I love to make images of the grand scenic. There’s nothing like the warm light of sunrise or sunset to bathe a mountain, desert vista, seascape, winter scene or forest in gorgeous golden color. The dilemma behind this is most grand scenics are iconic and have been photographed numerous times, especially in the season for which they’re known to peak.
Unless something spectacular happens with the light, your image will look very similar to the millions of others made in the same tripod holes that have come before you. Would this stop me from making a photo if I’ve never been there before? Absolutely not, but it will force me to look beyond the obvious to try and make something different.
So, what can be done to capture something different? My primary way to look at scenes that have been photographed by a magnitude of photographers before me is to hone in on smaller details. I refer to them as the “intimate landscape.” I refer to them like this because I try to make a personal connection and become one with the smaller sections of what lies before me.
I may even resort to using a macro lens and totally disregard the entirety of what everyone else photographs. It all depends on how deep a connection I make. My goal is to return with an image nobody from the past has made. Continue to work with warm light to paint potential subjects in golden hues. They’ll be more picturesque.
The intimate landscape became popular during the mid-1900s thanks to the artful eye of Eliot Porter. He eschewed the grand scenic in favor of getting up close and personal with every landscape he confronted. Since introducing the concept, it’s become popular unto itself. It’s with this in mind that I always remind my students to “Exhaust All Possibilities,” to include shooting every subject wide, in tight, vertically and horizontally. In doing so, the intimate landscape will always be included.
While I’ll always profess to make landscape images at sunrise and sunset, one of the huge benefits of photographing the intimate scene is it expands the shooting day to every hour of daylight if it’s cloudy or overcast. You can even make great images in fog, rain or snow.
If the sun is out, try to avoid hot spots of light as they’ll attract the viewer’s eye as a distraction. If possible, cast a shadow or use a diffuser. This will depend on the amount of subject matter you include in the composition. If it’s practical, use fill flash to add light to the shadows as an option.
A critical factor to determine the success of the photo is the composition. If you include too much information, the viewer gets confused. If you include too little or oversimplify the composition, the viewer yearns for more.
The strategic use of lines, shapes, texture, and form become paramount. “S” and “C” curves work well as leading lines in addition to ones that course the viewer’s eye through the image. Patterns of autumn-colored leaves that take on these shapes are a great example, as are striations of desert varnish and rock scaring found a lot in western desert lands.
Balance is also important. If one side of the image is too heavily weighted with a strong compositional element and the opposite lacks impact, the heavier side takes precedence and leaves the viewer wondering why the opposite side is included. If there is a key subject you want to highlight, darken the surrounding area when you optimize the image so the important feature becomes more prominent.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.