Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘composition’ Category
Light and texture are two of my favorite elements in landscape photography. Some of my personal favorite images are studies in light and texture. Many of the photos that I choose to print and hang in my own home are these types of images. They never get old to me and are always interesting to view and appreciate. In this article I’ll go over a few of my favorite images that showcase interesting light texture.
Mud tile textures are fascinating to me. Here on the playa in the Alvord Desert, I was fortunate to visit during a particularly wet spring. The desert had been flooded and was drying out creating a truly wonderful mud tile texture. The light of sunrise really helped the texture come alive. The combination of backlight and the interesting textures in the mud and grass are what make this photograph successful to me.
Slot canyons are a study in light and texture. They are also a lot of fun to photograph. Antelope canyon and other slot canyons are a wonderful place to focus on light and texture. The first slot canyon photo was captured back in 2008 before Antelope Canyon was quite so popular. I had the freedom to take my time and I only saw a few other people the entire time I was there. The second slot canyon image was captured in Zebra Slot Canyon. This was a tough canyon to access, there was about four feet of standing water in the canyon leading to this spot. It was challenging to make my way to this point, but what a spectacular canyon! The combination of the warm sunlight and cool light coming from the open sky creates a wonderful color contrast. The incredible texture and form of the canyon really come alive with the contrasting color of light.
The Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating place. On my recent trip with David Cobb, and Sean Bagshaw I was finally able to visit this incredible location. I’ve seen images from this location, but it’s one those places that was very different in person. It ended up being even more rewarding than I imagined as well. It’s hard to convey how incredible it is to watch the spines of the cactus light up as the back light of dawn illuminates them. It’s the texture of the spines and the way they glow in the backlight that makes this one of my all time favorite images already, even though it was only captured less than a month ago.
This photo of Mt Hood is an interesting one. I think it’s a really strong composition, but it’s the soft light and texture in the snow, foreground trees, middle ground trees and sky that really send it to the top of my favorites list.
This last photo is all about light and texture for me. The first light glancing across the sage, willows and other foliage is so pleasing. It is especially nice in print. This is one of my all time favorite images to print. When I look at it, I love to drink in all the detail in the various layers of texture.
These kinds of scenes, studies in light and texture are something I’m appreciating more and more. I always have my eye out for interesting textures that might come alive in interesting light.
You can learn more about me and find my video tutorials covering the post processing techniques used to create these images on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).
View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)
I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)
All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.
As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.
The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!
Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)
More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)
When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.
My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)
What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.
The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)
Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.
Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)
Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)
I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)
Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.
1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.
Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.
• Finesse the Light
The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.
Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.
• Adjust Colors
Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.
• Take Charge of Textures and Forms
Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.
Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.
2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.
Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.
• Tailor the Overall Tonality
Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.
• Constrain the Color Palette
Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.
• Emphasize Ambience
Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.
Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.
A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:
• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.
When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.
I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.
Of all of the terms that typically appear in discussions of photographic composition, the word “subject” may be the most confusing. In typical explanations, a photograph has a subject when it presents a main feature as being distinct from its setting, which is everything else in the image. These explanations usually assert that the lack of a subject will cause the eye to become restless as it searches for something to lock onto, making the viewer lose interest quickly. Without a subject, they say, the viewer will be left wondering what the photo is ‘about’.
While there is some real value in this concept, the use of the word “subject” to describe a compositional feature conflates the realms of form and meaning, making it potentially confusing for anyone who would like to apply the concept in their own photography. The main problem with applying the term is imagining its opposite, the idea that a landscape photograph could be devoid of a subject. We are likely to see the river, the desert, the ocean, the chain of mountain peaks, or whatever feature might have inspired us to press our shutter button, as the subject of our resulting image—after all, aren’t the features in the image what the photo is ‘about’? What follows in this article is an attempt to answer that question by cutting the cake a different way, to provide an alternative framework for understanding the ideas behind the typical usage of the word “subject” and for determining when these ideas might be relevant for a given photograph. This framework can be explained with three simple concepts: Hierarchy, Intention, and Meaning.
Hierarchy: Providing a Sense of Order
In a previous article for the Photo Cascadia blog, I discussed the concept of visual hierarchy and provided a brief explanation of what it can accomplish and why it is not the only mode of organization that can result in compelling photographs. The use of the word “subject” in discussions of composition aligns closely with what I described as the primary point of interest in an image—the locus where the eye knows to stop between explorations of the frame. While there may be other points of interest in a photo, the primary one will stand out from all else and will generally provide a sort of terminus for eye movement in the composition. Light, color, texture, mass, or form may all contribute to establishing visual hierarchy, but the result will be the same: the eye will have a home base where it can rest, and the overall image will seem well resolved.
Although hierarchy is only one possible organizing principle, it is essentially what discussions of the proverbial subject aim to describe. A common alternative term is “anchor”, a label often given to any compositional element that has the most visual weight in an image. While that term nicely avoids the suggestion of meaning, it comes with its own set of potentially confusing implications. An anchor stops movement, yet it is something that is connected to the ground and that has great mass; therefore, it is an awkward term to use when describing something like a sunstar or a crashing wave that may be at the top of a photo’s visual hierarchy. Regardless of what you call the primary point of interest in a photograph, it will help to provide a sense of order. Besides hierarchy, schemes that can establish order include, patterning, connecting forms, visual echoes, and dualities, among others.
Intention: Providing the ‘Aha Moment’
But is order really necessary? What do we gain from it?
The main benefit of any organizational scheme is that it makes the decisions that went into a composition seem intentional: order indicates the will of the photographer who found or created it. Without any such scheme, a photo is likely to seem random and unresolved, leaving viewers to wonder what they are supposed to make of its various elements. Therefore, a lack of order tends to be less satisfying than compositions that indicate a high level of intention. When a viewer recognizes a clear photographic motivation, they have a satisfying ‘Aha Moment’, which will secure their interest and will encourage them to appreciate the other merits of the photo more fully.
So while there may be artistic arguments in favor of compositions that seem arbitrary or accidental, the most compelling images tend to be the ones that allow viewers to make sense of what they are seeing so that their appreciation can extend to deeper levels.
Meaning: What a Photo is ‘About’
Those deeper levels of appreciation ultimately involve interpretation, the process of deciding what an image is about, which involves more than just recognizing a subject within it. Contrary to what the term “subject” implies, a main compositional element is not necessarily the source of a photo’s meaning. Meaning emerges out of the organizing principle that governs an image as a whole, not merely from any single feature within it. In other words, what a landscape photograph’s various features collectively suggest is ultimately what the photo is ‘about’. If a photo depicts a rainbow over a dried lakebed with arcing mud cracks in it, the photo is not simply about one of those two features or the details within them; the echo of the rainbow’s form in the mud cracks indicates a relationship between the rainbow and the lakebed, and therein lies the potential for identifying meaning, however anyone wants to interpret it. (To read some possible interpretations of the described image, see the article that I wrote about it previously.)
Putting it All Together
In short, the simple answer to the question posed in the title of this article is no, landscape photographs do not need a “subject”. What they need is to hold the interest of the viewer, and that is most likely to happen when an image conveys a sense of intention. An ordering principle such as hierarchy can get a viewer past the point of looking for purpose and onto deeper levels of appreciation. The age-old term “subject” has earned its place in so many discussions of composition because it attempts to identify what is probably the most common method of creating order. Clearly the term has its shortcomings, but the ideas behind it are relevant for many photographs and are worth salvaging. I hope that reformulating those ideas through the connected concepts above may help more photographers to appreciate the value in the ideas and may help to prevent misunderstandings.
As with any compositional decisions, the time for conscious analysis of these concepts may not be while you’re out in the field, rushing to catch some spectacular light. An instructor once said to me when I was in art school, “Creativity is a messy place.” We don’t always arrive at our best ideas by thinking methodically about them, and compelling compositions don’t always result from stopping to ponder the full implications of our decisions. Nonetheless, analysis is extremely valuable when selecting images for editing and when tricky compositional situations present themselves in the field; if creative instincts alone are not quite bringing about that ‘Aha Moment’, a bit of analysis can help to point the way forward. Also, thinking about composition helps us to internalize ideas about it and to draw upon them later subconsciously.
Can you think of any other compositional terms, like “subject”, that may be confusing to many people? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments below. And as always, your thoughts about this article are also very welcome!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
In this online world of the selfie crazed photo posts there is still the more classic selfie of putting up a tripod with camera for setting up the perfect scene. I like to say I have a selfie stick and jokingly point to my tripod. Taking a more old school approach I feel it can tell a better story to the viewer of what the place is like and how it might have felt. I do realize selfie as the word is coined for photos of today means holding the camera yet I am not covering big in your face shots here, it’s more nature self-portraits with purpose.
You might think it’s as easy as setting up the camera for the nature scene in front of you, setting the timer, jumping in front of the camera and waiting for the shutter to trip. Well sometimes it is, yet often it’s not. For those that have done them you know what I am talking about. Many takes to get one image that works well can get frustrating. The angle was off with your body, the way you were stepping on the trail doesn’t look natural, you are too large… or too small compared to the rest of the subjects, and the list goes on.
Why do I take these shots? Simply put because I want a human in the scene for one of a variety of reasons and in these cases I am typically the only one around or the only one willing to take the time to get the image I am after. I am not taking them for an Instagram account filled with selfies although don’t let me stop you if that is your cup of tea.
Here is me and my “selfie stick” just playing around during a hazy forest fire smoke sunset on the Oregon Coast. It usually gets some interesting looks when I use it. A family member off in the distance said “Is that Adrian taking photos with a selfie stick!” There you go… a tripod and selfie stick in one.
Now to more worthwhile information. Here is a list of things to think about I have learned over the years when trying to setup and pose myself into a scene with some example photos.
- You will want the basics. By basics I mean setup of camera, tripod and timer remote is essential. Without these you may find it very tough to impossible to get what you are conceptualizing.
- Does it look natural or too set up, the composition just like without people in the photo is critical to get right. Ask yourself how the scene balances with you in the shot and where you plan to stand, sit or do some awesome jumps!
- Besides composition of the scene the placement and body stance is very important. It should look pretty natural. If it looks overly posed or contrived you won’t be as happy with the photo in the end. You won’t know what this feels like until you practice and look at the results.
- Are you using newer equipment that allows you to see the scene in real time such as apps on phones with WiFi or Bluetooth. This way you can stand a ways from your camera to click the button when it looks right on your phone instead of setting a timer, running and stand still just in the nick of time for ‘click’.
- Show a much more of the scene and a lot less of yourself. You will see in the many examples below I am only a fraction of the scene. Sometimes you can see it’s me and other times I am small enough you can’t tell.
- Look away from camera vs always looking at camera. A viewer will tend to look more into what the image is about and what you are looking at if you are not staring at the camera.
- Bright colors might be better or worse depending on what you are after yet it’s good to think about this before you head out. Are you looking to stand out or blend into the scene.
- Buckles, straps, zippers should be checked before taking the shot. I can’t count how may times I looked at the image after the fact to find I had undone sagging buckles or straps that drew attention to what I was wearing or carrying not in the way I had hoped.
Golden Rays – While teaching a workshop a number of years back I was showing participants how putting themselves in the photo might be another composition to think of. I kept a strong composition with leading lines from the bottom corners with the road, placed myself in the power point and let it snap when it was to a natural looking position in my walk.
Mount Rainier – This is a case where color helps. It is an amazing scene yet if I had a pack that blended in the scene it would not be as dramatic. Notice the way I am positioned at an angle towards the mountain with a step up on the edge of the trail.
Alvord Desert – Notice where my right foot is placed. It’s right where the larger crack starts giving it a stronger look. The cloud also appears to stretch from the top of my head. These combined with my stance I feel provide a stronger image than simply standing anywhere on this playa.
Mount Adams – It was a fine morning along this lake and I wanted to capture what I was feeling eating breakfast and drinking coffee. Again I positioned my self in a power point and looking towards the mountain making sure none of the trees are spearing my head. This is a case where I used the app on my phone to look at the composition and then clicked the 2 second timer on my phone, very handy!
Broken Top – The intent here was to keep myself small and have a big open sky as I was staring off into it just day dreaming . I don’t like I how left the branch of the tree poking in the back of my head yet it’s less of an issue with how small I am in this image.
Walchella Falls – Notice I placed myself in one corner and the falls in the opposite corner to help create balance from those two sides. Notice the un-clipped buckles on the left side of my pack. I forgot in this case and did not notice until later.
Abiqua Falls – This was a tough one. I wanted to get myself in the stream of the falls get the side stream in the foreground. It took a number of takes to line myself up right. How did I avoid standing in the same spot each time in a sea of rocks that look at the same and about 40feet from the camera? I purposely marked each spot with a wet rock before I went back to my camera so I knew if it didn’t look quiet right to move slightly next time.
All of these images and others I have taken of myself, other objects and people can be found in my adventure gallery. If you have further thoughts to add around this topic please share them here for others to see.
I recently got the chance to co-host a Photo Walk in Vancouver, BC, Canada with 500px. We also had the luck to have Fuji as a sponsor for the event and to have a representative from Fuji join us. About 80 people participated in the Photo Walk. There were lots of Fuji giveaways and everybody walked away with some goodies including a lucky participant that won an underwater camera.
For those that were wondering what exactly a Photo Walk is. Here is the short answer; it’s an organized photo event that brings photographers together from all walks of life with a common interest in taking pictures.
There are many benefits to joining a Photo Walk in your local area. It gets photographers together with like-minded goals. It introduces you to the events and organizations that are in your area that have to do with photography. Also, it gives you the chance to meet all kinds of people with diverse backgrounds that, when together, share ideas and thoughts. The Photo Walks often take place in an area of the city that really highlight the area’s beauty. It’s a great way to see your city as well learn new things.
For this Photo Walk I chose the Vancouver Seawall in Stanley Park as the place to meet the group of photographers and really showcase Vancouver’s stunning city skyline views. Vancouver is well known around the world for its tall buildings and gorgeous harbor views of the city. The Vancouver Seawall is just a short walk from the main downtown area, yet allows one to feel like you are far enough away from the city to really enjoy it without the crowds.
The group started at the historic Vancouver Rowing Club and worked its way around the seawall shooting all different perspectives of the city skyline. Right away we encountered a great spot for photographing fall colors. Some people got adventurous and laid on the grass and took turns photographing the fall leaves. The photo below is an example.
The shooting of the fall colors gave the group a great chance talk about the potential of an important concept in nature photography called High Dynamic Range or HDR. High Dynamic Photography is the process of taking multiple exposures of the same scene with different exposures and combining them into one exposure. The final exposure is made up of all the exposures and thus has a wider dynamic range of exposure in a single image. Some had done it before and others were learning about it for the first time. People also shared some of their tricks when shooting, as for example, when shooting into the sun at an aperture of f/22 to make a sun star. After finishing shooting the fall colors and trees along the seawall the group moved on to shoot the inner harbor and city skyline. Everyone was eager to learn all about the different ways to shoot the city as well as learn about their camera settings to take advantage of the light. We choose a time to photograph near sunset to show of the late light of twilight on the cityscape as shown in the examples below.
We were also fortunate enough to get a near full moon that gave the group more opportunities to shoot late into the night. The group made its way along the seawall noting some of the local wildlife such as the harbor seals. People also took time to talk about photo equipment and what cameras and lenses to use and in what situations to use them. With a wide diversity of cameras and tripods the group tried out several different pieces of equipment including some newer lenses by Fuji. The Vancouver Seawall is also in my opinion one of the best places to shoot panoramas of the city with reflections. So the group got together and did some panoramas that worked out great with the light and the location. The scenes below show examples of panoramas.
The sun began to set in the west and the last of the day’s light hit the Vancouver landscape city skyline. This gave the group an opportunity to shoot a group photo of some of the participants, which people can share. We managed to all squeeze close enough with the backdrop of Vancouver.
Eventually we made our way back to the start of the Photo Walk continuing to photograph the city at night with all its glorious reflections in the water. The group even found a way to shoot at night without a tripod by placing the camera on the seawall ledge, which made for a great impromptu tripod.
During the few hours together we got to know each other and made new friends. We also learnt lots of new things about Vancouver and photography.
The night ended with people exchanging contact information and well as the promise to post their images on their Facebook page.
Co-hosting the event with 500px gave me a great opportunity to learn some new things as well as meet a great bunch of new people. It was amazing to see how many people showed up from different experiences yet shared a common goal of taking great photos. So thank you everyone who showed up and hope to see everyone again in the near future. And thanks to our sponsor, Fuji and 500px for co-hosting the event.
by Zack Schnepf
Having a workflow, both in the field and for post processing is extremely helpful just as having a road map if you get lost is extremely helpful. That’s what a good workflow is for me, a road map. If I’m struggling to find a good composition, I fall back on my workflow to help get back on track and give me ideas. In this article I’ll walk you through the different phases of my personal workflow in the field.
Evaluation and scouting phase: My first tip for composing in the field is to walk the scene first and fully evaluate the options. I like to do this well before the light is at it’s peak so I have enough time to properly take stock of my options. This may sound obvious, but this is something I see workshops participants often overlook. Anytime I visit a new location I leave my camera in my pack and I walk the scene extensively. I do this for several reasons. I want to evaluate the scene and see what elements are attracting me and get a good idea of my compositional options. Once I take stock of the scene I can move on to the next steps in my composition workflow.
Arrangement phase: The second step in my field workflow is to put the elements together. Once you have taken stock of the scene you can start to think about arranging the elements in a visually compelling way. This is easier said than done, but when I follow these steps in the field it’s much easier to come up with composition ideas. Sometimes I’ll focus on the element in the scene that attracted me the most and try to come up with a composition using the other elements as a supporting cast. For example, in this image from Crater Lake there are a lot of compelling elements to choose from: Wizard Island, the lake, the light itself, and the tree are all strong compositional elements. I chose to make the tree the star of the show and let the other elements be supporting elements. I could have gone a different direction and focused more on the lake and the sky and the resulting image would have been very different. I had several composition ideas in mind and I tried more than one, this happened to be the one I liked best. That leads me to my next tip.
Experiment phase: Try more than one composition idea and compare them. During the arrangement phase I try to come up with more than one composition idea. I also like to try them out before the light is at it’s peak. This allows me to evaluate the results on my camera LCD, or my laptop and decide which I want to focus on during peak light. If the locations are close enough together, sometimes I can get a shot from more than one. Once I’ve experimented with my options it’s time to prioritize composition ideas and come up with a plan for peak light.
Planning Phase: Before the light is at it’s peak I like to have a tentative plan in place to mentally prepare for capture phase. I try to pre visualize my capture phase before it happens. This helps me anticipate any issues that might come up during capture phase. This includes anticipating what the weather might do. I also like to have a back plan, or two to help maximize my chance of success. This probably sounds like a lot of work and it is, but sometimes you only get one chance at really good conditions at a location. I like to increase my odds of capturing a good image.
Capture phase: This is it, the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is when we execute our plan and try to realize the pre-visualized ideas. Sometimes, everything goes to plan and I’m able to get exactly what I had pre-visualized in my head. Other times, things don’t line up quite right, or one of my predictions is wrong and I have to change my plans. Even the best laid plans fail, so be prepared to wing it if you have to. Most of the time, one of my plans does work out and I’m able to capture a good image. Having several options has saved me so many times. I can’t count how many times I’ve changed to a backup plan at the last minute based on how everything lined up.
Re-evaluating the scene is extremely important during capture phase. If you see things aren’t lining up well for plan “A”, but plan “B” is looking more promising then you can quickly transition to plan “B”. A perfect example of this happened last fall on my trip to Colorado with Sean Bagshaw. We had scouted the area extensively earlier that day and came up with several contingency plans for capture phase. Plan “A” was to shoot away from the setting sun toward the mountains using some nice looking aspen trees as foreground. The problem was, there was a storm moving in that was blocking the light from getting to our scene. We quickly evaluated the scene and saw that another area we had scouted was shaping up really nicely, so we instantly abandoned plan “A”, jumped in the car and headed to the other location. We arrived just in time to capture one of my favorite images of the whole trip. If we hadn’t scouted so well, or had several back up plans we would have gotten skunked, but because we were so well prepared we were able to capture something really special.
In the next part of this series I’ll discuss different types of compositions I like and look for in the field.
by Zack Schnepf
Recently, on the Photo Cascadia blog; Erin Babnik posted a really excellent article about compositional patterns to look for in nature, I thought it was one of the best articles on the PC blog in a while. Here is a link to her article: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/five-compositional-patterns-worth-finding-in-nature/#.VWzBB2CRl0c
I wanted to continue with the theme of composition. In part one I’ll talk about how I simplify my field technique to allow me to focus on composition in the field. In part two I’ll talk about what I look for in the field to build strong compositions, and the tips and tricks I use to help me build compelling compositions in nature. Composition is the most challenging part of photography for me, it’s also one of the most important aspects of a compelling image. It’s so easy to get distracted in the field and get bogged down in settings. Organizing a nature scene into a compelling composition is always a struggle and takes a tremendous amount of focus and it’s made much harder if you are trying to juggle ten things at once. To help me focus on composition, I try to remove distractions and simplify other aspects of working in the field. There are several tips and tricks I use to help simplify my workflow and allow me to focus more on composition.
Master the technical functions of your camera. This is the first step to being able to truly focus on composition in the field. This goes for your lenses, tripod and other equipment as well. When you can operate your equipment without having to think much, you can start to focus on composition. This takes some commitment and you have to be really consistent, otherwise you forget how some functions work and have to spend time in the field trying to figure it out all over again. This is obviously more for someone who really wants to take their photography to the next level and is willing to put in the time and effort, but once you have mastered the technical side of photography you are free to focus on the artistic side.
Shoot using the manual settings on your camera. This seems counter intuitive for many people and it is until you’ve gotten comfortable shooting manually. For me, when I shoot manual it simplifies my field workflow and gives me much greater control. It also allows me to use the following tricks to keep things simple in the field.
Shoot manual focus and use the focus markings on your lenses. This takes some practice, but once you master this technique it takes aperture out of the equation in a lot situations. On the top of most high end lenses is a set of focus markings that gives you approximate distances for focus. For landscape photography I typically like to have everything in focus, unless I have a specific reason to use selective focus. This actually makes it really easy to generalize focus and take it out of the equation. For instance, my general rule of thumb for a typical scenic landscape shot using a wide angle lens without a close foreground is f/13-f/18. In this situation I can keep things very simple, set my aperture to f/16 and set my focus meter to the inside of the infinity line. If I have a subject that is closer to the camera and I want everything in focus I generally set my aperture to f/22 and set the focus to the general distance of the foreground element using the focus meter on the lens. This is very effective until you have a subject that is 3 feet or closer to you. At this point you will have to abandon this technique and start problem solving, either using multiple focal point blending, or another technique. On my current camera system the Sony A7r, the Sony lenses don’t have this on the top of the lens. Instead there is a digital read out on the LCD that shows up when I try to manually focus a lens. I still use the digital version to help approximate focus distance.
Shoot raw and don’t worry about white balance. This is a really easy one. If you’re shooting in the RAW format you don’t have worry about white balance, save that decision for when you are working in post production. This is just one less thing to have to have to think about in the field.
All of these techniques help remove small distractions in the field, leaving you with less things to mentally juggle. This allows my mind to focus on the artistic side of photography. In part two of this series, I’ll talk about my own artistic techniques I use in the field and how I use them to build compelling images.