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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How To Create The Complete Outdoor Image


Whether you’re shooting landscapes, wildlife, sports-action or travel, the best, most compelling images have common traits



This Article Features Photo Zoom

Dawn color and lenticular cloud over the Wasatch Mountains and Middle Provo River, Utah. Barker used Canon DSLRs and lenses and Singh-Ray filters for all of the images in this article.


A high mountain stream meanders through Painter Basin at nearly 13,000 feet in the Kings Peak Wilderness area, Utah.
In this era of digital photography, we’re bombarded with imagery each and every day. Our visual senses are pushed to the limits as we try to digest the good, the bad and the ugly. Yet somehow, in the midst of this creative cacophony, there are images that resonate. These are the images we remember. These are the images we study. These images are complete.

Is there a formula for this complete image? Maybe not a formula, per se; there are necessary components, and an outdoor image struggles to resonate with viewers without all of them. It takes a special combination of natural events and creative and technical prowess to connect all of the dots on any given photo shoot. In my experiences, both as a viewer and a creator of outdoor photography, I’ve found three essential components that comprise the complete outdoor image:

> Superb light
>Engaging subject matter
>Dynamic composition

Whenever possible, the artist will find a way to combine these elements to make a mini-masterpiece. Many times we’re able to capture unbelievable light, but the composition is lacking. Similarly, I’ve seen fantastic compositions with uninteresting and, quite honestly, unaesthetic foreground subjects. We must find that balance and convergence of these three components to deliver the full visual package and leave viewers virtually intertwined with our two-dimensional reality.

Let’s delve into the building blocks of these components and how we, as photographers, can better capture and make them a part of our imagery.


A stoic bison holds its stance for eight seconds in this dawn image of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Superb Light
The literal meaning of the word photography is “writing with light.” As outdoor photographers, we write with succulent sunrise light. We write with rich sunset light. We write with soft and subtle dawn and dusk light. We write with heavenly storm light. We write with backlighting, sidelighting and bounce lighting. If we could bottle up the light that blesses most of our five-star imagery, we could sell it for billions of dollars a bottle—that’s how good the light is that we crave most.

Where do we find this light? We find it in the early and late hours. We find it when most other sane individuals are warm in their beds or swishing their glass of evening wine. You must be committed to getting up early and staying out late. Always arrive at least 45 minutes before sunrise and stay equally as long past sunset. Stay until every last bit of color is gone in the sky—we’ve all had those frantic shooting experiences when everything has been packed up, only to realize that Mother Nature is about to launch into her grand finale.

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