My Problem with The International Landscape Photographer of the Year

The 2021 International Landscape Photographer of the Year winners have been announced. Over 4,500 photographers entered the competition. All of them were hoping to get their work recognized and get some of the $10,000 in prize money up for grabs. A total of 11 photographers received a prize, with one being named the overall photographer of the year. The standard of imagery was high. However, it put focus on a major problem.

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2021 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Photos

Let me begin by saying I have no ill-feeling for any of the winners of the 2021 International Landscape Photographer of the Year. For its symmetry and simplicity, I love the image from Ben Goode, a third-place winner in the singles category. And as far as creativity and vision go, each photographer receives top marks for their final creations. So, where’s the issue?

Credit: Ben Goode

One thing is glaringly obvious while looking through these photographs: they have been edited to death. It would not surprise me if more time went into editing than scouting locations, visiting them, and making the shots. That’s not me being a total purist either. Photo editing is fine, but when an image becomes more about the edit than the subject, then I think it’s a problem.

Take a look at some of the winning photos. Show me an image that looks true to life–spoiler alert, you can’t.

Tanmay Sapkal
Aytek Cetin
Andrea Zappia
Max Rive

You can see all the winners here.

2021 International Landscape Photographer of the Year Needs Diversity

I’m not suggesting this type of photography doesn’t have value or hold its place in the world of landscape photography. But when heavily edited photographs dominate an award, it’s a slap in the face to authentic photography and misleading to the audience. Instead, the award could have had a “Photoshop Category” where all of these images would have been worthy winners. However, saying this is the best “photography” in the landscape space is depressing reading for those who want to see the real world.

The Chairman of Judges, Peter Eastway, may disagree with my opinion. In the press release sent to publications, he wrote, “Our philosophy is that all approaches to landscape photography are valid. It is not up to us to say whether an image is a landscape or not.” It will come as no surprise that, while I appreciate his perspective, I disagree with it. The people of a prestigious organization are exactly the people who should be the judges of what type of landscape photography is valid. And it seems they only recognize one type–over-edited and totally removed from the reality of the scenery.

I’m not the only person to think this way. The Natural Landscape Awards began in 2021. It was created by a group of landscape photographers that “aims to represent landscape photographers who recognize the power that comes from truthful depiction of the natural world.” While it’s not the only way to represent landscape photography, it’s refreshing to see people value raw photography and not what Photoshop can do. It would be great if the Natural Landscape Awards and the International Landscape Photographer of the Year could work together to offer a broad range of landscape photography, targeting both types of audiences.

Final Thought

Our world is simply stunning. How often do you stand in front of a mountain or the ocean and think, “I wish this had far more saturation, fewer shadows, and an abundance of color toning”? I’ll put money on the answer being never. So why can’t we see more images that reflect the real world? Why can’t we show people how other parts of the globe truly look? Surely authenticity should be the standard of a major award like the 2021 International Landscape Photographer of the Year?

Again, I’m not hating on the winners. I hope they all continue to have great careers. They’re all fantastic creators. However, I do think the organization can do better to offer a more accurate representation of our planet. Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Lead image by Andrea Zappia. All images used with permission.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.