Archive for April 2016

Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast   6 comments

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

On the way to the intended sunset spot, I had to stop & shoot this sea stack. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200, handheld.

Sometimes I follow up the previous week’s Friday Foto Talk post with one that relates in some way to the topic.  So this post is an extension to Using Foregrounds Judiciously.  It’s an example of how I go about using foregrounds, and in general how I often shoot landscapes (it’s not how most do it).

EXAMPLE – Golden Hour on the Olympic Coast:  

A few days ago I was at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.  You may have seen pictures of the Olympic Coast on the web; it’s pretty popular with landscapers.  Less popular are sections of the coast away from the road that require hiking.  Backpackers are more common than serious photographers in these areas.

I scouted this one in the afternoon, hiking north along the beach to find good locations for what was looking like a great sunset.  I only took a few photos; mostly I just had fun beach-combing and exploring tide pools.  I don’t always scout ahead of time, but it’s nice when time allows.  It helps to give me ideas of how I want to portray the place.  And it’s fun!  Often I scout but then decide before golden hour to shoot somewhere else.  It’s still valuable though, since I can always return another day.

The coastline north of Rialto is spectacular and much too rugged for a road.  It has a wilderness feel, and it’s wise to take care if you decide to hike here.  Slippery rocks, rough surf, sneaker waves, and giant drift logs that can shift alarmingly under your weight are all potential dangers.

After setting up my camp just inland, I was pressed for time.  I knew where I wanted to hike to: just north of a place called Hole in the Wall (image below), but preferably a 1/2 mile or so farther.  Even though I was in a hurry, I shot along the way.The light was beautiful!  I didn’t take time with a tripod, but it wasn’t strictly necessary with the sun still above the horizon.  These little stops meant I wasn’t going to make it any further than Hole in the Wall, and even then it would be close.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200; hand-held.

There is a campsite just before a headland that you have to climb up and over to get where you can shoot Hole in the Wall itself.  Some large sea stacks (formerly one single stack that collapsed several years ago) lie just off the beach there.  This spot is the most popular at Rialto (why I wanted to go further).  A few had their tripods set up, waiting for sunset.  I passed them, shooting a few quick hand-helds.  The stacks there are just too big and close for my liking, at least in silhouette shooting sunset.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

From atop the headland over Hole in the Wall, Olympic Coast. 50 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod.

This may seem like I’m describing a measured approach, and it would’ve been if I was a bit earlier and the sun wasn’t sinking quickly (as it always does except for higher latitudes).  Truth is I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off!

I climbed the headland and shot a few pictures from up top, looking down and out to the north (image above).  Then I stumbled down to the beach, taking a shot along the way, and still I had not gotten any close foreground.  I spotted a tide-pool that was reflecting the lovely light.  It was on a rock shelf composed of thin-bedded sedimentary rock stood on its end, forming great leading lines.  Running down there, I finally got those close-foreground shots I wanted just as the sun set.  I was actually a tad late for the peak light, more on the cusp of blue hour.  But I was just in time for images that I’m happy with, and that’s what counts.

Post-sunset with turbidite sandstone beds standing on their ends, Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Finally some close foreground, which is turbidite sandstone beds standing on end: Olympic Coast. 21 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

The forest marches right up to the coast, and the big old-growth trees are eventually toppled and add to the collection of huge driftwood logs. 50 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11, ISO 400; hand-held.

As you can see, I try to jam in as much as possible when the light is good.  This is one reason I like to shoot alone.  Most landscapers would look at me and think “there’s a rank amateur”.  Most prefer to be already set up at one place, from which they will shoot for the entire time that light is at its peak.  They don’t miss shots like I sometimes do, but that’s because they’re not trying to get as much as I am.

Sometimes things backfire on me, but I like the variety I can get from a single “light event”.  And even well-planned shots can backfire anyway.  I do sometimes plan or visualize beforehand and stick to a plan to get a particular image.  On those occasions I try not to extemporize (much!).  But that isn’t my main modus operandi, simply because planned shots so often don’t work out.  There are too many variables at play.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

This was actually shot a few days later when I returned to get further north, where many pointed sea stacks lie offshore. 70 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/14, ISO 100; tripod.

To me it seems a bit old-fashioned to set up way ahead of time and stick your feet in the same place throughout the shoot.  It’s what was done in the old days with heavy large-format film gear, even glass plates if you go far enough back.  It’s also what you have to do when you’re shooting very popular compositions, just so you beat your competitors to the spot.  But digital gear is pretty darn lightweight.  So if you’re practiced at using your tripod and camera you can shoot different compositions in fairly rapid succession.  And who wants over-done shots anyway?

As you can see only one of my many shooting positions had very close foreground; the rest had either more distant foreground or middle-ground elements.  Some are just subject and sky.  I don’t always shoot like this of course.  Sometimes I like to work slower and get fewer shots, with more time to admire the moment.  But in a place like the Olympic Coast in great light, it’s tempting to make it sort of a workout.  When it goes well (like last night) I don’t feel stressed.  It’s actually sort of a rush, one that I slowly came down from walking back along the beach, the Pacific glinting in the moonlight.  Happy shooting!

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, the foreground not very close. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Sunset captured from atop a big drift log, almost to my close foreground but not quite there.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod.

Friday Foto Talk: Using Foreground Judiciously   6 comments

Yellow balsamroot fill the foreground in this recent image of Mount Hood in the early morning.

I’ve posted previously on using foreground elements in landscape photography.  We’ll look  at it from a  slightly different angle here, adding a bit of subjective opinion (surprise!) along the way.  But don’t worry, there’s plenty objective advice on successfully using foreground as well.

They are important, obviously.  But I think too many landscape photographers think they need to include close foregrounds in every picture.  I’ve also fallen prey to the frantic search for foreground while light is happening, but I’m more relaxed about it now, taking what is there.  The fact is I don’t think foreground is absolutely critical to a successful landscape photograph.

Foreground is certainly worth keeping in mind however.  It can add a sense of depth and, for very close foregrounds (the subject of last Friday Foto Talk), it can put the viewer in your pictures.  So how do we go about using foreground judiciously?

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

I visited this little waterfall near Lake Quinault, Washington this week. A mossy log forms a partial leading line in the foreground.

  • DEFINE FOREGROUND BROADLY.  It can be close, even very close.  But it doesn’t have to be.  A larger foreground subject can be placed further away in a composition and still act as a fairly dominant element.  If you place it too close it may be too dominant.  You don’t want the viewers to lose sight of that beautiful background.  Bonus: foreground elements that are even slightly further away will be easier to keep in focus along with your background.

Recent sunset on the Oregon Coast at Ecola State Park.  No real foreground here, just middle-ground sea stacks.

  • FOCAL LENGTH IS IMPORTANT.   Since balancing elements is important in any photo, focal length matters quite a lot.  If you’re at a very wide angle, say 16-20 mm. on a full-frame camera, you’ll need to get closer to the foreground subject so it doesn’t get lost.  Again, how close depends on its size, but also in the way it contrasts with the rest of the scene (color for example).  Exception: if you’re wanting to show a sense of scale, you may want a fairly small looking foreground subject.  Live subjects (especially humans) can be smaller in the frame because we naturally lock onto them whatever their size.
Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.

Sunset beach stroll on the lovely Andamon Sea island of Tarutao, Thailand.  Humans can be fairly far away and look small, and still be a kind of foreground subject for the image.

  • OBSERVE OBSERVE!  I’m always looking near and far when I’m out scouting locations or when the light is nice and I’m shooting.  I’ll get my face up close to see what a very close composition might look like.  I’m not the type to look through the viewfinder while searching for compositions.  I only do that once I see something I want to shoot, in order to dial in the exact composition I want.
Thought I'd throw in one showing how I'm getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

Thought I’d throw in one showing how I’m getting around on this little surprise trip back to the Pacific Northwest.

  • COMPOSE HOLISTICALLY.  If your foreground includes interesting patterns or leading lines, anything that helps the viewer to move on to the rest of the image, more the better.  But I don’t think in terms of abstract patterns, only the subject (see below).  So if I find a foreground subject that is interesting in some way, especially with regard to the overall environment I’m in, then I position myself to take advantage of any leading lines, layering effect, etc.

* Most landscape photographers will counsel that you look for the abstract patterns, leading lines and the like.  Though they’re important to include in photos, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.  We are naturally attracted to patterns, and once you have a good amount of time behind the lens, you do this without any conscious effort.  What requires conscious effort is to find subjects that mean something.  And in the case of landscape photos with foreground, that means finding multiple elements (hopefully meaningful subjects) that work together well.

On California's coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

On California’s coast, these large cobbles in the foreground are piled atop a wave-cut bench eroded and notched by the same kinds of rocks tumbled about during storms.

  • MIX IT UP.  I try to capture a variety of angles on a subject or scene.  If I come back from a shoot with only images with close foreground, I don’t feel I’ve succeeded, especially if the light was good.  I want images with at least a couple different foreground elements, some close and some a little further away.  I also like getting a few with no real foreground elements (maybe mid-ground).

I will post a follow-up that uses an example shoot to show how to make foreground just one part of your landscape images, not the whole enchilada.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Recent sunset on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees a a framing foreground element.

Day’s end on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees form framing foreground elements.

 

Mountain Monday: King’s Mtn., Oregon   3 comments

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon's Coast Range, including King's Mtn. visible in the distance.

The Wilson River flows west from the rugged peaks of Oregon’s Coast Range, including King’s Mtn. visible in the distance.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a Mountain Monday post.  Today I’ll focus on King’s Mountain in Oregon’s northern Coast Range.  But since it’s impossible to visit mountains without also coming across rivers and streams, I’ll also highlight the main river in this area.  While it has a modest elevation (3226’/983 m.), King’s Mtn. is nonetheless a steep and rugged peak.  I haven’t captured the mountain in a photo before this, at least from a distance.  I know it mostly from a loop hike that I’ve done a half dozen times or so.  It takes you up a steep few miles to the summit of King’s, then over a very rugged traverse to the equally steep Elk Mtn.  You then descend a vertiginous trail to the Wilson River, where you loop back to the car.  Next morning you may feel like you’ve been kicked by a mule!

King’s is cloaked in a lovely conifer forest along its lower slopes.  In autumn tasty golden chanterelles pop up in dells and behind mossy logs.  The golden chanterelle is the official state mushroom (yes, there’s an official mushroom!).  This beautiful green forest  has grown in from seedlings that were hand-planted after the disastrous Tillamook Burn in 1933 (plus succeeding fires in the 30s).  The Burn laid low nearly 450,000 acres of prime Oregon timber, most of that in a hellish 30-hours where huge trees were uprooted and thrown into the air by the winds ahead of the inferno.  It’s a big part of Oregon history.

The other part of this image is the beautiful Wilson River, which is famous for its steelhead runs.  It rolls swiftly through the forested landscape, and its deep green pools are lined with volcanic rock outcrops that on hot days beg to be leapt from into the cool green depths.  The Wilson flows down to the Pacific Ocean at the town of Tillamook (where I’m writing this).  You always know you’re approaching Tillamook because of that wonderful (not!) smell of dairy cows.  It’s still the best cheddar cheese I know of for a grilled cheese sandwich, on good sourdough bread of course!  Make sure and get your free samples if you ever come this way on a tour of their factory.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

The Wilson River banks are mostly lined with conifers and large vine maples, but frequent rock outcrops make for great places to fish or swim from.

Many springs empty into the Wilson.  I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

Many springs empty into the Wilson. I camped just a short stroll from this spot.

There are plenty of camping and picnicking sites to enjoy in the Tillamook State Forest where these images were captured.  A visitor center is located centrally not far west of the trailhead for King’s Mtn., and there are plenty of easier trails, including a rolling trail stretching 24 miles along the Wilson itself.  You obviously don’t need to do the whole 24 miles!  So if you ever find yourself traveling the Oregon Coast, consider a side-trip east along Hwy. 6 from Tillamook into the Coast Range.  Have a great week!

Friday Foto Talk: Very Close Focus in Landscape Photography   2 comments

Lupine in bloom this past week at Rowena Crest in Oregon.  Shot with my 21 mm. Zeiss, a sharp lens but the modestly wide angle limits depth of field.

Lupine in bloom this past week at Rowena Crest in Oregon. Shot with my 21 mm. Zeiss, a sharp lens but the modestly wide angle limits depth of field. 21 mm., 1/13 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100; tripod.

Let’s continue with the focus on landscape photography.  I’m writing this on Saturday, April 16th.  My excuse is April 15th.  ‘Nuff said!  The topic is close focus, which is a challenge when shooting the near to far kind of landscape composition that is so popular today (it really wasn’t in the olden days).

With those very close elements in the foreground, most images call for focus throughout the scene.  As last week’s post indicated, these sorts of near to far compositions can work just as well when shooting intimate landscapes – those confined to smaller areas.  So let’s get into it!

  • CLOSE-FOCUS BENEFITS:  Near to far compositions are the kind that can lend a sense of depth.  Even more reliably they can also is highlight a foreground subject, giving the viewer a good look at it and maybe even “putting them into the scene”.  Why focus on or very nearly on this close subject?  If you’re using a lens with a wide enough angle (less than ~21 mm. full-frame or ~30 mm. crop-frame) you have to focus either right on or a hair beyond your closest element in order for that close subject to be in focus.  And you almost always want it to be in focus.  Generally an image with its closest elements out of focus rarely works.  It can when using those elements to frame the photo, but not very often (see image of tree below).
Rowena Crest, Oregon, sunrise the other morning.  I focused right on the nearest flowers but the wind kept them from being very sharp.  16 mm., 1/20 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Rowena Crest, Oregon, sunrise the other morning. I focused right on the nearest flowers but the wind kept them from being very sharp. 16 mm., 1/20 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200; tripod.

  • THE CHALLENGE OF CLOSE FOCUS:  It’s often difficult to get everything in focus when you have very close elements.  And if your foreground is only a foot or two away, getting a sharp background is going to be especially difficult.  You’ll be forced to either move further away from your close subject, making it smaller and less impactful, or allow the background to be a little or a lot out of focus (deliberately by using a wider aperture).  Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with an out of focus background.  But what if you want everything sharp?  Read on.
Late November ion the Oklahoma prairie.  I wasn't too close to this cottonwood to pose much of a depth of field challenge, but the subject's size helped to create what I wanted.  16 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 400, handheld.

Late November ion the Oklahoma prairie. I wasn’t too close to this cottonwood to pose much of a depth of field challenge, but the subject’s size helped to create what I wanted. 16 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 400; handheld.

  • DEPTH OF FIELD SOLUTIONS – LENS:  Even at f/22 and at wide angles, most lenses can’t give you sharpness from say, a foot or two on out to 100+ feet.  Most of us use these more common wide-angle zooms that start at ~16 mm.  Despite the fact that they often can focus closer than a foot, for depth of field out to the background they work only up to a point, usually no closer than around three feet (and further if you’re out at 20 mm. or more.

But there are lenses with focal lengths significantly shorter than 16 mm.  On a camera with full-frame sensor equipped with an ultra-wide angle lens like Canon’s newish (and spendy!) 11-24 mm., you can get everything in focus with one shot.  The same goes for fish-eye lenses.

  • MORE LENS OPTIONS:  One type of lens that does a slightly better job at depth of field is the wide-angle with a bulbous front glass element, like a fish-eye lens.   Examples include Nikon’s famous 14-24 mm. f/2.8, the Tokina 16-28 mm. f/2.8, and primes like Canon’s 14 mm. f/2.8L II.

Another option, again an expensive one, is the tilt-shift lens.  Canon’s excellent 17 mm. and 24 mm. tilt-shift lenses can be made (by tilting) to bring everything into acceptable focus.  The 17 mm. has the bulbous front glass as well, so it rocks in this department.  Note a big downside to using lenses with bulbous front glass elements:  you can’t use screw-on filters, at least without an extra kit – sort of a housing that goes around the lens and uses huge filters.  But these can be shockingly expensive.

A very simple shot of wind turbines in the Palouse, Washington.  16 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/13, ISO 400, handheld.

A very simple shot of wind turbines in the Palouse, Washington. 16 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/13, ISO 400; handheld.

  • DEPTH OF FIELD SOLUTIONS – FOCUS STACKING:  In order to get good depth of field front to back when your closest elements are very close, and lacking a specialized lens, one option is to focus stack.  You shoot several exposures of the same exact composition, using a tripod.  Start by focusing at one extreme (the closest element, for e.g.) and work toward the other, focusing on increasingly distant parts of the scene in our example.  Then in Photoshop you stack those images and blend them via masking to get one picture with everything in focus.  By the way, this technique is used in macro photography as well, since macro lenses have very short depths of field.

 

  • FOCUS STACKING CAUTIONS:  Most landscape photographers today focus-stack with nearly every image.  I’m the opposite; I prefer the simplicity of one exposure and don’t like sitting in front of Photoshop for too long.  If my focal length is relatively long then I consider it (image below).  One thing that’s often forgotten in the focus- (and exposure-) stacking frenzy is the fact that when things move in the frame from one exposure to the next, you’ll have a hard time later on the computer matching things up.  It may be impossible to create a natural looking image.  I’m talking things like living subjects, fog, waves and other stuff that’s not all at infinity.  This is a bigger issue with exposure stacking, since then even clouds can present problems.
Pink heather blooms on an alpine hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.  28 mm., 1/8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; focus-stacked.

Pink heather blooms on an alpine hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington. 28 mm., 1/8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; focus-stacked.

  • CLOSE FOCUS FOR INTIMATE LANDSCAPES:   When you’re shooting on a smaller scale, the elements tend to appear more similar in size than when shooting a traditional landscape.  So if you want to highlight a subject by putting it close it may, depending on how intimate (small) your composition is, be necessary to get very close indeed.  Then you’re back to the same problem as mentioned above; even wide-angle lenses don’t like to put everything in focus when set on one or two feet.  It’s surprising how rapidly focus drops off.  Focus-stacking intimate landscapes can be a real pain, since they tend to be composed of a lot of vegetation and other hard-to-mask elements.
Recent image of a barn along Oregon's John Day River.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod.

Recent image of a barn along Oregon’s John Day River. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod.

Intimate landscape looking up into a large tropical hardwood: Monte Cristo forest (bosque) in El Salvador.    Note the out-of-focus framing branches at bottom.

Intimate landscape looking up into a large tropical hardwood: Forest (bosque) of Monte Cristo, El Salvador. Note the out-of-focus branches at bottom acting as a partial frame.

  • A FINAL WORD:  Every landscape photographer falls in love at some point with the near to far composition.  I did, and it was all I looked to shoot for a time.  But that phase passed and I realized I would be making a mistake by continuing to stress about finding super-close foregounds.  Sure, pigging out on a particular kind of image is useful to teach you how to shoot it.  But to continue in that manner is to be a one-trick pony.  It’s like going out looking for one specific image and being unwilling to take what is there; it’s a recipe for frequent disappointment.

I observe people doing this almost as often as I see other photographers in the field; for example the other morning.  It tends to produce herd behavior so it’s noticeable.  You will almost always get more good images when you avoid single-mindedness when looking for something to shoot.

As I’ve said before in this blog, variety is the spice of photography as well as life.  Flexibility is key too.  So use the tips found in this post and elsewhere when you’re focusing close.  But save yourself some hassle and shoot plenty with your closest subject far enough away to get everything in focus.  That can be satisfying as well (image below).

Swan River National Wildlife Refuge in western Montana, an image that despite no close subject has been purchased for large canvases.  58 mm., 8 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100

Swan River Wildlife Refuge in western Montana.  Despite no close subject this has been purchased for large canvas prints.  58 mm., 8 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100; tripod.

Wordless Wednesday: Kid Brothers   4 comments

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Friday Foto Talk: Intimate Landscapes   14 comments

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Beautiful Falls Creek in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. 55 mm., 20 sec. @ f/22, tripod.

Last week I posted under the somewhat ambitious title How to Shoot Landscapes.  I mentioned that landscapes come in all sizes, so this week we’ll look at the small scale world of landscape photography.  Most of the photos here are of this type, what I call intimate landscapes.  But a few straddle the line or are definitely the more typical large-scale landscape.  I like sharing recent images with you here on the blog even if they don’t match the topic precisely.  But I also think they help to illustrate the difference between the two kinds of images.

No clear dividing line exists between the more photographed grand landscape and the less common intimate variety.  The same goes for the lower boundary between intimate landscape and macro photography.  In general if you’re shooting something less than the size of a football field/pitch (often much smaller), but you’re including more real estate than a typical macro photo (and not using your macro lens), then you’re shooting an intimate landscape.

Entrance to the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California.

Entering the narrows at Red Wall Canyon, Death Valley National Park.  16 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100, tripod.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia, shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away.

A traditional home in west-central Cambodia.  Shot from the edge of the rice paddy about a hundred feet away, this one straddles the line between intimate and large landscape. 135 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200, handheld.

HOW TO SHOOT AN INTIMATE LANDSCAPE

  • Which one to shoot?  Let your unconscious be your guide, but realize it’s easier to miss smaller, intimate landscapes.  When a grand landscape inspires you, shoot that.  But always be on the lookout for smaller scenes as well, and photograph those when they interest you in some way.  Try not to go out with the goal of shooting one or the other.
  • Composition is still king.  The same things that make large landscapes work well (subject off-center, sense of depth, use of leading lines, layers, tone and color, and balancing elements) will strengthen your intimate landscapes.
In central Oregon's Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands.  19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

In central Oregon’s Painted Hills, you can walk among colorful badlands. 19 mm., 1/10 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Strong subjects help.  Of course a strong main subject helps any landscape image, but in smaller more intimate scenes, where all of the elements tend to appear the same size and are usually lighted similarly, a good strong subject is even more important.  Remember a striking color contrast can also make for a strong subject.

Shot under an overcast sky, Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is a very popular intimate landscape to shoot. 45 mm., 1 sec. @ f/10, ISO 160, tripod.

  • Issues of light and sky.  Oftentimes intimate landscapes are more appropriate when the sky is overcast and the light is even (image above).  Typical small-scale landscapes don’t include much (if any) sky.  But those aren’t rules!  Now we know that great light, whether it’s strong & directional or filtered & reflected by clouds is perfect for grand landscapes that include a lot of sky.  But that light is also great for intimate landscapes, even when you don’t include any sky (image below).

Beautiful light filters into Oregon’s Eagle Creek Canyon near sunset. 24 mm., 3.2 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Careful with clutter. This point is closely related to the one about strong subjects above.  It’s important to be careful with clutter in all landscape photos.  But when your landscapes are composed of elements that are all close to you, it’s even more important to simplify compositions as much as possible.  With big wide-angle landscapes, more distant things tend to look small in the frame, so are not as likely to distract the viewer.  When everything is close, that stuff may easily distract.
These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon.  A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.

These redwood trees grow not in California but in Oregon. A very simple image shot from a steep slope out into the forest.  To limit clutter it isn’t a wide-angle shot.  55 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/8, ISO 800, handheld.

  • Images with a sense of depth.  Shooting near to far compositions (one good way to lend a sense of depth) are more challenging when working on smaller scales.  But it’s possible.  You may be focusing very close to the lens, so choose a lens that has a so-called “macro” setting.  It’s not truly macro of course (marketing).  Always wide-angle with fairly short focal lengths, these kinds of lenses open up a lot of possibilities for intimate landscapes because they can focus very close, in some cases less than a foot away.  Getting down low can also help add depth.
Recent shot in Washington's Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge.  Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth.

Recent shot in Washington’s Columbia Hills in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Borders on a large landscape, the bit of sky and close-focus on the flowers giving it depth. 16 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100, tripod.

  • Sky and depth.  While we’re talking about a sense of depth, here’s something to try.  After shooting an intimate landscape that excludes the sky, zoom out a little or shift the camera up a bit and include just a small bit of sky, not much.  Compare and see if that doesn’t add more depth to the image.  The image above makes use of both this and the above tips on adding a sense of depth.

So next time you’re out photographing your favorite landscape, try to find more intimate scenes.  It adds variety to your portfolio and can yield some of your favorite images.  Tune in next week for Friday Foto Talk for some tips on focus and depth of field when shooting intimate landscapes.  Have a great weekend!

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset.

Landscape at larger scale but shot from the same place as the image above, just turned around to face the sunset. 16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200, tripod.

Wordless Wednesday: American Dipper in Her Neighborhood   16 comments

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Friday Foto Talk: How to Shoot Landscapes   23 comments

The classic view of Vista House and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon in the light of a passing storm.

The classic view of Vista House and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon in the light of a passing storm.

It’s been awhile since I  participated in the WordPress weekly challenge.  This week it’s on something near and dear to my heart: Landscapes.  Check out everybody’s contributions: WPC – Landscape.  I love nearly every kind of photograph – travel, people, wildlife, macro – well, maybe not so much product photography, haha!  But landscapes are where I live.  It’s my favorite because of my background.  As a kid I remember being both inspired by and curious about landscapes.

A winter ev ening in the rain along Eagle Creek, Oregon.

A damp winter’s evening comes on along Eagle Creek, Oregon.

From the beginning I was fascinated by the world outdoors.  The fact that very small patches of ground can be viewed in very much the same way as the grandest scene, and that the closer you looked the more you saw, was an important childhood discovery.  So before I even picked up a camera, to me landscapes have come in all sizes.  As an adult I became a geologist and landscapes took on yet another layer of meaning and I got to see such an amazing variety of them.

From last week in the Palouse wheat farming region of eastern Washington.

From last week in the Palouse wheat farming region of eastern Washington.

Narada Falls, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington in sepia tone.

Narada Falls, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington in sepia tone.

Setting out to write a how-to on landscape photography in one short blog post might seem crazy.  But I feel strongly that the right approach to landscape photography (and really photography in general) is not complicated.  Everything else flows from that and can be learned on your own or in the company of others with similar levels of experience.

Recent sunset along southern California's Pacific coast.

Recent sunset along southern California’s Pacific coast.

Of course you will learn plenty in your journey as a photographer and I’m not saying that classes, books and videos aren’t useful.  But when someone asks me about the key (or secret) to composing good landscape photographs, I always give the same kind of answer, which appears here in an expanded form (it’s usually more succinct).

#1:  Hone your observational skills.  Look around, look behind you, look down, look up, focus close, medium and far away.  Stop and just look at something.  Occasionally get down on your knees or belly and look at it that way.

#2:  Shoot natural.  What does that mean?  It means not following rules of composition or trying to arrange things just so.  Instead, clear your mind of the junk and give your eye-mind connection a chance to take control.  Train your camera on what is interesting or cool in some way to you.  And shoot it in a way that looks good to you.

Examine the frame from corner to corner and also look at it as a whole.  Then readjust if necessary to include or exclude something, or to put your subject and other major elements in positions that look better to your eye.

A cascade on Left Fork of North Creek, Zion National Park, Utah.

A cascade on Left Fork of North Creek, Zion National Park, Utah.

#3:  Ignore the noise.  I don’t believe there is any value in allowing to enter your mind either other images you’ve seen or what you believe others want to see in a picture.  Those sorts of things influence you of course; you can’t help it.  But as mentioned above, the shooting process should be about what you think looks cool.

As simple as the above is, it takes time and effort to put into practice, especially to do it consistently.  It’s about developing a mindset, a zone that you go into when you pick up the camera and start shooting.  Just don’t get discouraged.  Just as you’re not in a great mood every day, you won’t be dialed in every time you shoot.  But it’s definitely a goal worth striving for every time out.

The red sands of the Namib Desert, southern Africa.

The red sands of the Namib Desert, southern Africa.

Recently while looking for a spot for sunrise in Washington state, I was surprised to come upon this lovely waterfall.

Recently while looking for a spot for sunrise in Washington state, I was surprised to come upon this lovely waterfall.

That’s it.  Well that and getting out to shoot as often as possible.  And being willing to get up early in the morning.  And staying out through dinnertime when the light is good.  Photography is just like anything in life:  the more you put into it the more you get out of it.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

The other evening in northern Washington's Turnbull Wildlife Refuge, a mated pair of trumpeter swans drifts off into the sunset.

The other evening in northern Washington’s Turnbull Wildlife Refuge, a mated pair of trumpeter swans drifts off into the sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

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