Archive for the ‘Vision and Creativity’ Category

The Power of Diagonals

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome at sunset from Tunnel View, Yosemite. The dramatic light might grab your attention here, but the interlocking diagonal lines create a cohesive design and a sense of energy.


 

One of the keys to learning composition is to think abstractly. As Ian Plant says in his excellent ebook about composition, Visual Flow, “Learning to think abstractly about visual elements is the single most important thing you can do to improve your compositional skills.” The less you think about the subject, and the more you think about the underlying abstract design – the lines, shapes, and patterns – the better you compositions will be.

It’s often easier to think abstractly when photographing a small subject, like a pattern of leaves, or a series of cracks in ice. But it’s just as important to look for repeating lines and shapes in big, sweeping landscapes. One of the most common – and powerful – designs in these big scenes is a series of interlocking diagonal lines. Most hilly or mountainous areas have an abundance of diagonals, and diagonal lines give a photograph a sense of dynamic energy and motion – a perfect fit for dramatic landscape images.

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Knowing What to Look For

Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO, USA

Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO

 
Claudia and I have been busy since our trip to Colorado in early October, so I haven’t had a chance to post more images from our travels until now. But maybe that’s a good thing, as that time has given me a chance to reflect on the journey.

It had been a dream of mine to photograph the autumn aspen display in Colorado, and it more than lived up to my expectations. Colorado veterans said it was the best fall there in many years, and it certainly looked good to us. The sheer number of aspens covering the hillsides was astonishing.

The problem was that I didn’t know the area. At all. I’m usually writing about photographing Yosemite, or maybe the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra, places that I know intimately. That knowledge is a big advantage, giving me a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the light, weather, and conditions.

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Autumn Light

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Late-afternoon sun in an aspen grove, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

Late-afternoon sun in an aspen grove, Eastern Sierra. Backlight makes autumn leaves glow, but to avoid lens flare you have to either shade the lens (if the sun is out of the frame), or partially hide the sun behind a tree, as I did here.

 
Light is a vital aspect of any photograph, and always the first thing I think about when deciding where to go with my camera. The more you understand light, the better your photographs will be.

Any kind of light can work for fall color – under the right circumstances. But some kinds seem to work better than others. While photographing and leading workshops in the eastern Sierra, I was usually looking for backlight or soft light on the aspens – or best of all, soft backlight.

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Getting Down to the Essentials

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Wildflowers island and cascade, eastern Sierra, CA, USA

Wildflower island and cascade, eastern Sierra; 100mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, 100 ISO

It’s been an interesting summer in the Sierra. Last winter was one of the driest on record, but over the last month or so we’ve seen a steady flow of monsoonal moisture flowing up from the southeast, leading to frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms over the higher elevations. We even heard about an epic deluge two or three weeks ago that flooded the parking lot and some of the tent cabins at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.

That extra moisture has kept the streams flowing and flowers blooming in the high country longer than I would have expected. On Saturday Claudia and I hiked up one of the eastern Sierra canyons and found a pretty series of cascades, with an island of late-summer flowers in the middle.

Although I make my share of black-and-white photographs, I’ve always been attracted to color. I often look for color, then try to build a composition around it. As I tell my workshop students, color isn’t enough – you need to find a design to go with that color.

In this case, that design proved to be elusive. The most obvious composition was a wide-angle view with a patch of flowers at the bottom, and the upper cascade above. But there was a distracting pile of logs at the base of the cascade that cluttered the image, with no obvious way to eliminate or minimize the logs. I have nothing against logs, but in this case I was interested in the flowers and water, and the logs broke up the visual flow between the flowers and water, diluting the photograph’s message:

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Smoky Beauty

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Sun rising through smoke from the El Portal Fire, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun rising through smoke from Tunnel View, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Early Monday morning I drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping that smoke from the El Portal and Dark Hole fires might create some interesting atmospheric effects. Yes, I went looking for smoke, something that photographers usually avoid. But smoke can impart a wonderful, ethereal quality to photographs – like fog, but with more color.

At Tunnel View the smoke was thick enough to give the scene a misty, painterly look, but not so thick that you couldn’t see anything. Eventually the orange ball of the sun appeared through the smoke, accompanied by a patterned cloud formation (above). Later, along the Merced River, the smoke lent a similar painterly mood to scenes of El Capitan and Three Brothers (below). And much later, near sunset, the sun turned into an orange ball again as it sunk into the smoke to the west (below).

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A Lucky Accident

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Great egret landing, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Great egret landing, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

This image was a lucky accident. I was standing next to my car along a tour route at one the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley, looking at a large flock of sandhill cranes and Ross’s geese, when I saw this egret flying by. I quickly turned, pressed the autofocus button on the back of the camera, followed the bird, and held the shutter button down as the egret landed.

The photograph languished in my archives for awhile before I processed it. Maybe I didn’t realize its potential right away because it was such a grab shot. But I did finally process it recently, and found several things to like about it.

First, there’s the contrast. Most of the frame is dark, but the two key elements – the bird and the road – are lighter, so they stand out. Any time you can place a light subject against a dark background, and have that subject stand out cleanly and distinctly against its surroundings, you have the potential for a strong image. There’s no sunlight in this photo, so the contrast isn’t created by sun and shade, but by the juxtaposition of a white bird against dark vegetation. But it doesn’t matter how the contrast is created, as long as it’s there. (The same idea also works for dark subjects against light backgrounds. I talk more about both kinds of contrast in this post.)

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Top Ten Posts of 2013: Creating Depth

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons near the northern California coast, USA

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons near the northern California coast, USA

Continuing our look at back at the most popular posts of 2013, here’s one that’s been extremely popular – in fact it’s my most-read post ever. It’s from January 2013, and it’s called Creating Depth: Beyond the Wide-Angle Formula.

This post looks at some alternatives to the popular, wide-angle, near-far look that you see in so many landscape photographs – alternatives like atmospheric effects, subtle perspective clues, and size comparisons. And the article also explains why many photographs and paintings with a sense of depth have something in common that’s not immediately obvious.

To all of you who read this article, commented, or wrote me an email response, thanks very much! Your participation makes writing this blog fun, and I know your comments make reading it more enjoyable for everyone.

— Michael Frye

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

Let It Snow

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

In a recent post I talked about adapting your composition to the light, rather than hoping that the light adapts to your composition. Nowhere is this more true than at Tunnel View. Sometimes the classic view – with El Capitan on the left, and Cathedral Rocks on the right – works perfectly. But not always. When I made this photograph the most interesting part of the scene was a small area in the distance where the light was hitting Half Dome and the valley floor below, so I zoomed in with my 70-200mm lens, turned the camera to a vertical orientation, and filled the frame with just those two spots.

Looking at this photograph made me think about clearing storms, and snow, and Christmas coming. I hope we get lots of snow this winter, not just for the sake of photographers, but for everyone in California. We’ve had two straight years of meager precipitation here, and we really need a wet winter. So let it snow!

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Courting Luck: How to Take Advantage of Special Light and Weather in Landscape Photography; Courting Luck, Part 2: Adapting Your Composition to the Conditions; A Beautiful Week in Yosemite

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

What’s the Least Interesting Part of This Photograph?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View. What’s the least interesting part of this image?

The best compositions are simple; they present only the essentials, and leave out extraneous clutter. The most common mistake in photography – by far – is including too much in the frame. Anything that’s not adding to the photograph’s message is detracting from it.

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?

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Courting Luck, Part 2: Adapting Your Composition to the Conditions

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Half Dome and the Merced River, late afternoon, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and the Merced River, 4:28 p.m.

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.

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