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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

20 Top Landscape Tips

Learn to capture what moves you in the landscape with the insights of veteran scenic masters

11. Shoot Steady
I've always advocated the use of tripods. A tripod ensures that you're more careful about your composition. It's not just a matter of handholding and getting the image sharp throughout. I consider the tripod as something to be used regardless of stability. It slows you down and forces you to look more carefully at a scene.
—Art Wolfe

12. Take A Closer Look
You can find interesting compositions even in mostly barren landscapes when you change your perspective. This image was made in the desert bordering Namibia and South Africa, where no vegetation rises more than about five inches from the ground. Using my elbows as an impromptu tripod, I moved low to the ground and up close to this succulent with a Nikkor 17-35mm ƒ/2.8 wide-angle lens. The combination of my position and the lens' angle of view makes the subject appear much larger and dominant in the scene. I used a polarizer to enhance the sky.
—Frans Lanting

13. Compose With Care
We're responsible for everything that's included within the frame and everything that's not. One of the most important perceptual skills to acquire is the ability to think both within and out of the frame. Many photographers spend a great deal of time learning to make a finished composition with the borders of the viewfinder. Later, they may develop the ability to see ways to refine their compositions by eliminating elements after exposure through cropping. It's essential to learn to see outside of the frame.

Knowing that you can combine multiple exposures into a single image when working digitally, it becomes equally important to learn to see outside of the frame and beyond the proportions of the camera you're using. For instance, you now can produce panoramas with a standard camera by combining multiple exposures. Compose mentally. Get the information you need for the composition by any means necessary. Crop and composite as needed. First, we learn to think inside the box; next, we learn to think outside of the box. Today, we have to ask ourselves, Do we crop or retouch in order to make the most graphically compelling image?
—John Paul Caponigro

14. Think Outside The Medium
I think of my frame as a canvas and use this approach in my workshops. Many students look at the subject they're trying to photograph and forget about everything else. In reviewing their work, I ask, Would you paint this scene this way? It gets them to look at the whole frame and start using what I like to call "big-picture thinking."
—Mark Edward Harris

15. Less Is More
Compose simply. Remove all nonessential elements. Zoom in, move in or otherwise find a position for your camera that gets around the fluff. The process of simplifying your composition will require you to decide what's most important in a given composition. The process also requires that you look carefully in your viewfinder for extraneous information behind, in front of and around your subject. The edges of your frame are easy to neglect, but when you're in the habit of looking along the edges, your compositions will be much cleaner.
—William Neill

16. Cover Your Ground—Foreground, Middle Ground & Background
During the 20 years I've been teaching landscape photography workshops, the one technique that most of the participants seem to have taken with them is the compositional technique I refer to as "foreground, middle ground and background." The basic premise is to accentuate an illusion of three-dimensionality by creating a distinct tripartite structure, separating the foreground from the middle ground and from a distinct background. The key is the middle ground that connects the foreground with the background, creating the illusion of a three-dimensional scene.

A sunrise scene that I photographed in the Gunnison National Forest in Colorado is an example of the tripartite technique. The foreground boulders and rocks have a distinct structure from the middle ground aspen grove, which in turn has a distinct structure from the background mountain range and sky. The separation is further accentuated by sunlight on the background only. The three zones also have distinct colors that further separate them from each other. The end result is a composition that leads the viewer from the foreground to the background connected through the middle ground aspen grove.
—Willard Clay

17. Keeping Gear Clean And Dry
I'm often asked how I keep my gear dry while shooting in a nautical environment. One is guaranteed to get some fine spray on the front element of the lens, and the best way to remove this is by using an old, well-used, but clean diaper. The cotton of these old diapers is so absorbent after countless washes that it absorbs all the sea spray without leaving any residue or smears. Any diaper service will sell you a bag-load of old diapers for about $10. They're also a great way to wipe down gear after a shoot and to pad lenses and bodies in transit. Don't leave home without your diapers!
—Onne van der Wal

18. Don't Confuse The Subject With The Photograph
Whenever a subject appeals to us, grabs our attention, drives us to make that all-important decision to stop and photograph, we need to remember that this subject and the photograph we make of it are two completely different things. Subject matter is only the starting point. What you make of it is what counts, and mostly, that depends on how you arrange it in the frame of your photograph. The trap that many nature photographers fall into is being "blinded" by their subject matter. We find a subject that speaks to us and we decide to "get" it, capture it and bring it home. When a remarkable scene confronts a photographer, the challenge is to truly "see" that scene and then organize it in a meaningful and hopefully unforgettable way. This organizing of elements into a rectangle is the ultimate challenge all photographers face, and the first hurdle is understanding that this is our real task. The composition is how we make a photograph of a given subject our own.

For me, the best way to do this is to bracket my compositions; that's how I work my subject. I like to challenge myself to see how many different ways I can compose each new situation that catches my eye. If you limit yourself to the first composition that comes to mind, you'll very likely be stuck with something "obvious." The important question to ask yourself as you wrestle with a composition is, What attracted me to this scene in the first place? Strong composition will make the answer obvious to the viewer—so clear to the viewer, in fact, that he or she simply can't miss it. The last thing you want is for viewers to look at an image and ask themselves, Why?
—Linde Waidhofer

19. Be Persistent
The world outdoors is unpredictable, and so it's often true that capturing the images we're after requires dedication and persistence, despite the apparent obstacles. I'm reminded of a time when I was working for a travel company that needed several images from different tourist areas in Argentina. I was especially excited about one of the locations, Iguazu Falls. I arrived to unrelenting rain, and after three days of walking miles of loops, drenched beneath an umbrella with my time running short, I began to consider abandoning the falls in search of another subject under the protective canopy of the rain forest. Late in the afternoon at the hotel garden, I happened to notice a tinge of sunlight on my subject. I immediately called for a taxi, barely beat the closing gates to the park and ran my fastest to a location I had previously scouted. The moment I arrived, it finally happened—the rain subsided just long enough for the clouds to pick up the pink hues of the setting sun.
—Londie Padelsky

20. Get Away From Your Car And Explore
I've always found that driving a car around to scenic viewpoints and planting a tripod in the holes left by the previous photographer is a surefire way to come home with a collection of mediocre postcard shots. Even if you've learned all of the necessary technical skills from this magazine and how-to books, unless you venture out onto the land, you stand the chance of making clichéd or redundant images. I'm not saying you need to embark on extreme adventures a` la Galen Rowell, but it's necessary to spend enough time on the trail or in a canoe to let the spirit of the landscape seep into your heart and soul. Great nature photographers do more than merely master ƒ-stops and filters—they connect with their subjects in a way that only comes about from being immersed in a place, experiencing it with all five senses. Since most days are full of several hours of mediocre light, you might as well spend that time exploring the forest, desert or mountains, and learning the details of a place that will inspire you to make meaningful, relevant and creative images.
—Jerry Monkman


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