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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Add Scale To Your Grand Scapes

Incorporating a person into a big vista gives a sense of scale and human interaction to the scene. It’s not right for every photo, but think about it the next time you’re in front of a grand scene.

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Dramatize With Gesture
I always watch very carefully for peak moments of gesture, pose and motion. I absolutely don't want to have people posed in my scenes, as they will seem stiff and kill the energy and life of the image. Photography is about recognizing and capturing revealing slices of time, and moments of action or motion that cleanly energize a physical space are what I'm seeking. So, watch for spacing, stride, stroke and even expression, if your friends are close enough, and sometimes they will light up the scene with a look of wonder.

Shooting the sandstone of Coyote Buttes, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona.
Activate The Adventure
When scouting a location, I consider the "explorers" I'm traveling with as a critical piece of the puzzle that makes up a successful composition. Find a way for them to graphically energize a location, and asking them to kayak or hike into a certain spot or along a precise path is a good way to start. Then wait for moments when they seem to become connected to the location in ways that are hard to anticipate or explain. You have to go with the flow of their activity and be open to serendipity. I see my travels less as a search for fleeting beauty and more as a discovery of the planet's wonders and my reaction and understanding of those wonders.

It's instructive to see paired images that show a scene purely as a landscape and then as a landscape with people. Do I still shoot pure, clean landscapes? Yes, I do, but I'm always thinking of how and who would best enliven that place with their presence. It helps to have attractive and well-styled friends for the activity!

Always Shoot Yourself
Sometimes you'll find yourself out in the wild all by your lonesome, so what will you do then? By placing the camera on a tripod, and using either a remote trigger or a 12-second delay, you can get that explorer in a great place, and you won't have to ask for a model release! Plus, it's fun to show yourself working, even if it feels like play. A very wide lens can work as well, if used carefully.

I would be remiss if I didn't pay a debt of gratitude to Galen Rowell for his inspiration in showing how far one could push the limits of adventure photography. I had already begun to experiment with placing people in my landscapes, but seeing his work in the late '80s surely accelerated my interest and development. He rejoiced in challenging adventures in the wild places of the planet, with his friends and family, and shared those "peak" moments with all of us. Photography has driven me to explore and shoot life-changing places and experiences, often for publications, and having a visual record of your friends is a lifelong treasure to both create and to share.

You can see more of Kerrick James' photography at www.kerrickjames.com.


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