Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Composition’ Category
Whether it’s serious or downright hilarious we all can appreciate quotes that inspire us in some way or at the very least cause for pause and thought. Some of these have been accumulated over time in my note taking and others were discovered when thinking about this blog post. They were chosen because they reflect how I view photography or nature, inspire me personally, portray the past, present, future of photography or merely provide a good laugh. After all “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” – Lord Byron.
I am sure a few you have heard before yet I am also sure there are some you haven’t. From some of the biggest names in photography to others not as well known or not professional photographers at all, to simply nature related inspiration for your next landscape adventure. Spend a few minutes below to get your thoughts flowing. These are intentionally in no particular order. Feel free to comment below with your favorite photography or nature related quote.
“In a world and a life that moves so fast, photography just makes the sound go out and it makes you stop and take a pause. Photography calms me.” – Drew Barrymore
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The whole nature of photography has changed with the advent of a camera in everybody’s hand.” – Sally Mann
“I find it some of the hardest photography and the most challenging photography I’ve ever done. It’s a real challenge to work with the natural features and the natural light.” – Galen Rowell
“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” – Nancy Pelosi
“I don’t have a favorite photo. As a photographer, I have attachments to each image. Not the one photo: the experience of getting the photos is the challenge or the thing.” – Michael Muller
“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.” – James Agee
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind
“Photographers deal with a lot of crop.” – Unknown
“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas
“Photographers are violent people. First they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.” – Unknown
“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The grass is always greener when you crank up the saturation in Photoshop.” – Unknown
“If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.” – Galen Rowell
“Cheap photography isn’t good, my dear, and good photography isn’t cheap.” – Unkown
“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping at what’s in front of you.” – Frans Lanting
“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, ‘I could have done that!” – Unknown
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston
“People say photographs don’t lie, mind do.” – David LaChapelle
“You must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment a photographer is creative. The moment! Once you miss it. It is gone, forever.” – Henri- Cartier-Bresson
“Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” – Mary Ellen Mark
“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” – Minor White
“You might be a photographer if you won’t even share a cell phone picture without editing it.” – Unkown
“Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget.” – Robin Williams
“It was only after a while, after photographing mines and clear-cutting of forests in Maine, that I realized I was looking at the components of photography itself. Photography uses paper made from trees, water, metals, and chemistry. In a way, I was looking at all these things that feed into photography.” – David Maisel
“Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” – Piercy W Harris
“For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn’t the art of photography but I don’t agree.” – Annie Lennox
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” – Unknown
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” – Abraham Lincoln
“A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams
“Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell
“Warning: I am about to snap!”- Unknown
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” – Edward Steichen
“When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.” – Patrick Demarchelier
When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.
In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.
I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.
A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.
I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.
Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.
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)
I did a blog post a number of years back on abstract nature photography yet it’s been a long time and thought I would revisit this topic. I really enjoy this type of photography especially when you find hidden gems that others may not have seen or might have passed over many times before you. Often what ends up being the final photo doesn’t jump out at you without surveying a scene for potential compositions. Sometimes I dig in and strike it rich finding those gems and other times I come up empty handed which is part of the fun.
Rather than a lot of typing for this post I will let the video do most of the talking this time around. I am not normally the video tutorial kind of person yet I am getting myself to branch out into this type of work. Below is the video and three photos I discuss in greater detail. For each scene I show several compositions I took leading up to the final to help understand my thought process to build a compelling abstract or intimate nature photo.
Standing Tall – In cold wet forest of the Columbia River Gorge in early winter
Desert Lizard – In the dry cool desert Southwest in Fall inside Zion National Park
Final Flames of Fall – Above a forest in the Columbia River Gorge during the final days of fall
Video covering the three photos above in much more detail. Happy viewing!
Late last year we were out as a Photo Cascadia group along the Oregon Coast when the idea was brought up to head to the Canadian Rockies for fall 2015. I was in! I had not been there while it sat on my list of must see places to visit for too long. Fast forward to the last week of September 2015 and we were off for a one week trip.
After the first 6 hour leg from my house in Portland, Oregon I met up with Chip in Spokane, Washington to finish out the next 6+ hours to our destination and meet up with Sean and Zack who had already been there a day. After a long day we arrived at Lake Louise Campground shortly after sunset. No sunset photos that night. We pulled in. Hung out with Zack and Sean for a bit while eating dinner then off to catch zzz’s for sunrise.
Getting up this time of year for sunrise feels like a treat after the droopy tired eyes of summer. We made our way to our first photo stop, sunrise at Moraine Lake. I expected busy. It was a little more than I expected. Far and away the most crowded location on this trip photographing with 100+ of my closest friends. Amazing to see yet it loses the appeal a little for me with that many photographers all jockeying for limited space. I kept setting up high in the trees, in the dark, only to find someone else eventually moving around already setup in my shot. One gal was getting aggressive when a photog got too close and he wasn’t moving. I was waiting for a fight but he eventually moved. I left the main viewing area on the top to join my peeps along the shore where I had a great rest of the morning with this splendid view!
This trip would not involve lollygagging around the same campsite for multiple nights. We had breakfast in town, back to camp to pick up Chip’s trailer and then off to the next location, Yoho National Park. A rather short drive away (~ 20 kilometers) we checked in at Kicking Horse Campground which was a good location in the middle of Yoho Park.
We spent the afternoon checking out Takakkaw Falls, walking part of Emerald Lake shoreline and then finishing with sunset at Emerald Lake. It’s only seconds after arriving here to know how it got it’s name. “Hiking” around the lake is more like an extended nature hike. At least the section we did was pretty flat yet very scenic. As we all know not all great scenic photos require long bouts of strenuous activity.
Up plenty before daylight and off to Bow Lake for sunrise. The drive was about 50 kilometers. The wind was whipping pretty good. I was not happy with any of my images from this morning yet we had a fun time regardless. The clouds rolled in and we could tell things would get wet later in the day. Back to Kicking Horse for breakfast at camp, fill up on water and off to the next campsite closer to the Bow Lake area.
Our next stop was Mosquito Creek Campground on Ice Fields Parkway. We filled up on water before arriving as this time of year it’s a dry campground because overnight lows dip below freezing. By the time we arrived the rain had already started dropping. We spent the afternoon chilling in our campers reading, listening to podcasts and napping. Having warm dry shelter was very welcome at that moment.
After getting bored we decided to drive and see if could find a place to have a beer. First stop was Bow Lake restaurant. The lady at the desk was indirectly kind in trying to say the restaurant was for guests only yet suggested we head a ways down the road for a bar. Mind you this is National Park with few places to stop and all tree lined roads. After driving another 40 km in the pouring rain at dusk we arrive at the mildly depressing oasis called Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were happy to have this place pretty much to ourselves sitting on couches drinking a beer and snacking on mediocre wings. Out into the rain and 50 km later we are back at camp. Rain still pouring outside we eat dinner in the camper then hit the hay.
I wake up shortly before dawn. I step outside the camper and can see nothing but endless grey with rain still coming down. Feels like home. We decide to bag sunrise and go back to bed. What seemed like 5 min later, in reality over an hour, I wake up and look out the window to see a huge patch of blue sky. Shorter than the click of a shutter I yell for Chip to wake up and jump out the camper. No courteous knock, I whip open the door to Sean’s camper and say “get up now, we need to leave!” Minutes later we are on the road. It did not take long to see this was going to be a fantastic morning. The snowline went down low overnight but only brought a dusting. With the sun coming over the horizon and quickly clearing skies we had to act fast. After pulling into Peyto Lake we made a short hike to an area with a perfect view and away from the main viewpoint.
While still on a morning high from the scene at Peyto Lake we make our way down to wander around Waterfowl Lakes. After breakfast back at camp we decide very early tomorrow is the time to make it up into Lake O’Hara with the slowly clearing weather pattern.
Midday we head back into Lake Louise Village for supplies. Mainly the $6 dollar bear spray rental since I left mine back home. I know now I can take it across the border next trip. As the kid in the store weighs the bear spray he proceeds to tell me that if I end up using it and the weight is not the same upon return I will have to buy it. My response “if I have to use this I have much bigger concerns than the retail price of a can of bear spray!”
That night we photographed sunset along Waterfowl Lakes. The partly cloudy skies made for a really nice scene. We don’t stick around long as we need to hit the sack early since wake up will be 3:15! No time for s’mores or kumbaya this trip.
My soothing alarm ring goes off at 3:15 am. Surprisingly I slept better than expected and feel pretty good. We eat a quick breakfast, as much as my body wants to eat this early in the morning and out into the morning cold crisp air we head as we start our trek to Lake O’Hara.
Spots in and around Lake O’Hara are amazingly scenic like out of Lord of the Rings or where you truly might find that pot of gold with a leprechaun. This is the reason it’s not easy to get there. For most normal people there are two options; camping or the lodge. Both options book up months in advance. Our plan would be to hike the 11 km gravel road in the dark to make it by sunrise. You can see why I rented bear spray. Although we were a group of four it’s prime bear country. With our head lamps moving around like the light in a lighthouse and plenty of “hey bear” shout outs we arrive at Lake O’Hara shortly before sunrise. I would not necessarily recommend this approach yet it worked for us.
We quickly find out the hiking is not over. We have at least a few more kilometers of all steep terrain to make it where we want to go. I am on a high and power through the next part. The sky starts getting lighter to slowly reveal this magical landscape. We spend a couple hours hiking around and taking photos. Honestly it’s a place you could stay all day with the perfect conditions we had yet we needed to ensure we could get a bus out. We leave it behind taking our photos as constant reminders for years to come.
We decide our next stop is Kananaskis. Kananskis Country is known for large photogenic groves of aspens. After the 160 km drive (about 2 hrs) we were pretty wiped considering the early morning wakeup call and long hike. We pull into a campground in Kananaskis area and take a long nap.
We decided on Wedge Pond for sunset, a short jaunt from camp. The golden aspens line the pond and do not disappoint. Not only did we have a beautiful view yet on the other side of the pond were what appeared to be two female yoga instructors doing poses in a wildly colorful yoga pants while a male photographer taking the shots was cheering them on. They were the only people there besides us.
Up the next morning and fortunately another not too far away drive which allowed for a more normal wake up time. It was a nice little marshy pond area not far from the road with a perfect view of Mount Kidd. A thin layer of ice continued growing on the small ponds as we photographed which was all we needed to tell us the temperature outside.
After that we spent the next few hours chasing around different aspen groves before the light got too harsh. Daytime photos are beautiful with golden aspens mixed with blue skies yet we had other plans in mind given it was our last day.
A late breakfast and on the road to the town Banff we go. There is a campground just outside of town where we setup camp. After “roughing” it for the week we decide an evening on the town is in order to finish this phenomenal trip. I highly recommend a soak in Banff Hot Springs and grabbing a beer with dinner at Banff Brewing Company. The next morning before dawn we head home.
If you have not been it’s a must add to your bucket list. In my home state of Oregon I feel lucky to live near mountains to play and photograph yet in all honesty they feel less dramatic in scale and size when comparing the endless large mountains around every turn in the Canadian Rockies.
Timing: The first part of any fall color foliage trip is timing. We all had it Sharpied in our calendars many months in advance and while peak fall colors certainly change every year none of us had much wiggle room. Fortunately our timing could not have been better. Normal peak for this area is middle to late September. As a side note you can easily spend a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and still feel like you are only scratching the surface.
Transportation: Living in the Pacific Northwest we are in reasonable driving distance. I only lug all my camping or backpacking equipment at 30,000 feet when necessary. The drive was about 12 hours, pushing the envelope to do it one day. Flying you will likely need to come through Calgary, the closest International airport at 120 kilometers from Banff.
Weather: This time of year you need everything from t-shirts to thick down jackets. We experienced snow, rain, wind and bright blue sky mild days. Be prepared for it all. Our coldest morning was about -3 degrees and our sunny warmest day about 15 degrees Celsius.
Lodging: There are plenty of options from budget camping to deluxe pampering hotels. We would be camping the whole time which made it very cost effective. Campgrounds we stayed at in Yoho and Banff ranged from $18 to $27 Canadian a night with additional $8 if you want to have a campfire. Beautiful Lake O’Hara I mentioned, lodging is a mere $600 to $900 CA a night for two.
Locations: Overall there many different parks and places that are part of Canadian Rockies yet we had no problem filling the days with our focus on three of them…Kananaskis, Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Physical Activity Level: You can make it as adventurous as you want from photographing out the window of your resort room to backpacking deep into the mountains. If money is no object then the best of both by staying at mountain lodges in the back country. Given we had only a week most of our locations were short hikes to nature walks with one long strenuous hike.
by Zack Schnepf
As I’ve mentioned before, composition is the most challenging part of photography for me. It’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of photography. Bringing together different elements into a compelling composition is a wonderful creative process. It can be a very “zen” experience as well. When I photograph on my own, it’s a kind of meditation for me. I’ve never been someone who get’s too preoccupied with following compositional rules, but there are a lot of very useful composition ideas that I try to keep in mind while composing in the field. In this article I’ll discuss some of the different composition models I look for when composing a landscape image. There are a lot of composition models that have been used throughout art history. I’ll be focusing on just a few, otherwise we might be here all day. The following are some examples of my favorite composition archetypes I look for in the field.
Rule of thirds
This is one of the oldest compositional rules and is one of the first compositional rules many of us learn about. The ancient greeks used the rule of thirds in their architecture and it was probably used even before that. The human brain seems to like compositions balanced by thirds. We also naturally look toward the power points where rule of thirds lines intersect. Compositions that utilize this theory tend to feel balanced and are more compelling.
Frame within a frame and natural framing
I love finding elements that naturally frame a scene. Using elements that also tell a story about that particular place are even more compelling. This first example is a composition I found my very first year photographing. I didn’t capture the light I was hoping for so I came back years later and captured the same scene with better light. I love the way the tree frames the scene and helps tell the story of Crater Lake. This next example is Teardrop Arch in Utah. A beautiful scene framed in this tear drop shaped arch in Monument Valley
S and C curves
S curves and C curves help viewers travel through an image and add an interesting visual flow. I love incorporating curves in my compositions. In this example the C curve of the petrified sand dunes in white pocket draw your eye in and through the scene creating visual flow. This image also uses a type of symmetry that I’ll talk about later.
Puzzle piece compositions have elements that visually fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. These can make for very interesting compositions if constructed well. In this example, David Cobb deliberately composed this image with the shape off the ice berg mirrored in the reflection above it.
When most people think of symmetry, they think of mirror symmetry, but there are several more types of symmetry I look for when composing as well. This image of death valley is a good example of rotation semmetry, or inversion symmetry. The curve of the dune is mirrored and opposite that of the blue in the sky. This is one of my favorite kinds of symmetry to find while composing. It’s not always possible, but when things line up, this is something I have my eye out for. To learn more about basic types of symmetry you can follow this link: http://mathforum.org/sum95/suzanne/symsusan.html
These are just some of the composition models I look for when composing. There are a lot more and I encourage everyone to try find different composition types when you’re in the field. You can learn about many different styles of composition by simply viewing art. Whether it’s looking through a book of artwork, viewing an exhibit at an art museum, or just looking through images on 500px. Studying the work of artists you admire is a great way to learn about composition and influences how you look at a scene. This is one of the best ways to improve your photography and progress as an artist. I studied art and art history in college and it has had an enormous influence on how I perceive the world and try to capture it. There is so much to learn from the masters of different eras, artistic movements, and styles? It’s a humbling and incredibly enriching experience.
In part four of this series I’ll talk about the elements that I try use to build compositions.
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.