Get Low and Close

(© Ian Plant) One of the greatest challenges facing landscape photographers is creating a sense of depth and energy in their photographs. We perceive the world as having three spatial dimensions, and perceive a fourth dimension as well—time. How then can we successfully squish this dynamic three-dimensional world that is constantly in motion into a static two-dimensional box?

Composition, light, and color can all be used to successfully convey a sense of depth and energy in one’s photographs. There are a myriad number of ways to do this, and I can’t go into all of them here. One simple technique is to get low and close to an interesting element of the scene using a wide-angle lens. Notice that I don’t say get low and close to the subject itself. For the photo above, I placed the main subject (the waterfall) in the background, and instead got low and close to the rapid in the foreground. I was probably only two feet away from the rapid, which made it challenging to keep my lens free of spray. By doing so, however, I was able to create a visual relationship between the foreground rapid and the background waterfall, implying a sense of depth and creating the illusion of three-dimensionality. This visual relationship also creates a sense of energy, helping make the composition more dynamic. While the long exposure literally captured the motion of the water over time, it is the visual relationship between foreground and background that implies motion and energy to the viewer.

Getting low and close to any element of the landscape simply won’t work; you need to be selective and focus on elements that are interesting or that relate compositionally to other elements in the scene. Getting low and close will also present technical challenges related to depth-of-field (see my earlier discussions of hyperfocal distance and diffraction). But by practicing this technique, I think you will find that your photography gets noticed more, and that you will be more able to successfully convey your feelings about the landscape to others.

P.S. I’ve got two new ebooks that discuss, among other things, some of my techniques for composition. The first, Zion National Park: Behind the Lens, takes an in-depth look at the making of twenty of my photos from Zion. The second (with co-author Richard Bernabe), Five Landscape Challenges 3, provides detailed techniques for appoaching five common landscape scenes. Thanks!

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