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Been seeing a lot of landscape photography by some very enthusiastic photographers. There’s some great photography being created.
However, I do often see a few common issues that can be corrected.
Crooked Horizon Lines: Because of nature (as in bent trees, poles that are actually falling over); or the nature of wide angle lenses – a foreground element may appear to be crooked if the horizon line is level.
Don’t let that sway you – the horizon is level.
There may actually be a good reason for the horizon to appear un-level such as a curved shore of water – but that’s an illusion and usually means you have to re-orient your camera. Sometimes its as easy as just keeping the camera level side to side and front to back. Sometimes it means you have to move up or down to get the proper perspective.
If your horizon appears crooked – you’re photo looses effectiveness. Elements in the photo can be a little crooked – but if the horizon is off the photo will never be as strong as it could be. So really pay attention to that when you look through the camera as you shoot. Its not easy to spot slight problems in level and perspective, but the more you can learn to see that in camera the less time you’ll spend on the computer.
If the horizon is obscured by hillsides, mountains, etc – you may have to play with it a bit to figure out what is correct.
There are tools to put on your camera to make sure everything is level – if you continually have problems with level this can be a great investment (and yes I have one in my camera bag.)
Now – if you do miss something, that can generally be fixed in editing. Cropping and rotating can be done with every image software that comes with cameras, or you can find free programs like GIMP (open source image editor – GIMP.org) or with online programs like Picassa, or with higher-level editors like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
If you use Photoshop – there’s something in the last few editions called “Puppet Warp” which can straighten errant objects if need be.
Centered Horizon: The second thing I often see – and honestly this is something I learned very recently – is the horizon near the centre of the image.
Now, I’ve known the Rule Of Thirds for a long time so I rarely put the horizon in the middle anyways. The image is typically just more interesting with the horizon one third of the way from the top or the bottom.
But there’s a bigger reason – which I mentioned – I just learned. The visual sense of depth of the image is greater by using the Rule of Thirds. By placing the horizon in the middle, you loose the sense of depth.
Now creating a ‘flattened image’ is fine if you’re creating an intentionally ‘graphic’ image rather than a ‘pictorial’ image.
Typically however, we’re using foreground, middle ground and background to help the viewer sense the same depth which we experienced as we shot it. However because we’re translating reality from three dimensions into two dimensions, we have to use tricks to keep that sense of the third dimension and the Rule of Thirds can help with that.
Not ‘using’ light to best advantage: Light can hide or reveal, it can bring forward or push backward, it can create moods or not. Many landscape photographers try to only shoot at the “magic hour” which is really about 5 to 10 minutes on a cloudless day when the sun has dipped below the horizon but light is still plentiful.
That’s not the only light to use – although it is beautiful when you catch it. Any time of day can be good, but look at where the light is working to create a great picture, and where you might want to ‘let that one go’ or at least realize it won’t be a prize winning shot. Nothing wrong with that – we photograph to capture memories of times and places and not having a picture of something you want to remember is worse than a ‘so-so’ picture of it. If you can arrange to come back to the same place when the light is better – perfect.
But, sometimes that just isn’t possible.
The factors of light to consider: Direction, Quality and Colour.
Direction: Light from the side brings out more detail than light from behind you. Light from behind the subject can create drama.
Quality: Is it mid-day sunlight which is very harsh, or is it an overcast grey day which happens to make colours in the foreground very saturated? Is there spotty light that can create the dramatic shots (best when you’re located under the cloud but an interesting feature/mountain/building is in strong light.)
There is no “bad” light – just “un-interesting” use of it – if its cloudy, concentrait on small subjects, if its sunny concentrait on the big. If the sun is behind you – either look left or right for a subject, or rotate around your subject to get more detail.
One photographer recently suggested if you’re shooting mid-day, convert the photos to black and white. Most of Ansel Adams fantastic photos were taken mid day and black and white was part of why they became iconic (although he did do some wonderful colour work as well.)
I hope that helps you create some great landscapes.
Quite often it is best to focus on your intended subject (and if its a person, on their eyes), then hold the focus and recompose the image to make the composition stronger – like having your subject to one side or the other rather than dead center.
Most modern dSLR’s have multiple focus points available to get good focus on subjects in the middle as well as to the edges of photos. For most accurate focus it’s often best to manually choose a focus point rather than let the camera choose one – an example would be focusing on the subject’s eyes.
If you’re working with a shallow Depth of Field (see Depth Of Field to learn more about this subject) and use the center point of a multiple point focusing system (common in most dSLRs) then the focus might actually be behind the subject because the ‘focal plane’ will swing on an arc. Its best to choose a focus point in your camera closest to where you’ll want the subject positioned.
Please check out your camera manual to find out how to do that with your specific camera.
Here is an example - if you’re shooting a full-length portrait, the best camera height is about waist level and the best focus is on the subject’s eyes. (Yes, we’ve cut off the subject’s legs in this illustration, but in a photo you’d show the legs as well.)
However as you swing the camera down to recompose it the focal plane swings in an arc and winds up about the subject’s ears rather than the subject’s eyes.
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“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
Landscape photography is at the same time one of the easiest and most difficult subjects to approach. It is easy because landscapes are so familiar and accessible – they are all around us, and by now most of the obvious scenic views are catalogued tourist attractions with established viewpoints. In addition, landscapes are pretty permanent; they don’t move, and so all that is necessary is to get there with a camera. Finally, for the simplest shot, there are no extreme technical difficulties.
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From wide open spaces to rugged mountains, rolling meadows to dramatic coastlines they all play an important part in the nature of landscape. However, with such a view it is often hard to appreciate the beauty because there is nowhere for the eye to settle and concentrate on.
Why not take a fresh approach to nature photography and concentrate on part of the view and take time to consider color, shape and texture to really appreciate the finer features of the scene.
Enter the world of close up photography that lies just beyond the familiar but so rich in detail and beauty. If we look through our close up lens with an open mind, imagination and childlike curiosity there are many close up photography opportunities for us to consider.
As nature photographers we can take this concept further, for example that distant bright yellow patch becomes on closer inspection a riotous stand of broom flowers. Closer still we see clearly the intricate detail in each flower and seedpod that we can record in our close up photography.
Now go really close, look at the seedpod with its gossamer covering of fine hairs and we start to appreciate how things fit together. Whilst this is not a scientific approach it provides a raw and basic understanding, offers enlightenment and lets us become an integral part of nature. So by going close up and concentrating on a small part of the whole we have simplified our close up photography subject, made it basic, powerful and memorable,.
There is no need to go far, finding close up nature photography opportunities should be seen as a journey of the soul, inner vision and contemplation rather than visiting a far off place. Often the deeper we look into our close up photography subjects the more rewarding they become. Without hesitation they reveal their treasures allowing us time to admire their quality. With this awareness the nature photographer with a passion for close up photography is indeed privileged.
Appreciating that all these parts form an important relationship with each other makes it is easier to understand that the whole is made up of many unique parts and like pieces of a jigsaw they combine together to create a complete picture. Indeed, only by appreciating the significance of the smallest parts of our surroundings can we can start to make sense of nature as a whole and incorporate this awareness into our close up photography.
Emotion and drama and be found in often overlooked close up photography cameos, like a delicate flower growing defiantly in a boulder crevice, its tenuous grip on life dependent on the sustenance from the crevice debris. Yet it lives on year after year, testimony to its determination and resilience. It is this inter-action that is so enduring and compelling that makes these interesting subjects perfect for nature photography.
As a close up photographer getting close up to nature allows a greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. For example a cold clear winter day with breathtaking crispness can be ideal for close up photography, in these conditions there are magical patterns in snow, frost and shimmering icicles. Ice patterns make perfect winter close up photography subjects; they literally capture a moment frozen in time. Depending on the prevailing weather conditions some have smooth curves whilst others show harsh jagged lines providing creative close up photography opportunities.
Early morning in spring and summer can be a wonderful time to find close up photography subjects. Flowers and grasses covered with dew or fine rain make fascinating close up photography studies, the fine hairs hold onto droplets of water almost defy gravity. In the right conditions there may be insects that after a night’s inactivity have become encrusted with minute droplets. Butterflies make excellent close up photography subjects and look stunning covered in dew as they sparkle like a myriad of jewels.
Light quality plays an important role in our close up photography, if it is too harsh the increase in contrast will actually block out the very close up detail we are trying to photograph. It is far better to have diffused light that occurs with high thin cloud cover. It provides a much softer quality of light and allows the detail, texture and nuances to be clearly seen and recorded in our close up photography. Color also influences our interpretation of the subject, vibrant colors like red and yellow for example suggest dominance and power, whereas muted tones like grey and browns convey basic, earthy and tranquil feelings.
So, if we approach our close up photography with childlike wonder and a renewed vision the natural world is undoubtedly a beautiful place. To fully appreciate it requires a little time and an inquisitive mind, it will reward you with the knowledge that even the simplest of things can bring satisfaction, contentment, harmony and inner peace.
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One way of making sure your composition is strong is to pay attention to the positive and negative spaces.
The primary subject of your photo, a person, building, toy car, whatever, is the “positive space.”
Negative space is everything else. Something you see in a lot of photography is things sticking out of heads, wires across the scene you didn’t see when taking the picture, and so on. This is just from paying so much attention to the subject that photographers forget what is in the background or surrounding the subject.
Exercise: take pictures of three different subjects outside. Doesn’t matter what they are, a person, a car, a building. While taking the picture, don’t worry about the subject, just pay attention to what is around and behind the subject.
Use the background to compose the shot – for this exercise, the actual subject is not important. If the background is not working for you, move around until it is – zoom in or zoom out to change perspective, get low, or go higher. Whatever makes the background a pleasing photo.
There are a few ways to achieve balance in photos.
The first is through symmetry – where you have equal size subjects on either side of the photo. This creates a static, solid look with little movement.
The second is to place dissimilar size objects on either side, but to use the center of the photo as a balance point in an asymmetrical composition. Just like an adult and a child on a teeter-toter, the adult has to be much closer to the center balance point for the child not to be held way up in the air the whole time. If you have a grouping of objects on one side, you’ll need something further out on the other side to create balance. An asymmetrical composition creates a sense of movement and action, even if the subject is a stone.
Exercise – collect a bunch of rocks, some similar size and some dissimilar. On the sidewalk or other handy surface, try creating several symmetric and asymmetric compositions, taking pictures of each.
This exercise is based on exercises in Drawing on the Artist Within. This is an excellent book for learning about creating art – the basics are taught through drawing but are applicable to all art forms and just great for learning to be creative. I highly recommend it. (click on the cover image to purchase from Amazon.com)
Another dynamic composition tool is to include a “S” curve. As the name suggests, a major element of the composition would be an object such as a stream, path, railing, or other curved object that creates an “S.”
If the S is right facing and starts in the lower left corner and exits the upper right corner – the feeling for most English speaking people is that the picture is moving away from the viewer.
If the “S” is reversed, and starts in the upper left corner coming down to the lower right, the picture seems to be coming towards the viewer. This effect is from, I believe, learning to read left to right.
Exercise: Go out and find an S Curve to photograph. Explore right facing and left facing curves and see how they feel to you.
A nice dynamic method of composing a photo is to have a diagonal line running through he photo, from corner to corner or from 1/3 down from the top to 1/3 up from the bottom. The line could be a street, a fence rail, a road or a shoreline. Anything which creates a line or division in the picture.
Whether the line rises or falls creates different feelings about the photo. Typically, for English speaking people and others with “left to right” direction of writing, if an line descends into the picture from top left to bottom right it appears to be entering the picture. If the line rises from bottom left to top right, it appears to be leaving the picture.
You can use those concepts to create specific feelings in your picture. Such as, a person standing beside a lake shore – if the line descends, it would suggest the person is entering the picture and thus would be, perhaps, happier and more inclusive. If the line is rising it would suggest the person is leaving and is thus more distant and removed.
Diagonal lines in photos can be used for what is called a “leading line” which helps the view be lead through the image in directed manner. Typically you’d have the lines “pointing” at the main subject of your photo – which puts the leading lines into the Negative Space (you’ll come across more about Negative Space in Lesson 11.)
Exercise: Find a location where you can use a line to run diagonally through a picture. Take two pictures, one with the line descending into the picture from the left, and the other rising to right.
The most used lesson in artistic composition is the rule of thirds. While there are lots of ways to compose pictures, this short cut always makes an image more interesting than most where the subject is dead center. If you’re shooting a close up of a person’s face or other object, putting it in the center is the thing to do. But, if you have a picture with a person in the center and lots of scenery around him or her – well, it could be improved.
Exercise: Take a piece of paper and draw two horizontal lines dividing the paper into thirds.
Draw two vertical lines again diving the paper into thirds.
Note the four places where lines intersect each other.
Now go take a picture of anything – placing the main subject at one of those four positions one third of the way from the top or bottom and one third of the way from the side. In fact, try placing the same subject at all four intersection positions. Take a look at the pictures.
With the basic lessons on Best Photo Lessons you can begin to take better photos of any subject and get more enjoyment from your photography. AND, all 12 of the basic lessons plus lots of other tips and techniques are free on Best Photo Lessons. You’ll find this is a great online photography school.
The lessons are arranged in an order that will systematically build your skills – but don’t be afraid to skip around, you may have some skills already or you may have a camera which doesn’t do the specific settings needed for a few of these lessons. Don’t worry, do what you can and shoot lots.
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