As the term “landscape photographer” implies, the photographer must go to where the best landscape is found. That may be in some fairly isolated locations. In order to record the scenery, the photographer should have a camera and assorted accessories that make the creation easier. Getting to where the landscape is may require hauling your gear into some fairly remote areas.
Don’t get me wrong, it is great to get into the natural environment and create art with your camera. But carrying the necessary gear can be heavy and bulky. Many advocate a minimalist approach. But what I have found is just when you thought that you have the basic gear needed, the opportunity for a shot requiring the lens that left at home is key.
Believe me I have tried an array backpacks and bags.
Backpacks provide an easy way to carry your equipment. Many packs are equipped with a belt strap to transfer some of the weight off your shoulders and onto the waist. The problem with the backpacks is whenever you want to change the camera’s lens or add a filter, it becomes necessary to remove the pack. This requires you to locate a level surface to place the backpack. Finding a spot requires time, and often time is of the essence. Light changes, clouds move, or any number of conditions alter, changing the scene. The moment is lost. Your opportunity is squandered in the search for a piece of equipment.
Shoulder bags, when filled with all the necessary equipment, are heavy and one shoulder bears the burden of the load. I found that I had to continually move the bags from shoulder to shoulder to relieve the stress. Though it is easier to access the equipment, it is difficult to shoot with a heavy bag on your shoulder. Again, it becomes necessary to search for a clean spot to set the bag.
After years of searching, the best solution I have found is manufactured by Lowe Pro. Lowe Pro’s S&F Technical Vest is designed with SlipLock™ System, it has a harness system created for outdoor photographers. This system consists of a belt and shoulder system with loops to attach varying sized pouch for lens and miscellaneous gear. The support system transfers the weight evenly along the shoulders and waist, making it easier to haul the load.
Your gear is easily accessible, when you need it. Having the equipment within arm’s reach, makes changing lens and filters a quick process. Minutes count when you are in the field and the light is changing.
This past week I visited Key Vista Park. It is part of the Pasco County Park system. What I like about this park is that it has an usual terrain than most of the surrounding area. The park is situated on a bluff adjacent to Sand Bay, with Rocky Creek bordering it on the north. Ancolte Key can be seen from the beach area. It reminds me of California.
On this trip I took my time and concentrated on the woods and fallen trees. A tripod allowed for a more studied approach to shooting.
Logs shot in Key Vista Park
This tree had been cut by park crews after it had fallen. Its position in relation to other downed tree created lines that were interesting. A feature in the Photoshop CS5 mimics the HDR effect.
Key Vista Park is forested and there is a sign on the bulletin board advising anyone encountering a black bear to call the park service.
Key Vista Woods
Rocky creek has a lagoon and that day I arrived at low tide.
Rockey Creek at low tide
Though I was only there for a short time, it was great photographing this beautiful park.
As artists working with the camera, something that we need to remember is that the camera observes the world differently than we do. It has happened to me on more occasions than I would like to admit. Your eye embraces a great scene. We are sometimes overwhelmed with sights, smells and tactual sensations of the breeze on your skin or mist from a waterfall. You think that you have thought of everything and then your emotions override the process of taking the photo. When you get the finished image from the printer or you see it on the computer screen. You scream, What happened to my masterpiece?
It may not be your fault, but it could a disconnect between how you as a human perceives the outer world as opposed to how, the tool, the camera, records the world.
Let’s look at how the camera sees its surroundings. The camera, regardless of how sophisticated, has certain limitations. Most importantly, it has only one eye. Why should that matter to the photographer? Because the camera cannot distinguish between objects in the distance and far away. It flattens the scene. With two eyes we perceive the depth of field. The mountain in the distance is farther away and the tree closer. It keeps us from walking into things .
But what be done, you ask? There are things that you as a photographer can do to overcome this obstacle.
First thing that you will want to do, now that you know that the camera has only one eye, is to mimic the camera. When you find the scene that you want to shoot, close one eye and look at the scene again. It looks different doesn’t it?
Second thing is, look around and see if there is anything that would add depth to the shot. By this I mean, find something in the area that will frame the main subject. Something like a tree branch, arches through a wall or an outcropping of rocks. Something in the foreground or in edges of the viewfinder frame that is closer than the main subject. The human eye will add depth to the photo when there is an object in foreground.
An example of using the foreground to add depth
Another weather related trick to adding depth is mist or fog. Objects further away seems to fade and the further objects almost disappear. This creates a sense of depth for the viewer.
An example of using fog to create depth
Look for lines that extend into the scene. A road will become narrower as it stretches into the distance. This adds depth as well.
An example of a road narrowing into the distance giving depth to photo
Experiment with these photography tips and just get out there and shot. And by all means, have fun.
Creating a sense of excitement about your finished art is rewarding.It is rewarding for you and those viewing your art, because, after all, your patrons deserve the best art that you can produce.
A major component of a great piece of art is its composition.It is composition that draws the viewer’s eye into the piece.It conveys to the viewer the emotions you experienced when you captured the scene.
In this article, I would like to cover two elements, that when, incorporated into an image, create a sense of depth. Depth, in any work of art, crafts an illusion. It creates an illusion that the two dimensional becomes three dimensional.
Any photo that centers on the main subject with the exclusion of its surroundings becomes a static shot of that subject.It becomes a snapshot. Our aim and our goal is to create art.
For example, a lighthouse, when photographed in the center of the photo, is a snapshot. Certain elements from the surroundings should be included in the photo to give a feel for the size of the lighthouse or produce an emotion about the lighthouse.The same concept applies to mountains, waterfalls, sunsets and sunrises.
Two techniques we will cover in this article are framing and foreground.
Framing, when done correctly, helps define the main subject.Framing gives the photograph perspective. It highlights the subject giving the viewer a new or more interesting way of looking at the subject. Perhaps the subject has been photographed a thousand times, but by properly framing the shot, the viewer can see the image with a different perspective. This unique view produces the OHH WOW factor for your patron.
An example of using the trees for framing
When a subject touches your soul and screams “photograph me!”Do it! But after the initial rush, step back and look around. Is there something that could be added to the photo that would frame the subject in a unique fashion?An archway, a gate or a tree branch that would add to the finished image would frame the main subject.It may take a little exploring, but a framing opportunity exists somewhere and you just have to ferret it out. In most instances, the photographers who have shot this scene prior to you probably didn’t bother to take the time to find this distinctive point of view.Be prepared to spend a little time in search of the framing element that makes your shot.When you find it, it will be worth the effort.
A second technique useful in creating successful images is including the foreground into the image. The addition of the foreground adds depth to the photo by giving a point of reference to your subject.The foreground leads the eye into the main subject. Often including the foreground may mean that you will have to lower your tripod closer to the ground. If not using a tripod, then you may want to kneel or lie down on the ground. By simply lowering the camera, more of the foreground will enter into the picture.When including more of the foreground, I would also suggest using a smaller aperture, a setting of 20 or less. The smaller aperture increases the clarity of the image throughout the photo, adding depth of field. Many digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a preview button that allows the photographer an opportunity to see what the finished image will look like prior to pushing the shutter release.
It’s best to have a checklist prior to shooting, and be sure to use it.
An example of using the boulders in the foreground to add depth
I would like to address framing as it relates to the presence of people or animals in a photo. Because my art is centered on landscape and nature photography, primarily, I will be referring to animals. The presence of humans in the image should receive the same attention. When photographing wildlife, there is an inclination to focus on the subject. This leads to the tendency by many photographers to center that animal in the center frame of the photo. Unfortunately this creates a static image. Static images are usually uninteresting. One glaring exception is the close-up, where the subject fills the frame.
Creatures are either moving from place to place looking for their the next meal or mate. Rarely are they quietly contemplating their existence or worrying about the way their lives are going.
So. with that in mind, the creature should be moving toward something or watching for something.
In the example below the bird is in flight. Yes that is a bird. I would love to say that I waited patiently for the cormorant, the bird in the photo, to appear, but it was a just luck. But there he is winging his way across Lake Tarpon in Florida. The space in front of the bird gives it freedom to move through the image.
Lake Tarpon at Dawn
Now in the image below, I gave the alligator lying on the log an area that it could be gazing into and watching for its next meal. Or it could just be sunning itself, it is after all a cold blooded creature.
Framing with space in front of the gator gives it somewhere to look.
Alligator sunning on a log
There is an interesting story to go along with this photo. My focus was on the image below. Having set up my tripod, I had shot several exposures. I packed up and moved a little further down the trail. Minutes later returning, a passerby asked me if I saw the gator. It had been not more than 15 feet from me the whole time.
Reflection on the Hillsborough River
It’s always good to be aware of your surroundings. I briefly forgot, but you can bet that I am more cautious now.
Composition is the heart of the photo. Composition leads to the work of art that starts from inspiration. Inspiration begins when you disconnect with the interior struggles of everyday life and free the spirit to experience the world around you. Truly being in the moment and experiencing nature links you with all around you.
Afternoon on Foggy Mountain- Gregory Colvin Photography
It may sound like meditation, but awareness of your surroundings without interference of outside thoughts clears the mind and sharpening your senses. Images appear where you did not see them before. The elements begin to align and art emerges.
Joseph Cornell in his book “Listening to Nature How to Deepen Your Awareness of Nature” had this exercise. Walk into an area that you would like to photograph. Instead of setting up the camera and shooting. Sit down. Wait. Relax. Be still and sense the moment. Very quietly become conscious of nature. The Native Americans called this “silent hunting”. Nature will speak to you, but you must be quiet. Nature speaks softly. If you are patient, nature will reveal herself to you. And incredible images will appear.
There are many times that I have entered the woods with camera in hand and not found anything that I wanted to photograph. It could be that I was not ready or nature did not want to reveal herself. Perhaps she didn’t feel photogenic that day. Other days, scenes appear as if by magic. So don’t be disappointed if you can’t find anything to shoot on any given day. Use that time to scout the area for future opportunities and revel in the fact that you have a chance to be outdoors.
Take this as an opportunity to plan for future shots. At these times think, what if the light was coming from a different direction. Coming back in the early morning or late afternoon may produce a better image. Seasons change the landscape. Perhaps shooting in the fall, with the foliage in brilliant colors, or winter with a fresh layer of snow would create the photo that you desire.
Don’t rush yourself when seeking that image. Time with nature is a joy all by its self. If you don’t find anything to shoot, the sheer pleasure of being one with the outdoors is worth the experience.
Recently I received an email from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Florida. It contained resources for art marketing. One in particular caught my attention. It is a site that prints photo business cards, postcards and other marketing items. There are, of course, hundreds of business printing sites out there, but what makes this site unique is each card has a different image on it. The best part is that the image is your art. Here are some of the photo cards that I ordered.
Business cards for Gregory Colvin Photography by MOO.com
Personally I like the idea. When handing out business cards, people get the opportunity to pick one of their favorites.
Prices are extremely affordable at Moo.com. I elected to have 25 images printed on my business cards, so I would have two of each in every pack. They come in packs of 25, with a hard case that is looks great!
The only problem I encountered is there was not enough space to add my entire website email, so I had to use another email address. But the card stock is thicker than other business cards I have ordered and creates great presentation.
I liked these art business cards so much that I became an affiliate.
I give the company and product two thumbs up. Try them! You won’t be disappointed.
MOO Business Cards – Go Green! Create customized Business Cards made with 100% recycled, recyclable and biodegradable paper.
Canyons of Georgia by Gregory Colvin Photography- Soft Effects created in PhotoShop
One question I get when I show my photos in art shows is, “Do you use PhotoShop on your photos?” The answer is yes, of course. Let me explain why.
Many times I have attended outdoor craft shows and observed the work of photographers. They brag that they don’t use PhotoShop to alter their photos. You can tell. Being polite, I refrain from telling them what I think. These are same photographers who complain that they can’t get into the juried art shows and usually blame the judges. It’s not the judges. It’s the fact that their photos are uninteresting. Without the photographer’s input into the finished photo, it becomes a snapshot. Using techniques available to the photographer, and the photographer’s creative use of these techniques are why they are artists and not snapshot photographers.
When you observe something that creates enough interest that you want to share that scene with others, or just record it for your own enjoyment, you are experiencing it with all your senses at that moment. You smell fragrance of the foliage or flowers. You hear the birds, the surf or the wind through the trees. All these elements combine to create the desire to record the experience. These external influences contribute to your selection of the subject you want to photograph, whether you know it or not. When you capture the image, the camera cannot record the smells, feelings and sounds. It is up to you, as the artist photographer, to translate for the viewer the experiences that lead to your selection of this particular subject. This is accomplished when your audience sees the finished photo and has the same awe that you had when you selected that subject.
The camera on its own cannot recreate your experience. The camera is a tool, it cannot smell the flowers, feel the breeze or hear the surf. It is up to the artists to manipulate the image to relay the emotion that lead you to hit the shutter release.
It is up to you to decide, whether you are going to short change your viewer or create works and allow them to experience the beauty that you encountered in nature.
As photographers, we are continually striving to achieve that perfect photo. Getting out early to catch the morning light and then out again for the afternoon’s golden tones.
I want to pass on some techniques that I use to make a better photo. Let’s start with the tripod, the base of a great photo.
Photographer Sam Johnson using the Tripod at Vista Park in Florida
Sharpness is the number one goal of photographer, unless, that is, you are creating abstract photos. One of the best ways that I have found to achieve a sharp, clear photo is the use of a tripod. Tripods were a necessity in the early days of photography. Cameras were heavy and the exposure times were measured in minutes instead of a fraction of a second. It was impossible to handhold a camera steady in those circumstances. Modern cameras are lighter and advances in image stabilization are built into many new cameras and lenses. However, the tripod provides a solid base that helps eliminate camera shake and offers additional benefits.
Mounting the camera on a tripod allows the photographer ample time to frame the image. This is time to really look through the viewfinder. I would suggest examining the scene in the viewfinder, side to side and up and down. By taking this extra time you can eliminate the need to crop out that tree or pole from your subject’s head.
Using a tripod slows the process and calms you down. It allows you time to truly plan your shot. The mere act of setting up the tripod and mounting the camera prepares you to enter the “zone.” An example of the hurry up and shoot can be witnessed on any scenic overlook. Next time you’re traveling where scenic overlooks are present, stop and watch as car after car stops, the occupants exit the car, take a couple of shots and quickly get back in the car and drive off. When they get home, download or get the film developed, they wonder why the photos are not representative of the scene they remember. I’m sure you feel the same way I do. Photography is something to be enjoyed and savored, not rushed.
A solid base provided by the tripod is useful when you are creating a series of exposures. Panoramic photos require that the horizon be level and a series of shots at various exposures are required to create High Dynamic Range images. Future articles will discuss the process of creating High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography.
In low light situations, the tripod permits the photographer to create images using longer exposures. This is important in the predawn and late dusk when soft light bathes the landscape. During the night, it allows prolonged exposures that are quite spectacular and would be impossible without a tripod.
Modern tripods are lighter in weight and more compact than those manufactured not that many years ago. Sturdy ultra light weight tripods come at a price, but remember that after you purchase one, a quality tripod will last a lifetime. Be certain to check that the tripod can support your camera and lens. The manufacturer will list the weight any particular tripod will support.
Gregory Colvin is a fine art photographer specializing in fine art landscape photography. His art has been exhibited in art museums, juried art shows and is in the collection of private and corporate collectors.