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The Top 10 Laanscapes of 2016: A Personal Reflection

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Behind the Scenes - The making of a Landscape Photograph. Every now and then, Laanscapes discusses how the scenes came into being. This blog is a chronicle of some of the best making-ofs.
 

The Top 10 Laanscapes of 2016: A Personal Reflection

Daniel Laan

It’s not always easy to look back on a year and pick your favourite images from a list. There has to be some objective distance between the photographer and the photographed. Surprising was the fact that in 2016, I’ve been to two stunningly photogenic locations, Iceland and the Swiss Alps. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that most of these photographs were shot in one of those locations. Now that’s interesting to me. Is my home turf not beautiful enough? What is it about these shots that made the hit list?

10 – Where the Secrets Lie Hidden

There are a couple of things I really like about this one from the Rosenlaui Gorge of Switzerland, but there’s a reason it’s not at the top of the list. The flow of the glacial blue water takes us in from the bottom left of the image and up to the bright yellow in the distance, where a mysterious light lies in waiting. I loved the rock that’s wedged in above that light and still do. The vegetation does lead the eye away a little too much from the light in the distance and ideally, a lower viewpoint would have made more impact, although impossible without ropes to descend into the riverbed.

 

9 – Duality

From one side of Europe to another. This one was shot right around the corner from where I live and I’ve walked here literally countless times. On this particular evening (I love shooting at dusk!) when I came back from shooting seascapes on the beach to the left in this image, something strange seemed to be lining up. You might think that those are lenticular clouds hanging there, but the one cloud is actually the inverse of that. The whole sky was blanketed in a thick, overcast cloud all day and it made for some great light earlier while shooting mushrooms in the nearby forest. So the bright spots are holes in that overcast stratus cloud. Then, upon walking past this wave breaker, the crashing of the waves produces a white line along the coast that potentially leads the eye along the shape of the shore and out into the distance.

I think that the image might have been graphically stronger would the lower left shoreline had been placed in the corner more carefully. On the horizon is Texel, an island to the north of where I live. But that line lounging on top of the horizon is more distracting than it does justice to the graphical nature of this one. I do like the fine-art quality of this one and hope to pursue that more in 2017. This image is a good example of my unique processing approach in which I separate the luminosity from colour processing; which I have taught to a handful of clients over Skype last year.

8 – A Song for Fallen Ones

Back to the Alps of Berner Oberland with this ghostly summit of Klein Wellhorn at 2701m. I’m a sucker for mountains. Whether it be detail shots like this one at 90mm or the 14mm grand vistas. So it’s hard to judge this image based on its merits. Although the vignette of clouds seem to frame the mountain, while some patches of snow give a sense of direction upward. Also, the shapely clouds have some sort of swirling quality to them, which put even more emphasis on the dark mountain beyond. I like the crop, but it could have been shot on 130-150mm to see a tad more sharp details on the mountain itself. The toning is one of a kind. I’ve tried to emulate that a couple of times, but it never close. I totally got lost in processing this, shutting myself off from the rest of the world for a couple of hours. I remember that the French shoegaze formation Alcest was blaring from the speakers on either side of the monitor when I decided this image was done, but there’s not much record of any decisions in processing. That’s a shame and a blessing at once; as it makes this photo rather unique.

 

7 – Hornset

Out from the gloom and into a bright red sunset. I doubt if this location needs any introduction, as Vestrahorn is one of the most photographed subjects out there; especially in Iceland. But it had to be scratched off my list. Because the subject is rather easy, it didn’t make the top of the list. The oblique light on the grass, scattered light on the flank and crazy cloud structures do make this image more my own, of which I’m rather proud. There’s a good suggestion of depth and despite that there’s a lot going on, the image doesn’t feel crowded due to the fact that the colours fit nicely together. There’s a quadratic colour harmony in this image which is difficult to pull off. It’s also one of my brightest images and rather like this one being different than most of my darker works.

 

6 – Hail the Sunset

Hail the Sunset

A good example where luck meets experience. Back in January, I followed this hailstorm to the dunes with the unpronounceable name, the Schoorlse Duinen. With the sunset imminent and this massive cloud overhead, I knew that the light would become amazing. If only that cloud did move… The soft lines in the sand, small hailstones in the foreground and the silhouette of a person in the distance make it all complete. The central composition works really well and the streaks of hail in the dark cloud add to the feel of what kind of weather it was. The treeline could have been put upright, but I like the subtlety of the Orton effect in this one; something I’m keen on exploring further next year.

 

5 – Imladris

Right on the halfway mark, there’s this Lord of the Rings inspired version of the Lauterbrunnen valley in the Alps; a fan-favourite. I’ve written extensively about the creation of this image before, so I won’t bother with the technicalities or artistic choices here.

This one is your choice, my followers. It’s my most popular work to date, with over 30.000 views on 500px alone. Based on what I see now, however, it isn’t my personal favourite. The higher than average contrast always seems to generate traffic on social photo sharing sites. I do like the directionality in this shot, with the river leading up to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The trees in the foreground add to a sense of depth, while that yellow further afield is complementary to the blues in the ominous sky above. I do love the low-hanging clouds on either end of the valley and how the look approaches the concept.

 

4 – Plunge

Waterfall? Check. Misty mountains? Check. Enormous woodland? Yup. So the subject matter is all there, but the lead-in lines that both the waterfall and the grassy cliff in the lower left make are essential to making this one work well, because the forest seems to separate the image into two halves. Nevertheless, the colours of the upper and lower halves match well, tying them together. I did go overboard with the Orton-effect here and don’t think the vignette makes much sense. Other than that, I like looking at this one. Over and over.

 

3 – Into the Light

It’s almost like I got a free mulligan when I scrambled up those slippery volcanic rocks in Iceland. There are many parallels to Where the Secrets Lie Hidden, but in a way it’s more compelling than that one. It’s darker and more contrasting, while there’s still a sense of distance. Of course that’s achieved by the lower viewpoint and shapely gorge that leads us Into the Light.

This analogous colour contrast works pretty well in cases with lots of detail and luminosity contrasts. Personally, I love the way the light at the top looks. It’s like I want to explore further into the rift to see where the water’s coming from. The large, detail-less patch to the top left is balanced well with an equally large, dark area on the other side. Albeit of a different shape. The mossy slopes on the canyon walls look verdant and lush and the rapids pull you in. It’s also one of the few cases in which I think the lack of a polariser was beneficial, since we now see some glistening off the rocks in the foreground, adding to the depth of the image.

 

2 – Opportunity

As we keep hopping back and forth between Iceland and Switzerland, we land at the number two of last year’s best shots. In the small town of Wengen, you have this magnificent view over the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and in spring, when there’s snow and ice and rain, all the elements come together.

It’s like we’re in between the clouds here. The mists traveling through the valley completely obscure the ground, covering up the visually busy town of Lauterbrunnen. I love the small group of inky black trees in the immediate foreground and the house overlooking the valley. The monochrome background is nice and soothing while the splash of colour in the foreground is a welcome distraction. We can imagine living there, or at least spending a couple of days on holiday there. Maybe they’re on AirBnB?

 

1 – Skygeist

Technically challenging and visually interesting – Leading the top of this list is the only nightscape I shot this year I’m truly proud of. This is of course the fabled "Diamond Beach" in Iceland, where icebergs from Jökulsárlón, drift out to the Atlantic.

The actual capture of the northern lights at that point in time was nothing short of lucky, because the weather in Iceland changes at a moment’s notice; often with no notice at all. Nevertheless, this central composition works really well to complement that eerie green glow in the sky. Two smaller icebergs on the left balance out the larger one on the right. The crooked “w” shape of the aurora point toward the chunk of ice in the foreground, which resonates the hue of the night sky. I love that the reflection in the water ties the foreground in with the background, and creates unity. The shot isn’t perfect, as I could have spent more time in processing to iron out some sharp edges. Still, this one is among my favourites to date.

 

Looking forward

New year’s resolutions, if you will. 2017 will hopefully see more snow. I have planned a hike with friends to Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, where temperatures are known to drop around -20 degrees Celsius regularly in winter. That’ll be some adventure I will write more about after I return. As said before, 2017’s focus will be more on the minimal, fine-art look that I liked about Duality, because there’s the innate desire to tell more with less. Also, I’m far from done processing shots from both Iceland and Switzerland. Some of the best are still to come.

Speaking about processing, you can learn everything you see here through booking a private session with me over Skype: