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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The High Concept Image

Pro tips to help you take your photos to a higher level

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I especially enjoy working with a mix of light and shadows. Too often, I hear photographers (especially wildlife photographers) extol the virtues of shooting when conditions are overcast. Sure, even lighting makes exposure and composition easier, and can be perfect for some subjects, but I usually prefer a mix of shadow and light. Such light can be difficult to work with, creating extreme contrast between areas of light and shadow, but the results can be very dramatic, especially when working with spot-lit or backlit subjects. I also often mix natural and artificial light, such as flash. A good external flash is an often overlooked, but nonetheless critical, photo accessory. It can be used to add fill light to subjects, giving them a little extra bit of emphasis and detail, or it can be used in more surreal ways instead. Artificial light gives the nature photographer the power to alter the natural mix of light, imposing more of his or her artistic vision on the subject—something of crucial value to the high-concept photographer. I'm also always looking for opportunities to mix color creatively. Mixing colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel (called "complementary colors")—such as mixing warm and cool tones or color opposites such as red and blue, or green and magenta—can be very effective.

4 Use weather and color to create mood. Mood is an important component of all great photographs. To me, "mood" encompasses anything that acts to strike an emotional chord with your viewers, forging a connection between them and your photograph. Of course, emotions are mercurial and fickle things, which is why mood is such a difficult subject to discuss—but I'll do my best here to make some sense of it.

For nature photography, use of "atmospherics" is often an effective way of expressing mood. Atmospherics include a number of weather-related phenomenon that occur when moisture in the air reacts to temperature, most notably, mist and fog, dramatic storm clouds and rainbows. Color can also have a powerful impact on the emotional response generated by a photo. Warm tones dominate early and late in the day, whereas cooler tones are more common at other times, especially at twilight or in deep shadows on a sunny day. Use color creatively to enhance mood.

The high-concept photo (right) shows "expressive light"—backlight at sunset filtered by dust in the air and a hint of lens flare create a warm golden glow. The effect helps to evoke an emotion and tell a story. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, ISO 800, ƒ/6.3, 1⁄400 sec.

5 Wait for the decisive moment. I like to think of photography as an exercise in finding "convergences," those moments when two or more elements come together in an interesting, meaningful or artistically relevant way. Usually, such convergences are fleeting, leading Henri Cartier-Bresson to describe photography as capturing the "decisive moment" in which one is able to record an essential interaction of subjects at its peak. Ideally, the moment should reveal something about the character of the subject or capture an instant when nature's power is at its fullest, filled with energy and possibility.


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