Tag Archives: technical advice

Finding Your Creative Edge in Landscape Photography Pt.1 – The Grand Scenic

27 Apr

What is the difference between a good landscape photographer and a great one? What separates the top photographers in this genre from the many others trying to emulate them? Is it luck, time in the field, or maybe they have more technical and even physical skills? It couldn’t possibly be their camera equipment could it? Well, what is it?

Today we are starting a new series that I hope will answer these questions and more. My goal is to provide you with a more fundamental understanding of landscape photography and to inspire you to think outside the box to find your own creative advantages.

After several years of regularly studying landscape photographs from an artist’s perspective, I’ve begun to see more clearly the creative nuances many of the top pros use to hone their craft. Before we dive into the creative aspects of the genre, it is important to have a fundamental grasp of the different types of images that are common in this field. I call these sub-genres and we’ll briefly discuss each as it relates to overall understanding of landscape photography. We’ll start with just about everyone’s favorite type of the image – the grand scenic.

If you follow my work at all then you’ve probably seen this image before. Entitled Celestial Alignment, this is probably my favorite grand scenic in my current gallery of images. What exactly is a grand scenic?

Well, I’ll take the definition out of one of my all time favorite photography books entitled “Photographing the Landscape, the Art of Seeing” by John Fielder. This is how Fielder describes this type of image…. "Grand scenics often contain all....(the) photographic toppings, and they employ their use in ways that heighten their impact. Colors are usually complementary, forms are unique and pleasing, the moment clearly transitory, the perspective implies great depth, and the view takes in what is only necessary to make a great composition."

To paraphrase, he is saying a grand scenic normally means a scene with a wide and deep view. This usually includes some type of dramatic sky or at least soft, warm light that compliments and/or accentuates the subject matter. The composition also needs to be precise and well balanced, with strong continuity from side to side and front to back.

Let’s take a look at the image above and examine the foreground elements. There is a definite near to far perspective, with the strongest hoodoos placed in a position that looks out and diagonally across the scene to the sun rising over the horizon. This creates a fluid perspective leading the viewer through the scene, starting in the foreground.

In my opinion, this is also an example of a balanced scene. If you cover up half (any way) of the photograph you’ll see what I mean. No one half is any stronger than the other. If you look at the placement of the sun within the picture, it is classically approximately 1/3rd of the way in from the right and 1/3rd of the way down from the top. In the mid ground, the forest of trees in the canyon breaks up the monotony of the shades of deep oranges and reds produced by the brilliant light reflecting off the natural color of the rocks. Additionally, look at the sides of the image. All the elements are clean, thoughtfully arranged, and cohesive.

Finally, the sky is brilliant and clearly transitory. Anyone who has spent time in the field during the magic hours can surely see this is not a “normal” sunrise. It was highly unusual with the moment lasting approximately three to four minutes.

Capturing a grand scenic is one of the most rewarding experiences in landscape photography because of the rarity of the event. In another sense, the images require a less than average amount of artistic creativity to get them right.

Certainly, in most cases, they require a high level of technical competence having to deal with the high dynamic range of light while executing in the field and in the digital dark room. However, outside of that aspect and the ability to see a strong composition, most of the creative work gets overshadowed by the spectacle of natural phenomena captured.

Well, I’ll wrap this up today and by Thursday we’ll discuss another type of image.

Understanding the Scene – Colorado Fall Foliage

8 Oct

We  just returned home from a three-day trip to Telluride to shoot the fall colors of Southwestern Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. What I am going to do today is show a  picture from that trip and talk specifically and technically about the thought process of creating the image and the processing involved. This image was captured on Saturday October 2, 2010 at Woods Lake in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

A profusion of fall colors accented by stillness, blue skies, and warm light on a quiet evening at Woods Lake near Telluride, Colorado.

So this is the shot. At first glance, you might really like this or even think that looks kind of generic depending on your preferences. (Hopefully you are reading this because you like my work) The composition and processing look standard right? Before we go any further with this, I just want to say if it get’s too long I’ll break this up into two parts and finish the second part tomorrow. 

Composition

Let’s start by talking about the composition because it is the first thing I do when setting up to take a picture.  Sometimes I’ll spend 20 minutes climbing up or down and scrambling and setting up only to find myself not happy with the composition.  Luckily, it wasn’t the case for this scene. The composition here was pretty straight forward for me.

 Upon arriving at this scene, I did not know too much about this place.  From what I had read, I knew it was a sunset location. Right off the bat, I chose this specific location at the lake for one primary reason and that is the aspens on the left hand side of image. They were absolutely stunning and I thought critical to creating a balance to the scene. Also, I thought the patterns on the right hand side of the foreground are actually kind of interesting to look at and you can still make out the reflection of the aspens.  For your information, I could not move the composition any further to the left because there is a big white sign there that would have gotten into the scene. 

I chose my focal length based on the desire to capture the entire reflection of the aspens.  The amount of sky I included  was based on the fact there wasn’t many clouds (just one little one) in the sky that evening and I tried to incorporate the appropriate amount based on the conditions. The round hill on the right hand side of the scene adds a lot with its dynamic mix of color and shape. I think the scene is well-balanced even though the peak (Mount Wilson) is pretty much centered in the frame.

Capture

Part of my approach to landscape photography involves capturing as many unique elements into the scene as possible at any particular time. Looking at this scene we have several:  peak fall foliage, clear reflection (minimal wind), and warm, directional light.

Normally when I approach a scene I will intently look at the brightest and darkest parts of it to determine the proper exposure. I basically use Ansel Adam’s zone metering system in my head. I normally can tell what the exposure values should be depending on the colors and brightness of the scene.  I knew I wanted to capture this scene right at the edge of light.  Meaning I wanted some direct light on the aspen and conifers around the lake at the base of the mountain and I wanted to capture it just seconds before it fell into shadow.  Luckily, I was successful there; it didn’t last long within a minute of this shot the lights went out on the aspens. The next image I took there was no brightness or glow in the reflection.

 I knew there were two potentially problematic areas with the lighting of this place. First were the exposed aspen trunks getting the direct sunlight. These are very easy to clip with direct light hitting a whitish color. And second, was the dark grove of conifers across the lake on the other side of the aspens. These were showing up very dark in my viewfinder,  although I could certainly make out the detail with my eye. We will stop here today and we will resume this tomorrow. I hope you are getting some out this post. Have an awesome day!

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