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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Need To Know


There’s no substitute for getting out and just taking photographs

Labels: On LandscapeColumn


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Clearing Autumn Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 2013

This is the golden age of information. Photographers have access to endless amounts of guides, tutorials, ebooks and websites about making perfect photographs, any kind of photograph, and that includes landscape photographs. Need to learn techniques for composing, exposing or postprocessing your images? Many sources are available, offered by excellent photographers and teachers. Outdoor Photographer covers those subjects in depth, in the magazine and on the website, leading the way forward since 1985. Need to know where to photograph and when at a new location? With a smartphone, you can learn where to stand, as well as the sunrise/sunset times so you know how early to set your alarm—no exploration or scouting needed!

My own photographic path started in the "old days," with 35mm film cameras in the 1970s. Then I used a 4x5 view camera and sheet film for 25 years. I began making digital prints in 1994, and since 2005, have switched entirely to digital capture. My digital skills have evolved slowly, steadily into a simple, but effective toolset. When I can't make my images say what I want them to say, when lack of technique is blocking my artistic expression, I update my skill set. I learn more. But in those early years, I made some very strong images with very little knowledge of technique.

With all of this in mind, a question has been bouncing around my head: How much does a photographer need to know before he or she can make a great photograph? The focus on consuming every possible technique drives me crazy sometimes, or maybe I'm just lazy! Seriously, the way I stay creative is to keep it simple. If my mind is too full of tech thoughts, they get in my way.


Autumn Oaks and Snowstorm, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California, 2013
Last fall, I worked with a student from Hawaii who had never been to Yosemite before. The autumn color was peaking, especially the oaks and maples. A storm was coming the morning we started. The forecast was for a rainy day, but I looked forward to taking advantage of the soft light to photograph the saturated colors and patterns of autumn leaves. A strong wind that night had brought down most of the yellow maple leaves, covering the forest floor, especially at Fern Springs. Our workshop was off to a great start, but then it began to pour, so we decided to wait out the rain over breakfast at the Lodge. As we sat, we were thrilled to see that it started to snow! A few gulps later, we were out the door.

One of our first stops was El Capitan Meadow, where we photographed golden oak leaves in the snowstorm. I helped Sean work out his compositions and made sure he tried various shutter speeds. As with moving water, each change in shutter speed conveys a slightly different effect, with blurring or freezing the rapidly falling snowflakes. I showed him how to create panoramic images like "Autumn Oaks and Snowstorm" using multiple frames to stitch in Photoshop.

The conditions were thrilling, and next I found a deep-red dogwood tree with snow gathering on the leaves. I helped him find the best angles for simple and clear image designs. My instructions were simple, such as improving his camera angle and helping him find the right balance between shutter speed and aperture.

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