Historic? Really? Allow me to justify. Despite 2021 being their inaugural year, the Natural Landscape Photography Awards have already earned a reputation among the landscape photography community as a bastion against the powerful influences of social media on the art form.
Their recently published awards book. better described as a hardbound, carefully curated collection of fine art photographic prints and essays, is no less commendable. With images, essay,s and thoughts from each of the 2021 judges, which is a powerhouse list of respected artists, this is more than just a competition award book. It's an essential keepsake for the collection of any nature photographer who likes to keep an eye on the state of the art.
Not only does the book contain some of the best photographs produced by this generation of landscape photographers, it also sets a landmark for a fast-growing movement toward a more natural post-processing approach within the art of landscape photography. Not to mention, the book is just gorgeous. It is evident that a lot of care and consideration was put into the publication process. Despite the surprisingly affordable price tag, both the binding and the photographic prints are of the highest quality. This is a heavy-duty, hardbound collection of images and essays that provide a snapshot in history of this "natural photography" movement.Despite all of my gushing, it should be stated that I am not affiliated with the competition, nor is this a sponsored or promotional article. This is merely one passionate photographer's attempt to spread the word on this fine collection of photographs, on the exciting new competition, and most importantly, on the movement back toward the appreciation of nature as the first and foremost motivation in landscape photography. Check it out on the NLPA website, and if you feel inspired and inclined to do so, order a copy!
So, what is all of this about a movement anyway? With the advent of certain popular photo-centric social media platforms, there was an overwhelming movement toward the type of landscape photographs that would catch the viewer's eye when scrolling past on a mobile phone screen. This has broadly translated into a heavier reliance on saturation, contrast, photo manipulation techniques, etc. It has also shifted the motivations of the average landscape photographer away from the pure showcasing of the beauty of nature and toward the incentive for likes, followers, and clout. The public-facing aspect of social media suddenly provided the reach necessary to put dreams of "making it" as a photographer within reach for many talented photographers. But this obvious benefit to the community came at a cost to the art form.
Many photographers have grown tired of the style of images that have become so prevalent as a result of social media. Many in the community miss the direct tie to the inherent beauty of nature that never needed such drastic enhancements to be appreciated. As a result, there has been a reactive movement back toward a "nature first" approach to landscape photography, where the photographer seeks to showcase the beauty of nature rather than obscuring that with incentives toward self-aggrandizement.
The Natural Landscape Photography Awards came onto the scene in 2021, seemingly out of nowhere, yet the immediate success of the competition is direct evidence of this growing movement. The founders, Tim Parkin, Matt Payne, Rajesh Jyothiswaran, and Alex Nail, didn't just want to create another photo competition to supplement their own revenue streams. They wanted to create a community showcase of the best "natural" landscape photographs of the moment. This competition achieves this by limiting post-processing techniques to stay within a few simple guidelines to ensure that each image is verifiably "real" and representative of the inherent beauty of nature.
In one of the book's excellent essays, Tim Parkin (co-founder) contributed the following:
I have often written about the problems with photography competitions: the fact that they reduce a creative and personal art to a simple "this > that" equation. It is easy to look at winners and identify how the competition is useful for them... but how is it useful to everyone else? For all of their quirks, I feel that well-run art competitions provide a useful service to artists. The results can show the wider public a cross-section of the many talented amateur and professional artists throughout the world. Our idea in starting the Natural Landscape Photography Awards was to make just such a service for photographers who work in a style that would be poorly represented otherwise and, having seen the reaction in the community, I think it is something that many of you have wanted as well.
I believe they have accomplished exactly what they set out to do, to create a gathering place for the community to come together and exchange our work and our ideas in a mutually beneficial manner, and in a way, that is elevating the art of landscape photography to exciting new heights. If this is welcome news to you, be sure to check out the book and consider ordering a copy, and be sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming 2022 competition awards on November 15.
All images used with permission.