Majestic mountains, breathtaking canyon views, gorgeous arrays of sea stacks and beautiful sandstone arches are but a few of Mother Nature’s wonders that beckon photographers worldwide. These geological features lure artists of all kinds to paint, preserve, photograph, or sculpt. They’ve been cut by rivers, uplifted by faults or folds, carved by the wind, and eroded by time. Regardless of how they were created, these natural etchings challenge every budding and seasoned photographer to capture them from their unique perspective.
The Canyon: Canyon photography is a challenge. The more narrow the greater the challenge. If the canyon is slender, the only time the sun gets to illuminate its entirety is with direct overhead light. Unfortunately, this is when the light is least appealing for landscape photography. HDR capture provides a solution to reveal detail with a wide range of tones. If one side of the canyon is lit while the opposite is in shadow, make a series of bracketed exposures that starts with capturing details in the highlights. Continue the series making exposures that also provides details in the shadows. Use HDR software to blend all the files in the series to produce an exposure with tonal detail throughout. I use Nik HDR Efex Pro to process my High Dynamic Range captures.
Canyons that are wide open make it easier for the landscape photographer. Those that receive early morning or late evening sidelight work better as sidelight provides highlights and shadows and reveal the land’s texture. For landscape photographers, this quality and direction of light are ideal. It creates three dimensionality which reveals the geology created by Mother Nature.
The Detail: The grand landscape is certainly high on a scenic photographer’s list. But don’t neglect looking down at your feet or directly to your left or right so you don’t overlook the “intimate landscape.” The intimate landscape is the little gem that displays Mother Nature’s geological wonder and is often overlooked. It provides photographic beauty that’s not “in your face” obvious. Numerous times I’ve come away with an intimate landscape that netted a more powerful image than the grand landscape. Apply the same rules of composition and light as you would if you were photographing the overall scene.
The Majestic Mountain: As with the vast majority of landscape subjects, sidelight provides the best illumination. Front light can be utilized, but it’s essential the image is recorded within the first ten minutes of sunrise or last ten minutes of sunset to take advantage of the warmest colored light of the day. With side lit mountains, the window of good light can be extended. At sunrise, with every minute that passes, the color of the light grows cooler and the contrast between the shadows and highlights is reduced. At sunset, the light starts off cooler and continues to grow warmer and the shadow contrast increases. A key technique to create successful mountain-scapes is to include depth. Include fore, mid, and background elements. Wide angle lenses are employed to accomplish this. Get close to an important element in the lower portion of the frame. The eye will be drawn to that area in the photograph. The midground layer needs to support the chosen foreground element and contain interest. The final piece is the background element. This is often the key peak of the range. In the end, all elements should support one another.
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