clouds, water, the inclusion of infrastructure and flora. For each of these elements types I divided further, such as the types of sunlight in the picture, clouds and sky colour etc. Clearly photos can contain many of these elements, some contain only 1. I have presented the percentage appearance of elements types in the chart below.
Clouds appear in more than 50% of the photos (in various forms). A tree appears in 40% of the photos. The most prevalent weather condition was mist, followed by snow.
For each of the predominant subject categories we can break down what weather conditions that were present. For the subjects of Coast, Woodland, Rural and Urban the most popular condition was mist, but for Mountains it was snow. See pie charts
Some other interesting stats:
Sunlight in any form appeared in 19% of the photos.
Blue sky appeared in 8% of the photos.
44% of the photos containing a tree also contained mist ( 17% of all the photos contained a tree and mist.)
6% of the photos contained a tree and any form of sun (15% of photos with a tree had sun)
I also included other elements, so of the 230 photos I looked at 2 had people in them, 10 had animals, 2 had lightening and 3 had a rainbow.
There are of course many hundreds of ways of dividing this data and cross connecting the information, most of which is not particularly helpful. But what can we take from this?
We could use this as a recipe for constructing a landscape photo. I think this is something that most practicing landscape photographers will already know. Take photos of mountains or the coast or woodland in mist. It might be that we want to construct a photo with as many of the popular elements as possible - A coastal scene with clouds, a tree, and a building would tick many of the boxes.
But there is another way to look at this data. If you want to stand out from the crowd, find your own niche, then perhaps concentrate on the things less prevalent. For example there were no pictures that contained rain so that has to be an exploitable subject. Given that photographers are always going on about the light, the sun is remarkably scarce in the photo set. We all love a good sunset yet so few of these make the grade of good landscape photos.. Including blue sky is an aversion that many seem to share. Isn't this a little bit bizarre? The beautiful day with sun and blue sky seemingly cannot be rendered as a beautiful landscape photo. Before you all start shouting at me I understand the difficulties of high contrast light . This doesn't mean you cant take good photos, it just means you have to work differently and think differently. Yes culture change is difficult. the people who do well out of the current system of appreciation are unlikely to change, its not in their interest. Some of us need to persist in being unconventional. There was a saying we used to apply about innovation.
If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got.
Time we had some innovation I think.