Being raised on landscape photography gave Russ Bishop an advantage, as does his diligent preparation. But it's really his affinity for quality tools and tried-and-true techniques that allows him to continually create beautifully bold landscape photographs.
"Many of my landscape images are shot with a wide-angle lens in the 17mm to 24mm range," Bishop explains, "and I always try to incorporate a strong foreground subject to anchor the frame. I'll use a wide-angle lens with its great depth of field to get in close when I want the viewer to feel like they're part of the action. The wide view also works well to present a small figure interacting with a very large environment. This can be a powerful technique for visual storytelling or to convey a sense of place in the natural world.
"My favorite lens is the Nikkor 17-35mm ƒ/2.8," he adds, "with the sweet spot being about 24mm. This lens has great depth of field, which allows me to pull the viewer into the frame. And it's incredibly sharp. I'll usually approach a scene first with a wide-angle lens and plenty of depth of field to get the big picture, but then I'll move in with the telephoto to isolate important elements within the frame. The 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VRII is another mainstay in my bag. I may even use a Lensbaby, or try unusual angles or slow shutter speeds to add a bit of spice to the visual story. I'm always trying to grow as a photographer, and I think it does help to think outside the box."
Bishop also relies on a variety of filters—from graduated neutral densities to polarizers—to help reveal natural beauty.
"The image of the dogwood over the Merced River in Yosemite was made with the 70-200mm," Bishop says, "and it's a good example of using a polarizing filter to increase contrast and color saturation. The challenge was waiting for the minimal amount of movement in the flowers from the flowing water below in order to capture a sharp image at the slower shutter speed required in the fading light. A Singh-Ray LB Color Combo polarizer was a big help in providing an extra stop or two of light, but patience was also an integral factor in the success of this image.
"In the image of fall color at North Lake near Bishop, Calif.," he says, "my intent was to separate the tree trunks from the intense aspen leaves in a three-dimensional way. Again, the polarizer increased the contrast, which enabled me to achieve that goal. This was one of the best displays the locals had seen in years, and although it's easy to assume I pumped up the color in Photoshop, this was just the right combination of soft, even light from the overcast sky combined with increased contrast from the polarizer that really ignited the colors.
"First and foremost, I consider myself an artist," Bishop says, "and within that context, I don't feel I'm bound to the hard rules of, say, a documentary photographer. But having said that, it's important to me to represent the natural world accurately. The difference between what I 'saw' versus what I 'experienced' is a slippery slope that's always open to interpretation—especially with some of the drama nature can provide. I do try to finalize each image as much as possible at the time of capture, but I won't hesitate to use postprocessing tools when necessary to achieve my vision.
"I primarily use Lightroom to adjust contrast and color balance," he continues. "Another favorite tool is selective color in Photoshop, which allows me to make very subtle changes to any particular color. This works quite well when I don't want to change overall saturation, just slightly darken the sky or bring more presence to a foreground subject. My goal is always to create a final image that closely represents what I experienced at the time of capture. I use HDR only when necessary in cases of extreme contrast that are beyond the tools within Lightroom, but that's rare. A more natural technique is exposure blending, where I'll make two or more exposures of a scene, then blend them together using layer masks in Photoshop. I always prefer to control the light as much as possible in-camera. Like most photographers, I'd much rather be out making images than sitting in front of the computer."