History of landscape photography

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Landscape photography belongs to the classic themes of creativity in images.

Landscapes did not only enthuse the great painters. Countless world-famous photographers have dealt with this fascinating subject. Already in ancient times, pictorial genres appeared. In Greece, for example, there were great portraitists such as Zeuxis or Appelle. But the landscape was not an independent pictorial genre at that time. It could be used as a background or as a decorative element but was not in itself a subject. It was not until the 19th century that landscape became a dominant pictorial genre. The realistic landscape of the English painters or the French of the Barbizon School will be followed by the impressionist landscape. Welcome to this article dedicated to landscape photography.

In this article, I discuss in depth the landscape photography but also the history of photography through its great masters. I also talk about the goals of landscape photography, advertising through the image, composition and of course light. Enjoy your reading!

BUT WHERE DOES THIS FASCINATING SIDE LIE?

Certainly in the fact that the beauty of nature finds its immortality in the image.

Landscape photography is able to fix in a fraction of a second an absolutely realistic image. With all the details of the moment and a lighting atmosphere, which will be quite different a few minutes later. A good landscape photograph is always unique and not reproducible. Indeed, if it is really good, it can hardly be copied better.

At first glance, landscape photographs seem simple to make.

They are static subjects that don't force you to hurry and that you can rephotograph at any time. From a technical point of view, the theme seems to be not too demanding and not to pose any problems. But when one is intensely involved with natural landscapes and the beautiful images that can be admired in exhibitions, galleries or art books on this subject, one realizes that there is a big difference between a snapshot made quickly and a landscape photograph made with the eye of a master.

A huge amount of skill, time and patience are needed to capture the feeling we get when we take a well-prepared shot in nature.

Natural landscapes have always fascinated photographers.

The most famous photographers in history have always had a predilection for landscape photography. They have created grandiose works that are in no way inferior to comparative works in painting.

On the one hand, it is the documentary aspect that takes precedence. When it comes to presenting a landscape as it really is and making it accessible to the viewer. On the other hand, by choosing an especially interesting point of view, one will give the picture an adequate distribution of volumes and surfaces. Or by exceptional lighting an individual and artistic note. As is the case with most subjects, it is inherent to landscape photography that it must be unique and therefore not reproducible.

A few moments after taking the picture, the scene is already quite different:

The wind makes the wheat fields undulate, while the animals and people in the picture have moved. The amazing cloud formation is already breaking up. Only photography is able to freeze this moment forever and render the landscape as the photographer experienced it and fixed it for eternity.

The fascination of landscape photography, but also today's ease of travel, has resulted in nature becoming one of the most popular subjects. Both by amateurs and by creative professional photographers. Considering that landscape photography by amateurs is mainly about pure travel memories, many professional photographers concentrate their efforts, within the framework of country or region-specific reports, on documenting in images the best possible landscapes of the visited regions.

Some photographers try to reproduce a landscape so perfectly that it results in a unique work of art that cannot be repeated. These are not just random landscape images. It's about the designed landscape photography, in which the point of view, the ideal moment and the time must be exactly synchronized. There are photographers who dedicate themselves for years to a subject. They return to the area often, to finally realize a perfect shot as they always had in mind.

Nowadays millions of amateur photographers take pictures of landscapes in tourist places.

The result often does not even satisfy the amateurs themselves. Because each postcard is better and represents the subject in a professional way. These images sometimes disappoint too, if we disregard the technical imperfections. Because they do not have any strong points and particularities. The image does not live. The lighting is bad. And the atmosphere that contributes to good landscape photography is missing. These images are a simple transposition of the landscape and do not satisfy.

For many photographers landscape photography has its own place in their work.

As it is mainly about free subjects and only rarely about a commission, they are more attached to this subject by artistic and creative ambitions. They are - unlike most of the other works they have to execute - absolutely free in their conception and interpretation. No "briefings" with binding conditions. No time limits that put the photographer in a stressful situation.

By definition, nature is in the foreground. It offers the photographer much more creative latitude than a commission for urban or industrial landscapes. There, the documentation of facts or advertising messages takes precedence. This significantly limits the photographer's creative activity.

Finally, urban landscapes generally concern shots of groups or details of built sites or architectures at most presented in their natural surroundings. The relationship to nature plays a much lesser role in this case.

Industrial landscapes

The situation is even more accentuated in the photography of industrial landscapes. It shows mainly general views of industrial complexes and factories, which are photos that mainly end up in company archives. They are used for various publications and presentations. In these cases, it is mainly the documentary aspects that must be respected.

The natural landscapes, as we understand them here, have a close relationship with the beauty of nature. Including bizarre stone forms, untouched fauna or flora, astonishing lighting atmospheres and many other aspects.

If man intervenes in this natural harmony, there are often traces of a destructive civilization of nature. This is not conceivable with the purpose of natural landscape photography. To what extent is human civilization acceptable in a natural landscape image? And where this ceases to correspond to our thematic definition, is difficult to define in a general way. In the end, it is up to the photographer to decide whether he can incorporate isolated buildings or remote villages, or people and animals, without these dominating the image.

HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY

The fact that landscapes had a particular appeal in the early days of photography is due to the fact that at that time the exposure times were long. Often several minutes, and that photographers had to limit themselves to static subjects.

The word photography literally means drawing with light. The word was invented by the British scientist Sir John Herschel in 1839 from the Greek words phôs (genitive: phôtos) meaning light and graphê meaning drawing or writing. The technology that led to the invention of photography combines two distinct sciences: optics, with the convergence of light rays to form an image inside a camera, and chemistry, to allow this image to be captured and permanently recorded on a photosensitive (light-sensitive) medium.

camera obscura

As early as the Renaissance in the 14th and 16th centuries, artists used a kind of primitive camera called camera obscura (a Latin expression meaning "dark room" and which gave rise to our current word "camera"). This camera obscura allowed them to draw more accurately from nature. The natural phenomenon that is the basis of it had already been observed for hundreds (or even thousands) of years: an object or a scene is placed in front of a closed box (therefore in the dark) pierced only by a small hole; by the action of the light penetrating through this hole, the reflection of the object or the scene is naturally created in the form of an inverted image in the bottom of the box. [But the camera obscura allows to see this image only in real time. To "record" it permanently, the artists draw the image inside the camera by hand.

The oldest images that we know representing landscapes we owe them to three French inventors and an Englishman:

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833)

Hippolyte Bayard (1801-1887)

Jacques Louis Mandé Daguerre (1787 – 1851)

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877)

The magnificent loser...

It was Fox Talbot who succeeded in 1835, four years before the publication of Daguerre's first photographic processes in Paris, in producing the first image on silver nitrate paper. His beautiful country house "Lacock Abbey" near Birmingham in England offered him sufficient landscape subjects for his first attempts.

With Bayard, the history of photography has its first tragic character, so to speak, its magnificent loser. Born in Breteuil-sur-Noye, in the Oise region, to a father who was a justice of the peace, he went to Paris, where he worked for the Ministry of Finance and frequented the illustrators Charlet and Gavarni in a world of the arts that was buzzing with the rumor of this new invention: the daguerreotype.

If the intention that led Hippolyte Bayard to photography remains obscure, his experiments quickly lead, at the beginning of 1839, to positive prints on paper obtained directly by the action of light and chemistry. Bayard thus positioned himself between the positive on metal (daguerreotype) and the negative on paper patented by Henry Fox Talbot.

Below, a tweet shows the window of Nicéphore Niépce's house where the first photograph was taken. Nicéphore Niépce Museum between Châlons-sur-Saône and Tournus.

At the beginning of the photographic era, landscape photography had relatively little importance.

The interest of the public was more focused on portraits and group photos. Landscape images were therefore mainly due to the personal interest of the photographers and had little profit motive. The popularity of landscape photography increased in the second half of the 19th century due to the growing desire to travel to distant countries.

The two Frenchmen Maxime Du Camp (1822 - 1894) and Gustave Le Gray (1820 - 1884) are without doubt among the pioneers of landscape photography. Their images brought back from their various expeditions created a real sensation in Paris.

Important dates in the history of photography

4th Century BC

Aristotle discovered that daylight penetrating through a small hole in the wall of a dark room projected onto the opposite wall the inverted image of all objects placed outside in front of this hole.

First Century BC

The architect of Julius Caesar, Marcus Vitruvius, noted the action of the sun on the coloring of certain organic bodies.

11th Century

The Arab mathematician Al-Hazen (disciple of Ptolemy) speaks for the first time of the "dark room".

Middle Ages

Alchemists noted the blackening of silver salts exposed to light and used the "horny moon" (silver nitrate) to dye ivory, wood and hair.

In 1515

Leonardo da Vinci describes the "Camera obscura" (Black Chamber).

In 1540

Jerome Cardan replaces the "small hole" (pinhole) by a lens. The darkroom allowed to draw with accuracy the perspectives.

In 1650

The darkroom has lenses of different focal lengths and becomes transportable.

In 1727

Johann Heinrich Schulze discovers that light darkens certain silver compounds.

In 1835

William Henry Fox Talbot made the first negative in history.

In 1837

Hippolyte Bayard (1801 - 1887), presents the first positive images on paper obtained directly in the darkroom. This process was known, but forgotten by his contemporaries.

In 1839

François Arago (1786 - 1853), makes public the secret of Photography and has the "Law on Photography" voted (07/08/1939): the State acquires the invention on June 14 (pays a life annuity of 6 000 francs to Daguerre and 4 000 francs to Niepce son) to make a gift to the world. William Talbot (1800 - 1877) develops the current Negative-Positive process (calopyte) process known in 1841 until about 1860. Gives a negative image allowing to obtain by contact an unlimited number of images on "salted paper" (with silver chloride).

The problem with the camera obscura is however that the image can be projected on a plane, but is not permanently recorded on a medium. It is only since 1839 that the recording and preservation of photographic images are possible thanks to the inventions of the brothers Claude and Joseph Nicéphore Niepce, Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. Joseph Niepce succeeded in recording a positive image using a zinc plate made of asphalt. Daguerre made the recorded images durable by fixing them with cooking salt, this was in 1839 which is considered the year of the birth of photography. William Talbot, on the other hand, developed the negative-positive technique, which we know today in the classic photographic equipment and which made it possible to print a large number of reproductions from a photo taken once.

In 1846

Désiré Blanquart - Evrard (1802 - 1872), improves the preparation of paper used for negatives and founds in Lille the first photographic printing company (450 to 500 images per day).

In 1847

Carl Zeiss, a German, sets up an optical factory in Jena, Prussia. The chemist Eugène Chevreul (1786 - 1889) presents to the Academy the work of Abel Niepce de Saint Victor (son of Nicephore's cousin): the negative on albumen glass allowing the printing of positives on paper in unlimited quantities (chicken albumen spread and dried on perfectly flat glass, sensitization with silver nitrate). Henri Fox Talbot succeeds in making an "instant" photograph on negative paper.

In 1849

Gustave Le Gray (1820 - 1868) uses the "collodion" to obtain a very good negative. A solution of cotton and a powder in a mixture of alcohol and ether are spread on a glass plate.

In 1851

Frederic Scott Archer (1813 - 1857) developed the "wet collodion" method. This process allows to make very fine images and to reduce the exposure time to a few seconds. Disadvantage: the plate remains sensitive only if it is wet. The first February creation of the first photo company in the world: the Heliographic Company (will become on 15/11/1854 the French Company of Photography).

In 1853

Adolphe Martin (1824 - 1896) invents the "ferrotyping". Same process as wet collodion, but replaces the glass support by black varnished metal plates (tin-type in USA). Much less expensive.

In 1855

J-N Taupenot (1824 - 1856) invents a process with albumin: the "dry" collodion allowing to preserve the sensitive plates several weeks before the exposure.

In 1858

Félix Tournachon known as Nadar (1820 - 1910) patented an aerial photography process (first photo above Bièvre).

In 1860

Nadar takes photographs with "magnesium" in the catacombs and sewers of Paris.

In 1862

René-Prudent Dagron (1819 - 1900) invented microscopic photography (this process was first used for the decoration of jewels, then it allowed during the siege of Paris in 1871 to transport 18,000 dispatches, in 6 films reduced to the weight of half a gram, with a single carrier pigeon).

In 1868

Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837 - 1920) filed a patent application for the "color photo". His "Photochromics" (1878), produced with the three colors yellow, blue and red, were not successful. 1st "KODAK" developed by the American George Eastman (1854 - 1932): a box of 15x10x8 cm. It cost $25 to buy (loaded). After each roll of 100 pictures, the whole set (camera and film) was sent back to the factory. For $10 Eastman would review the negatives, the prints on paper and the camera loaded again.

In 1871

Richard Leach Maddox (1816 - 1902) uses a solution of cadmium bromide and silver nitrate to obtain a silver bromide emulsion that gives sensitive and dry plates with a long shelf life. 

In 1874

Dr Etienne-Jules Marey (1830 - 1904) realizes the first synthesis of the movement with a photographic gun with circular glass plates with gelatino-silver bromide.

In 1876

Appearance of the "celluloid" (Cabutt).

In 1878

Charles-E Bennett (1840 - 1925) discovers the phenomenon of maturation giving the negative plates a sufficient speed for the instantaneous, thus allowing to hold the camera in the hand for the shooting. Edward James Muybridge (1830 - 1904), with 40 chronophotographic cameras, reproduced the movement of a galloping horse. In 1884 Planchon uses definitively the "celluloid" as a support for the photographic emulsions.

In 1889

The George Eastman Company, represented in Europe by Nadar, markets the first films on paper (100 exposures), then on celluloid (24 to 28 exposures).

In 1890

Alphonse Bertillon (1853 - 1914) invents the Forensic Photography.

In 1891

Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837 - 1920) invents the relief images (anaglyph) using binoculars with red and green lenses. Gabriel Lippmann (1845 - 1921) obtains photos by the interferential process. The silver salt contained in the sensitive mercury layer is printed only in the ventral planes of the standing wave system corresponding to each radiation. The distance between the silver deposits is 2 times greater for violet than for red. This method remained experimental.

In 1892

Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931) realizes the "Kinetoscope" (for a single spectator) 1st film with continuous unfolding (16 images/second).
 On March 22, 1895 Auguste (1862 - 1954) and Louis (1864 - 1948) Lumière invented the "cinematograph" (variable speed film, 1st public screening on December 25, 1893 in the basement of the Grand Café in Paris).

In 1903

The Lumière brothers invented the "autochrome" (potato starch based plates tinted with the 3 fundamental colors, put on sale in 1907), the only process used by amateurs until 1940 requiring exposure times of several seconds.

In 1907

Edouard Belin (1876/1963) developed the process of telegraphic or telephonic transmission of photographs (belinograph).

In 1908

Louis Dufay develops the "dioptichrome" (Dufay color in 1935), the first attempt to restore colors in film.

In 1912

Release of an AGFA autochrome plate (the starch grains are replaced by grains of tinted resin).

In 1923

1st 24×36 format from LEITZ.

In 1932

1st 24×36 camera with interchangeable lens.

In 1937

1st color film (Kodachrome and Agfacolor).

In 1940

The first Japanese color film.

In 1948

Development of instant development ("Polaroid" by the American Edwin Land).

In 1964

"Look" (American magazine) publishes the first photo in relief.

In 1968

The 1st SLR with automatic exposure control by measuring the light through the lens. (TTL)

In 1977

The 1st autofocus compact camera in the world.

In 1981

Mavica by Sony, camera, reusable magnetic disk that can record up to 50 images; these can be projected on a television screen by an electronic player without a VCR or transmitted remotely by conventional means of telecommunications. Image of less good quality than the chemical image.

In 1982

Kodak Disc: automatic focus, plastic disc (15 film holder), automatic built-in flash, battery giving 2000 flashes. Snappy (Canon): compact autofocus (automatic focus).

In 1986

Nikon unveils a prototype at Photokina. The same year, the Canon RC-701 is released, considered as the precursor of modern digital reflex cameras.

In 1987

The most sensitive film in the world (3200 iso).

In 1991

The Kodak Digital Science department of Kodak releases a digital back for a classic SLR camera, the Nikon F3. This product is intended for professionals, especially because of its prohibitive price. Fujifilm and Nikon released the Fujix a little later, with comparable characteristics. The same year, in September, NASA launched the Nikon F4 NASA on board the space shuttle Discovery during the mission STS-48. The camera is based on an F-mount F4 with a monochrome CCD sensor offering images of 1,024 × 1,024 pixels on a 15 × 15 mm area.

In 1999

The Nikon D1 is released, equipped with the same body and Nikkor mounts as the Nikon 35mm. It is the first fully digital SLR camera for the professional market.

In 2007

Kodak creates a new type of sensor which, instead of testing in each point the luminosity of three colors, separates the information of luminance and chrominance, and thus uses four sensors. The expected benefit is a greater stability of luminance.

In 2008

Announcement by the Polaroid company of the end of the manufacturing of instant development films.

In 2014

The Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Sony Alpha 7S are the first two hybrid cameras capable of recording videos in 4K format. The Sony Alpha 7 II presented in November of the same year is the first full-frame camera equipped with a stabilized sensor (5 axes).

In 2020

Artificial intelligence will be used in our image processing software.

Landscape photography influences painting...

Photography, with its realistic way of representation, had a great influence on painting and gave rise to a whole new direction in the style of impressionism.

It was no longer the landscape itself that was the focus of interest. It was the atmosphere and the lighting situations in the landscape that the skilled painter projected onto the canvas according to his own feeling. Impressionism in painting also found enthusiasts among photographers. This led to the era of artistic photography, which resulted in a uniform creation of style in all countries from 1887 until the beginning of the war in 1914.

The beginning of artistic photography dates back to 1887

with the foundation of the Camera-Club of Vienna by Heinrich Kühn, Hugo Henneberg and Hans Watzek. They were mainly dedicated to impressionist representations. Their exhibitions contributed significantly to the diffusion of their style. This was the era of pictorialism. The post-war period was marked by an opposite style. Realistic representations were again in demand and led to the creation of objectivist works.

This started with the "new realism" created by Alfred Renger-Patzsch or the new style proposed by Willard van Dyke and Ansel Adams (one of my masters) among others. I recently wrote a complete article to discover here : Ansel Adams, legendary photographer) in 1932 in San Francisco, the Group f/64. The purpose of this organization was the use of large format cameras and lenses framed up to 64 (hence the name), to produce sharp photographs, thereby allowing subjects and scenes to be portrayed as faithfully and realistically as possible.

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