On that snowy October day it was a challenge to keep my camera dry, keep snow and water drops off the lens, and stay warm myself. But it was a rare opportunity, and I didn’t want to wait until the snow stopped, because the falling snow itself gave the photographs an ethereal quality, almost like fog.
Archive for the ‘Photography Tips’ Category
To help simplify your compositions, ask yourself, before you press the shutter, “What’s the least interesting part of this photograph?” Try to identify the weakest area of your composition, and find a way to get rid of it. Then, once you’ve done that, ask the same question again: “Now, what’s the least interesting part of this image?” And get rid of that. And keep doing that until there’s nothing left that you could possibly cut out without losing something vital.
To give you some practice, look at the photograph above. What’s the least interesting part of that image? And if you got rid of that, what would be next – what’s the next least interesting part of the photograph?
I’ll give you a minute to think about it. When you’re ready, take a look at this next photograph, and answer the same question: what’s the least interesting part of this image?
Is it better to be active or static? To change your location and composition to suit the light, or hope that the light changes to suit your composition?
There’s this persistent myth that Ansel Adams would camp for days at one spot, waiting for the right light. Ironically, this myth is often repeated in relation to Clearing Winter Storm, which was made at Tunnel View, only a few miles from his warm home and comfortable bed in Yosemite Valley. In fact Ansel wrote, “I have always been mindful of Edward Weston’s remark, ‘If I wait for something here I may lose something better over there.’ I have found that keeping on the move is generally more rewarding.”
I have also found that keeping on the move is more rewarding. I’ve sometimes regretted moving, but more often regretted staying when I ignored the inner voice that told me the light would be better elsewhere. And when I do find myself in the right place at the right time, I’ve found that it pays to stay active with my camera and my compositions, and not get lazy about changing lenses or camera positions. If I decide in advance what my composition should be, and stick with that no matter what, I’ll probably miss some great opportunities.
Last night a private workshop student and I had an opportunity to test our mental preparation. We got lucky, as the sun broke through a layer of clouds late in the afternoon. For 45 minutes we watched and photographed a spectacular light show, with beams of sunlight first illuminating the cottonwood trees along the Merced River, then moving upward to reach the Royal Arches, North Dome, and Half Dome itself.
Every landscape photographer hopes to get lucky and capture a beautiful light display like that. But when it happens, will you be prepared? Will you be able to do justice to the gift that’s presented to you?
The first part of that preparation comes with being in the right place at the right time. Luck plays a role here, of course, but so does the ability to anticipate and predict the weather.
One way of doing this is to include the sun in the frame. Nothing says “sunny and bright” like the sun itself. But putting the sun in your photograph brings challenges. First, you’re likely to get lens flare. This is not the end of the world—in fact, many photographs use lens flare to great effect—but sometimes the flare can be distracting. The other challenge is getting the exposure right.
Light Against Dark
Many of the most effective photographs share a simple lighting concept: they either place a light subject against a dark background, or a dark subject against a light background.
This first photograph of two dogwood blossoms is a perfect example of a light subject against a dark background. In fact the background isn’t just dark; it’s completely black, so there’s nothing to compete visually with the flowers. The contrast creates a simple and dramatic image.
This light-against-dark situation is what makes photographs of Horsetail Fall so striking when conditions are right. The waterfall stands out because it’s brighter than the surrounding cliffs – and, of course, because of the color.
During my just-completed Hidden Yosemite workshop we had many opportunities to photograph reflections of all kinds. The accompanying photographs represent a mini-gallery of reflection photographs that I made during and just prior to the workshop, with extended captions to explain the thought process behind each image. Most of these are not mirror reflections; instead, they’re focused on the water’s colors and textures.
The photograph above is a good example. I positioned the camera carefully to avoid, as much as possible, visual mergers between the foreground rocks. I wanted the shape of each rock to stand out clearly, as those shapes are the point of this composition: they set up a repeating pattern, and lead your eye from foreground to background.
Gear Doesn’t Matter—Except When it Does
Regular readers know that I’m not much of an equipment geek. It’s not that I don’t think equipment is important—a photographer needs good tools. It’s just that I think light, composition, technique, vision, and imagination are more important. In other words, how you use the tools is more important than what tools you use.
But sometimes the right gear can make a difference. Two weeks ago I was recording video segments for some online courses I’m working on (more about that later!), and needed a digital SLR that could record video—something my trusty old Canon 1Ds Mark II can’t do—for some “through-the-lens” views. So I called up my friend Jim Goldstein. Many of you know Jim through his popular blog and social media streams. Jim also works for Borrowlenses.com, and he set me up with a Canon 5D Mark III for my video shoot, and then asked, “Is there anything else you need?” Hmm… well I’ve been wanting to test the Canon 24mm f/1.4L lens for night photos, so yes, there was something else!