As if it were yesterday, I strongly recall my first “out west” grand landscape photography trip. As my excursion went on, I mailed every roll of slide film to Kodak so most would be waiting upon my return. When I got home, I couldn’t wait to open each yellow box. Upon doing so, it was a total disappointment. The images were nothing like the ones that motivated me to head west in the first place. The bottom line is that trip was the catalyst to learn what I did wrong. For this week’s tip, along with the next, I’ll share with you some grand landscape tips so you don’t have the same experience I endured.
Early and Late: I cite this aspect first because to me, It’s All About The Light. Without good light, an image falls short. While I viewed my “slides of disappointment,” I realized if you want to create a magnificent landscape you can’t sleep in, that arriving at your location at noon doesn’t make it and just because something looks “pretty” you can’t just press the shutter and expect to get a great image. It’s essential to make scenics at sunrise and sunset. The light is warm, the low angle of the sun reveals texture and shape, and the quality is unsurpassed. Armed with this knowledge, it’s essential to find out in what direction the early or late light strikes your location, and does sunrise work better than sunset and visa versa. Do as much research as possible before heading out. Go on a photography tour because the leaders know where to be given specific conditions. Sunrise and sunset are fabulous times to shoot, but I always arrive at dawn or stay through dusk. If an alpenglow occurs, the colors are majestic and bathe the subjects in soft pastel light.
Storm Light: Clouds are a double-edged sword in that they provide drama but can also ruin a session. The potential they provide makes landscape photographers hope for them because they impart much more potential than a plain blue sky. Make daily checks of the weather to see what the skies may do. There are subtle variables that dictate the drama of storm light. You can never be sure what will happen. If it stacks up desirably, you don’t want to miss the show. If the clouds are thick below the horizon where the sun sets or rises, chances of something happening are slim. If the horizon is clear with storm clouds above, a spectacular event may unfold. Be cognizant of your exposure as you don’t want to blow out the whites in the clouds. Monitor the red channel if the sky goes electric. If your red channel spikes on the right, use minus compensation to tone down highlights. Use a graduated neutral density filter to help tame sky to foreground contrast. Include a lot of sky if this is where the drama resides and crop it at the point where it stops.
Feel the Lure: When I’m out in the field, I try to get a sense of place. While this may sound hokey, “I listen to a certain area call my name.” In other words, I point my lens toward the spot where I feel a connection is made. It’s a feeling I get as I’m lured into the scene. Disregarding the hokey twist, it’s worked for me numerous times. It’s like being in a crowd and making repeated eye contact with a certain individual—a connection is made. When I feel the lure, I wait for the light because I know I need to capture that spot. Try to develop a feel to get lured into a scene—it just may work for you.
Go on a Nature Photo Tour: Without making this sound like a commercial, photo tours wind up saving you lots of money. You’ll spend a bit more up front to cover the leader’s cost and profit, but what you’ll save in the long run is worth it. If the leader knows his or her stuff, you’ll be brought to the best location based on given conditions rather than you aimlessly drive to a spot trying to chase light. Be sure to go with a leader who intimately knows each area. You’ll be put in the right place at the right time. (Shameless plug—I’d love to have you join me.)
Be sure to check Part 2 next week to learn more ways to improve your landscape photography.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.