In landscape photography we often discuss the many different ingredients that go into making a successful image. Things like composition, color, mood, light, and of course subject. And while these are all essential parts, the aspect I think is underestimated and not talked about enough is the relationships between these elements.
• How does the subject interact with the rest of the composition? Is the main “character” easily defined? Imagine a movie where you couldn’t tell who the main character was, or a song that did not have a recognizable melody. How quickly would you lose interest?
• How does the color influence the balance and design of the image? Saturated color is great, but only when a harmonious relationship exists with some other part of the composition, otherwise it loses its ability to convey a strong message other than “here’s a lot of color”.
• Are the tonalities balanced in a way that leads the eye in a meaningful way? Light is a powerful force in our search for evocative landscapes, but are you controlling the light through careful composition, and removing what may be distracting?
These questions are all based on relationships and how we use them in landscape photography. I’ll be covering these ideas in-depth in an upcoming article, but for now think about these concepts the next time you are out with your camera. Even simple things like using a longer focal length can have a dramatic impact on your ability to create stronger relationships. Avoid the temptation to capture it all, and use 70, 80, or even a 100mm focal length to narrow down your field of view and work with basic shapes, lines, and color. This technique will help you recognize relationships much easier, and your images will gain clarity because of it.
“We photograph something for two reasons: for what it is, and for what else it is.” – Minor White
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One of the hardest things for many photographers to develop is a sense of creativity. You might be the most technologically proficient person with your gear and know how to edit photos better than the best Photoshop gurus out there but what about making interesting pictures?
Creativity, according to John Cleese is not a talent, but rather a quality that can be learned by the biggest imbecile… fortunately for me. So while you might have the technical know how, where do you rate on the creative scale?
Check out this video by the very talented and humorous John Cleese. Many of you may know him from Monty Python fame, but what you may not know about him, is that he is a highly educated, imaginative, and persuasive writer and educator. Maybe this video will help you to unlock your own creative abilities and also allow you a little laugh or two. Its a little over 30 minutes long, but full of useful info regardless if you’re a photographer, an artist, an engineer or a teacher!
Note: This is the second post in a series about User Experience for photographers by Ted Stark. You can see the first article here.
In life, people are barraged with choices. Ask any person, how many choices they want and they will say “a lot” (or some derivative of that). Physiology tells us that people equate choices with control. Choices are not always sensible. And control (or the illusion there of) is fleeting.
This is not a new concept. Applied to websites, users have tons of options (or choices). Everything from how many items are in a menu, to seeing a year’s worth of blog posts in an archive. On most photography websites, there are ample choices in terms of photographs on display in a portfolio or for sale.
But, there’s a limit to the effectiveness of “a lot” of choices.
How people decide is a topic that many researchers delve into. During their graduate studies at Stanford, Sheena Iyengar and a colleague posed as store employees manning a booth where they offered samples of fruit jam. Half of the time, store customers were presented with six choices of jam and the other half were presented with twenty-four. This study is now known as the “jam” study.
Iyengar and her colleague wanted to know how likely people were to sample based on the number of jam choices available. Additionally, they were curious if there was a correlation between number of jam choices and a customer’s decision to purchase one of the sampled jams from the booth.
With twenty-four choices, sixty percent of passersby stopped and sampled. Only forty percent of passersby stopped when only six choices were available. Probably not surprising, right?
When Iyengar and her colleague looked at how many people actually purchased jam based on the number of choices they encountered at the sample booth, things got a little more interesting. Customers who encountered six choices for jam, purchased thirty-one percent of the time. When customers faced twenty-four choices, it resulted in a sale only three percent of the time.
I find the one of the big reasons photographers do not want to shoot in RAW mode is that they fear spending too much time on the computer. One of the great things about Adobe Lightroom is that it gives you several ways to be very efficient in managing your digital photo archive. One part of Lightroom that all photographers should master is the develop module. While most shooters love the ability to easily make tone and color corrections to their images in this module, the ability to create develop presets and to apply changes to many images at once make “developing” in Lightroom one of the biggest time savers that digital photographers have in their arsenals. And in my opinion, the less time I spend on the computer, the better.
One of the things I really enjoy about photographing wildlife is “the chess game”. What I mean by that is when I am photographing an animal I am always thinking a few moves ahead. So I can be sure to be in the right place at the right time. I try to get in the animals head, to figure out what its next move is going to be. This is why it is important to spend time with a subject. The more knowledge you have about an animal, the better you will be at anticipating its next move.
Many different behaviors and actions are preceded by visual cues. Some examples are. If a duck, goose, loon, or swan dips its head in the water and runs water down its back it is going to rear up and flap its wings. If a coyote or fox stares intently at the ground and turns its head side to side, it is likely getting ready to pounce on a vole. If a bird turns toward the wind and defecates it is more often than not going to fly away. During the rut a male deer, bighorn, elk, or pronghorn, will always do a lip-curl after it “checks” a female. Knowing your subject and paying attention to these visual cues will help you to anticipate the action and get some of these exciting action shots.
Sometimes it is good to leave a little to the imagination. Some of the most intriguing movies or books are the ones that make you wonder or keep you guessing. I remember an image of a wolf that I saw a few years back. The wolf as walking into the frame with its head turning back as if something or someone was following it. The entire body of the wolf was not in view and I wondered if it was hurt, what had happened to it. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the image has stayed with me for years–it had impact. Why? It didn’t tell the whole story. Have we as photographers been so trained that we feel the image needs to be complete, that it needs to tell the whole story. Imagination is a very powerful thing and maybe adding a little by taking away a little is a good thing.
This great info graphic has been making its rounds on the internet, first on Seth Godin’s blog, and also on Chase Jarvis’ blog, and I recommend you read both for their individual takes on this subject. When I saw it I immediately smiled because it proves that a picture is worth a thousand words! The vast majority of my time is spent away from doing what I love most, which is exploring ways to be creative and tell stories with my camera. The longer I do this, the more I have come to realize and appreciate this is exactly what it is. And it is this clarity of defining it that helps me stay focused and motivated to handle the other aspects of the business where I spend the majority of my time. Would I love to out source some if this as Seth recommends? Sure I would, and I am slowly moving in that direction. Being smart about what you should do vs what you should get someone else to do is a vital aspect of running any business where time is the most valuable resource, and I would dare anyone to find a case where that is more true than in landscape photography.
That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the other “stuff”, on the contrary I do. The realization that I am living my dream life, and that each day I have to pinch myself that it is for real makes dealing with the “stuff” a little easier. For sure there are some great benefits – the greatest for me is that I get to spend much more time with my family. I was a stay at home Dad for the first 3 years of my son’s life, and that alone is something I would not trade for anything.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what steps I’ve taken over the last 11 years to become the world’s most reknowned landscape and adventure photographer. Clearly, I’ve also been daydreaming quite a bit. Seriously though, here are a five things I’ve done that have contributed to making me a better photographer.
1) Be Studious
I’ve looked at a whole bunch of photos. Thousands of them. And I don’t just look at them. I study them. I pick them apart and try to figure out what makes one photo stupendous while another one just sucks. How many times have you seen a photo of Half Dome, Delicate Arch or the Tetons from Snake River Overlook? Of all the images you’ve seen from these iconic locations which ones stand out and why? Was it the light or some nuance of the composition? Next time you’re sitting at home with nothing to do, scoot on down to the local bookstore. Grab a few coffee table photo books by your favorite photographers, sink into one of their comfy chairs and analyze a few of your favorite photos. Do this often enough and you’ll soon find yourself making the same analyses as you compose images in the field.
2) Photograph Often
Spend as much time as you can in the field. In 2000, just over a year after getting serious about photography, I had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks on the road.
Juan has a wonderful workshop on photographing waterfalls in North Carolina. Get more info on this killer workshop here, and get $50 off the workshop price if you mention OPG when you sign up!
Hi folks, this is Juan Pons from the Digital Photo Experience. I’m here in western North Carolina, leading one of my waterfall tours. I wanted to give you a couple of tips on shooting waterfalls.
The name of the game when shooting waterfalls is getting nice, silky water that looks like it’s flowing and it’s moving in energy. The way you accomplish that is by shooting with slow shutter speed, normally between one and a half seconds and four or five seconds. The rule of thumb as far as which speed to use is going to be based on the flow of the water, how fast the water is flowing and the amount of water that’s coming down. So, for example, when you have a lot of water and the water is moving very fast, you want to use something like one and a half seconds. When you don’t have as much flow and the water is moving slowly, you may go up to four seconds or so.
In a situation like this waterfall behind me, I am going at about one and a half second, maybe even one second. The way you accomplish that is by doing a couple different things. First is to use the lowest ISO your camera can handle, for example, ISO 100. Some cameras can do 50, and some cameras can only go down to 200, but that’s okay. There are a couple techniques that you can use to get that slow shutter speed, and I’ll tell you about those in a second. The way you get those slow shutter speeds is by doing a couple of things. First is using a small aperture, and the way you’re going to use that small aperture is to stop down your lens, usually between f8 to f16. You probably don’t want to go down to f22 because that may degrade your image quality.
The other thing that you want to do is use a neutral density filter. You can use a three stop neutral density filter or a six stop neutral