Paul Edmonson on How to Capture Fine Art Landscape Images in "Heavily Photographed" Areas

Long stretches of dune grasses mark the Long Beach Peninsula on the Washington coast. Paul Edmondson had to decide on, and isolate, a relatively small section to stand for the rest. Of several photos, he favors this one for its natural design, simplicity, and the gesture of movement in the same direction. Photos ©Paul Edmondson

You don’t start off talking about photography when you talk to Paul Edmondson about how he creates his striking fine art landscape images. You talk about what he notices and what he chooses from all that the landscape offers.

Maybe more important, you talk about what he chooses to leave out, to eliminate from all that’s offered. You do this because his photography starts with his ability to notice, discern, and decide.

 “For me, the image-making process is often a quiet and solitary experience filled with a lot of creative angst,” he says. The angst is due to the fact that he often photographs at places that are, as he says, “heavily photographed” by others. While there’s much to photograph at these places, “everyone has photographed everything in every imaginable way, and those photographs have been widely seen, especially through social media.”

Hence the decision-making process. “I pull back a little bit before I start photographing,” he explains. “I take time to look around very closely, very carefully, without shooting. I try to figure out how to get an image that’s different. If you’re going to do it, it has to be different. At least, different enough if you want to stand out.”

The weather was the worst it could be for Edmondson that day in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park—bright and sunny, the full postcard effect most other photographers welcome. “Then I got lucky: storms came through with wind, rain, hail, and finally the overcast, subdued lighting I was hoping for.”

Go Minimal
Edmondson’s route to shooting something different involves capturing images that evoke the feeling of a place; he’s not interested in producing picture-postcard images. His advantage is that he’s naturally drawn to qualities that make his work different. Basically he’s all about paring a thing down to its essence rather than trying to cram in too much or trying to overwhelm with detail, color, or composition.

Looking for something different in White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, Edmondson created it himself with an off-kilter composition that unites sand dune and sky in an abstract graphic.

“There’s been a really positive response to my fine art work from people who want a clean, minimal look,” he says. “Line, shape, form, texture—that’s what resonates.” And that’s what he looks for; that’s how he likes to view and portray the natural world. He doesn’t have to try to outguess the market; he simply responds to what naturally attracts, interests, and inspires him.

Isolate the Essential Element
Edmondson’s approach is to search out the essential creative element—the one thing that attracted him or the one he feels will make the photo compelling. Then it’s a matter of finding a different way to include, frame, or isolate that element.

There are two main components to his technique: shoot aperture preferred because depth of field is primary, and adjust the shutter speed for a slight overexposure.

“If you’re careful and go slow, you can find different-looking areas in popular places. This is the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. People drove around making these patterns; I got up on a hill and photographed them. A human-altered landscape can be beautiful and interesting—that’s an important idea for me.”

“I like the image to be a little blown out,” he says. “I know that goes against what you’re supposed to do, but I like a warm, muted look.” He usually exposes about one-third stop over, which preserves details even in the blown-out areas. “In Lightroom and Photoshop I can also lighten things up in the Raw file without losing anything,” he says.

The Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. “This was a case of taking advantage of the soft, overcast light and the confusion of crisscrossing plants, trees, moss, ferns, leaves, patterns, and tones. A challenging place to shoot as it’s been photographed a lot.”

Keep It Simple
Edmondson doesn’t think of himself as technical; he’s not someone who obsesses about “all the nuances of Photoshop curves.” He wants the image to look like what he wants it to look like, because he believes that’s how it will best communicate.

He’s pared down not only his technique, but his camera equipment as well. “Overall, the gear isn’t that important, and I don’t have as much as I used to. I got rid of a lot.”

Poplar trees at the Boardman Tree Farm, eastern Oregon. “There are so many photo ops here—patterns, colors, lines, endless possibilities. The overcast sky was a gift. I metered off the trees and later brightened up the image.”

On Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington. “These two are much photographed—they look like they’re having a conversation. A half-second exposure slowed the water a bit and the background fades away in stages of muted tones. It was classic Pacific Northwest weather, which is like living in a giant softbox.”

Less gear means fewer decisions about what to use and more time and attention for the task of making decisions that eliminate the clutter and focus on the essentials.

A small stream feeds this tide pool on Rialto Beach. “Auto white balance gave me a slightly warm tone, but in post-processing I dialed down the saturation and used a VSCO Film Lightroom Preset to emulate the look of Kodak Portra 400 Professional color neg film.”

“I’d most like to be in front of the ocean with my camera,” Paul Edmondson says. “Up on a cliff, looking at the sky, the horizon, and the water, and then just be there and photograph for days, even weeks, to capture the nuances of the light. That’s what’s meaningful for me.”

Shelters and picnic tables at White Sands National Monument. “There was no one there, and I frantically scrambled to get the shot before anyone turned up. The challenge was to figure out the composition in time—what to leave out, what to include. The key was placing the big shelter, the only one with a complete reflection. I didn’t want the classic evening-light shot, just these muted colors of late afternoon.”

You’ll find a wide selection of Paul Edmondson’s fine art and other images at

What’s in Edmondson’s Gear Bag
Paul Edmondson’s basic kit is a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and two zooms: his go-to EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (most of the photos here were taken with it) and his EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM.

“I recently got a Fuji X100T,” he says. “It’s my first attempt at shooting with a mirrorless, and I like it mostly for backpacking, hiking, some street photography and family travel—it’s so lightweight.”

He also shoots a bit with his iPhone 7. “Most stock agencies now accept iPhone photos, which is smart, as pictures are used smaller and smaller now. It’s a great tool for composition—like a previsualizer, a Polaroid kind of camera.”

He carries a Gitzo Series 1 Traveler carbon-fiber tripod with an Arca-Swiss Monoball. “And I use a Really Right Stuff camera plate for the Canon.”

And though he’s gotten rid of a lot of gear lately, he has his eye on the Fuji GFX 50S medium format digital camera. “I’m thinking of getting it with a couple of lenses to up the level of my fine art work.”