What are your thoughts about this question: Can a photo taken at an iconic location qualify as a fine art landscape photograph?
I will begin this discussion by saying upfront that an iconic location can provide the photographer with the opportunity to create a fine art landscape print… although not everyone agrees with me on this topic. I will also say that photos taken at iconic locations do not automatically become iconic images or fine art landscape prints.
What is the Definition of an Iconic Photo?
An iconic image is important or impressive because it seems to be a symbol of something. The picture brings to mind an event or location that may also have an emotional impact…such as the 1945 picture of an American sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square or the 1945 iconic photograph of the United States Marines raising the flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The passing of time also helps to solidify feelings that the picture is an iconic one.
The vast majority of the photographs found on this website are not, in my opinion, iconic images. For example, I believe I have one of the best galleries of images there is from White Sands National Park yet not one of them is an iconic photograph…but they are examples of fine art landscape photos.
Could a Landscape Photograph Ever be Considered an Iconic Photo?
One of the masters of iconic landscape photography is Ansel Adams (1902-1984). His black and white photos are still in demand today. His picture, Moon and Half Dome, taken in 1960 is one of his enduring masterpieces….. showcasing the Half Dome in the finest and purest light.
What determines if a photograph has the potential in the future to be viewed as “iconic” is not the location nor the number of people who visit the site but the emotion it inspires within the viewer. Another one of Ansel Adams’ iconic photographs,
The Tetons and the Snake River c1942, captured the sagebrush flats and the high peaks of the Teton Range. Although we do not know the exact location, I have captured the same scene (albeit with more trees in the foreground now). It is easily accessible via an overlook off US Highway 89.
My photo is an example of fine art photography from an iconic location but it is not an iconic picture (as of now.)
This next photograph is of Mount Assiniboine and was taken in a remote section of Canada that requires a helicopter to get to it. Could this be an iconic photograph one day? Most likely not as few people will have experienced its beauty in person and thus, it will not stir the deeper emotion needed. Nor was it taken at an iconic location. It is, however, a true fine art photograph.
What is Fine Art Landscape Photography?
Fine art landscape photography is not merely a picture of a moment in time. It is the attempt by the photographer to carefully create a photograph that conveys the depth and beauty felt while standing there…. a photograph that makes you want to go physically to that place and write your own adventure story…. It captures the essence of the moment.
Five Steps when Creating a Fine Art Landscape Photograph
For me, the consideration of an image qualifying as fine art photography begins with:
1. The planning required before taking the photograph
2. The Composition
3. The Light
4. The Equipment used
5. The Post-processing of the digital file.
All of these things combined may take many hours to result in one photograph.
Could an Iconic Location Become the Subject for a Fine Art Photography Print?
Here is the question that is open to debate. There are some purists that will say that a photograph of an iconic location, no matter how well done, cannot be considered fine art.
They say only a location that is relatively unknown and seldom photographed, can be considered fine art. But that ignores the definition as noted above … a fine art photograph is one “that makes you want to go physically to that place…it captures the essence of the moment.”
For example, an estimated 5.9 million people visit the Grand Canyon a year, making it the second most popular national park. It is certainly an iconic location.
I have spent countless hours processing images of the shapes and shadows of the canyon walls. Is this a seldom photographed site? No. Is this a fine art landscape photo? I would say absolutely Yes.
Let’s look at another iconic location … that of the Angel Oak Park in Charleston, South Carolina, home to the Angel Oak Tree. Once again, this location is heavily visited as it receives approximately 400,000 visitors each year.
I am sure the non-iconic-location purist would say a photograph of this iconic tree would not qualify as fine art. Yet, as you view the spreading limbs (the tree is 6 feet high with a circumference of 25.5 feet) I am certain you find yourself wanting to walk about its mammoth limbs and gaze up through the branches to the sky. You want to be there.
Other trees, like the below “Flower Tree” shot in a remote area of Oregon during the flower bloom, would probably not be recognized by anyone. Both photos are exceptionally well done.
I cannot accept that either one is more Fine Art than the other one just because one is a known location and the other isn’t. It still comes down to personal taste and what an individual wants hanging on their wall.
Iconic Locations: Opportunities for Beautiful Fine Art Photography
I have been fortunate to have traveled to many locations, iconic and remote (known only to the nearby prairie dog). It does not matter whether or not the location is iconic or not…what matters … as I am standing there … are these thoughts and questions…. is the beauty in front of me such that I want to capture it with my camera… do I want to share it with others?
If the answer is yes, then the location has become an opportunity for me to use my skills and talents to create a beautiful fine art print.
So, to answer the initial question in this article – Yes, photos of iconic locations, when well done and crafted by a skilled and creative landscape photographer, can be considered fine art photography.
Here are a few more images from my gallery of iconic locations that certainly qualify as fine art landscape photography. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.