Everything in life has a purpose, but does a given item that performs a given task need to be relegated to only that task? The human brain is an amazing organ that allows those who are so inclined to construct implements that make life easier. But even more special are those who ingeniously come up with alternative ways to utilize any developed product for totally different purposes for which they were invented. Not all of the below tips relate to inventions or their alternate use but still relate to the above context. I hope everyone ascends to the next plateau and figures out some ingenious tricks to incorporate into their own photography. I also hope this tip sparks your creativity so you can add a technique or two to capture better images.
Wet Those Rocks
Rivers and streams are a scenic photographer’s go-to subject. They can be used as leading lines, shutters can be slowed to provide a cotton candy look to water, they attract animals that may enhance the scenic and much more. Depending on the season, time of day and light, the rocks that inhabit the water may be exposed. If it’s a low precipitation year, if the snow hasn’t begun to melt or if an environmental factor created a natural dam, the flow will be impacted. On sunny days, rocks that sit above the water line may be bright. The sun bleaches them over the years or they get weathered.
Regardless of the cause, bright rocks become distractions. In post-processing, they can be toned down, cloned out and their color can be modified, but there’s a much easier natural solution that involves zero computer work. I grab my empty water bottle, fill it with river water and drizzle it over the entire bright rock. If the rocks are close to the shore, I splash water on them. The important thing is to get them nice and wet so the brightness value is brought way down.
Create A Shadow
A bright subject against a bright background isn’t a good formula for an award-winning photo. On the other hand, if the bright subject is offset against a dark background, the bright subject pops off the page. I made the photo of the frosted yucca seed head against white gypsum in White Sands National Park. It’s a desolate location and there are very few natural elements that create shadows. To produce the dark blue background, I simply asked one of the participants on my tour to stand to the left of the yucca until his shadow filled the background. The blue color cast is the result of the clear sky reflected onto the dunes. Because I biased the exposure so the frosted seed head wouldn’t lose detail, the shadowed background took on the dark hue of the sky. The minus exposure compensation preserved the delicate pieces of frost.
The Other Use For A Polarizer
Most scenic photographers use a polarizer to darken and saturate blue skies and to make clouds pop. It works wonders when the “proper” focal length is utilized so the darkening of the sky is uniform. If the focal length is too wide, uneven darkening occurs. It has to do with the physics of how polarization reacts to the angle of the light source. The optimum position is to aim it 90 degrees from the sun. That being said, there’s another use for a polarizer that often gets overlooked and also has to do with physics.
Polarizers work wonders to lessen or remove glare from shiny, reflective surfaces. In the image of the water lily, you can see the difference. The “look” that’s revealed is dependent upon the orientation of the polarizer. Spin it one way and you’ll see one of the versions. Continue to spin it in the same direction and you’ll obtain the other. It works on glass, shiny metal objects, misty or shiny leaves—any place glare exists. The intensity to which it may remove glare is dependent on numerous factors. In certain instances, it may show just a small improvement. I find that rare, so I always carry a polarizer and love it when it works. A third bonus is it can also act as a neutral density filter to either slow down moving water to obtain the silky look or modify a working aperture to control depth of field.
Perspective vs. Proximity vs. Focal Length
From macros to the grand landscape, the following holds true: The end result of two similarly composed photos can appear very different influenced by perspective. Perspective is based on two key factors—distance from the subject and the focal length lens used to make the similar composition. As you move closer to the subject, in order to include it all, you’ll need a wider lens. If you don’t have a wider lens, you’ll need to move further away to include the elements. The key caveat is that the combination of the given focal length in conjunction with the distance from the subject has a huge impact on the perspective. Elements get pushed back when a wide angle is used. Elements get compressed when a longer length is used.
Note the two photos of the Tetons and cottonwoods above. The one with more sky and “shorter” mountains is the result of having to use a wider lens. The one with less sky and “taller” mountains was created with a longer focal length lens from a further distance. I suggest you experiment using different focal lengths from different distances and try to create similar compositions to get the feel of how this works—it’s actually a huge eye opener.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.