Capturing a Portrait of the Landscape

I’ve never been much of a portrait photographer. When I do photograph people — it’s often by accident — and almost certainly involves my own shadow. Nonetheless, I have tremendous respect for those who are truly good at shooting portraits.

A successful portrait photographer must quickly ascertain their subject, earn their trust, then reveal the person’s true identity in the final photograph. If you think this sounds difficult, then you and I have a lot in common.

Some of the best portraits I’ve seen are those that show the true character of the subject, flaws and all. Direct eye contact is of utmost importance — It reveals more than what words can ever describe.

Highly retouched, airbrushed and liquified portraits do little more than showcase what is possible with digital retouching. The “portrait” is diminished to an idealized representation of what the person might look like if truly non-human.

If you want to view some excellent portraits, be sure to check out the work of my friend Blair Bunting. His striking portraits are awe inspiring.

Though Blair’s portraits and my fascination with landscapes are quite different, there are commonalities with our photography. The underlying qualities of a successful portrait are equally valid for landscape photography.

I too find it important to get to know my subject. My style of photography involves revisiting many of the same locations on a continual basis. It allows me to see how each location changes, and satisfies my own curiosity about the natural world.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll see the same locations again and again — Death Valley, Zion National Park, and the Colorado Plateau.

These locations now seem like familiar friends. They remain steadfast, resilient, and familiar — yet at times hostile and unforgiving. It is this character that I wish to capture with my photography.

I strive to produce an accurate portrait of the landscape — one that tells a story, and reveals the many flaws that make it real.

Genesis: January 2011 — Death Valley, CA

11 Responses to “Capturing a Portrait of the Landscape”

  1. bob Says:

    great, when are you going to go and do some more shots?

  2. Sathya Says:

    locations now seem familiar, but the shots are never the same 🙂
    Beautifully captured & also nicely articulated !

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks Sathya! There’s something I really do enjoy about returning to the same locations. It definitely gives me something to look forward to, and it gives me the opportunity to look for different shots.

  3. Chris Says:

    Hi Ben,

    A little confusing…

    “Highly retouched, airbrushed and liquified portraits do little more than showcase what is possible with digital retouching. The “portrait” is diminished to an idealized representation of what the person might look like if truly non-human”

    Ive taken a look at your friends work. Theyre very good, however, he has done exactly what you have said he hasnt done??? The images despite very good and clearly displays talent, has indeed been over photoshopped to make them look very unrealistic.

    There are plenty of really good portrait photographers out there, but only a real few that can photograph a person and leave the results untouched, and achieve quality, meaningful results. Just as with landscapes, Im a real advocate of film based photography, and any pro who knows how to use film, along with thier minds eye, and a an eye for composition and taking the photo at the right moment, can produce stunning results without one hint of PS corrections or witchcraft.

    Afraid for me, the images on your friends site do some talking, but its the PS that is shouting the most, and thats a disappointment.

    All the best.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      I definitely see where you are coming from, and you are not the first to assume that there is heavy photoshop work, but you might be surprised to hear that Blair does only very light photoshop work to the images. He often does a bit of desaturation and adjusts the contrast, but the dramatic effects you see are accomplished almost entirely with lighting.

  4. Gabe Border Says:

    I heard rumors about Velvia 4×5 and 8×10 being discontinued. I have been aspiring of making a jump from 35/120mm velvia, to larger formats. If true this kinda kills the dream. What do you know?

    Thank you


    • Ben Horne Says:

      It does seem as though this is true, but it’s not the end of the world. There is a lot of great color neg film out there as well. Lately, I’ve been tending toward Portra 160 and Ektar 100 for my landscape work.

      • Chris Says:

        Hey Ben,

        This news I believe is devistating for any 4×5 and 8×10 photographer. I for instance completely rely on Velvia 4×5 for my work in the UK. It now means I may have to order film from the US, at a great expense and inconvenience. If Fujifilm discontinue the film in all countries, for the likes of myself who need Velvia for its tones and certain colours, the only thing left will be Provia. Provia is nothing like Velvia, which means all scenes will have the same colour palette forced on it. I choose film depending on time of day and ambient light. I dont “force” Velvia onto every scene like many photographers. Going to Negative film means even more cost. Not only do you get less sheets per box, theres the cost of digital prints as well as the scanning. Velvia allows me to make instant decisions on whether I make a scan of my image, something negative film cannot do. I would have to make a scan even if the image is no good. Clearly a waste of money, which many of us do not have considering the inflated costs already put upon us. Im really vexed at Fujifilm, especially as theyre not discontinuing the absolutely rubbish and just plain aweful Velvia100, with its magenta colour cast…rubbish man!
        Using 120 for me is a no go either, I print big, and so do many others. Having one good positive film will no seriously limit creativity for all positive film shooters.
        Without wanting to sound like the worlds ending (well not yet anyway) I believe this could be the beginning of the end for film. When a major manufacturer ends one of the best films there is for so many, theyre clearly sending out a message. This is not a light weight decision…

      • gabeborder Says:

        Thanks for the info, I too have grown to enjoy Portra and Ektar. For landscape work I have not used portra extensively, I seem to fudge up filter use because of the broader latitude of neg film.

  5. Larry Dudley Says:

    Hey Ben

    Sure do enjoy your work so much, and envy all the places you get to photograph. My favorite part of the world.
    Do you have any plans to do anything along the Kaparowitz plateau
    Hole in the rock areas? I want to go there so bad I can hardly stand it. Hope to make it there soon.
    Fujifilm discontinuing Velvia sure doesnt sound good. Makes me wonder how long Kodak is going to continue.
    Thanks much Ben


    ps hope married life is treating you well!

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