Calming the Chaos: How to Photograph Overwhelming Landscape Locations

The American Southwest is an enchanting realm brimming with extraordinary shapes, mesmerizing textures, and captivating patterns. Amidst a symphony of vibrant colors and diverse textures, capturing the essence of such a place can initially feel overwhelming.

However, fear not! Here are some practical techniques that will help you find serenity amidst the chaos and emerge with stunning imagery.

Slow Down

When confronted with overwhelming landscapes, it’s all too common to hastily move from one spot to another, overwhelmed by the chaos. However, this hurried approach often leads to a realization at the end of the shoot – that nothing truly meaningful was captured. To avoid this, it’s crucial to take a deep breath and fully immerse yourself in the environment before picking up your camera.

Michael Shainblum Photo

For instance, if you come across a rock wall adorned with intricate patterns, resist the urge to immediately start composing shots. Instead, take a moment to simply gaze at it, appreciating the details before you. This tip might seem obvious or even strange, but it’s worth mentioning. As it’s one that I constantly need to remind myself of.

Michael Shainblum Photo

It’s during these contemplative moments that I’ve found some of my best images. By experiencing the scene firsthand, without the barrier of a viewfinder, a genuine connection forms between you and the landscape. Once you’ve absorbed the colors and shapes with your own eyes, only then should you bring out your camera and explore how to translate that visual experience into compelling photographs.

Work Your Way In

One effective technique I often employ to capture intimate details and abstracts is to gradually immerse myself into the scene. I start by taking a wide-angle shot of the landscape, encompassing the entire environment. From there, I carefully assess the elements within the frame, searching for those that truly intrigue me. Is there a particular detail that can tell a more compelling story?

Michael Shainblum Photo

Michael Shainblum Photo

If not, I may choose to continue with the wide perspective while refining the foreground flow. However, more often than not, I find captivating little details, such as intriguing textures or unique arrangements of shapes, that pique my interest. In such cases, I zoom in (or move closer) and isolate those areas to emphasize the intricate details and capture them in their full glory.

Unleash Your Imagination

Rather than seeing the landscape as merely a collection of rocks and patterns, let your creativity soar. Challenge yourself to see beyond the obvious and explore different narratives within the scene. Imagine you’re in a different world or on another planet.

Michael Shainblum Photo

Look for hidden shapes or figures, as if you were deciphering clouds in the sky. Let your imagination run wild and seek out unique stories that these formations can tell. By infusing your images with imaginative elements, you’ll add a touch of uniqueness and excitement to your photography.

Michael Shainblum Photo

Remember, while technical aspects like composition principles and leading lines are important, the ultimate goal is to tell a compelling story through your images. Express your creativity, have fun, and let your photographs reflect the emotions and experiences you had.

About the Author: Michael Shainblum is a photographer, filmmaker, and educator based in San Francisco, California. He has been working professionally as a photographer and filmmaker for 17 years since the age of 16. He has been commissioned by clients such as Disney, Nike, Samsung, Apple, and Google. He also shares his knowledge via his Youtube Channel, Instagram, and workshops.