Hello everyone and Happy Friday!! I’m in the midst of a significant shooting drought. A number of things all combined are preventing me from shooting, but most of it is down to a simple lack of desire to shoot the subjects around me. I am currently working full-time and in an area not typically known for its nature photography. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not offering any excuses whatsoever, and freely admit that I’m not taking advantage of the time and opportunities that I’m getting.
I believe very strongly that it is never a good thing to force yourself into something if you’re not “feeling it”. I figure it this way: if you are going out to shoot things that don’t particularly interest you, in light that does not get your photographer pulse going, then the results are most likely going to be bland. And why do bland photography? It makes little sense to me.
Now I realize that you may worry that your skills are going to erode while waiting for the subjects to appear and the motivation to return. If you are still a novice and very much learning, this may be a valid concern. But for the most part it is a non-issue. You’ll get it back soon after you start shooting again. Besides, you can always read books on photography, whether instructional or illustrating the works of other photographers. You can also keep your observational senses sharp by remembering to be a keen observer – of things, people & animals, and of light, whether you have a camera or not.
So I’m going to post a couple images I stumbled upon that I didn’t process until now. They’re from a few years ago, in the Medicine Bow Mountains of Colorado. What a view the builders of this cabin had! Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!
Looking south toward Mt. Jefferson from iconic Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
At the end of a winter’s day skiing, this is looking south toward Mt. Jefferson from iconic Timberline Lodge, Oregon.
This is the 3rd and final part of my little series on shooting alternate versions of the same basic subject. Check out Part I and Part II for the nuts and bolts of varying composition and other factors just enough to create alternates without completely changing the image. Today I want to discuss a very important part of alternate versions: the review. This is where a lot of novice photographers tend to become frustrated, so this post includes some basic advice designed to help you use precious review time wisely.
Last time I mentioned how it’s important at first to be aware of why you are shooting an alternate of the same subject. It could be as simple as grabbing a quick vertical. Or it could be a version that concentrates attention on one particularly strong subject by using a large aperture, thus throwing the background out of focus. Or you can change multiple things about the image, getting low and close while rotating to horizontal, zooming out a bit, and including less sky.
An old pile dike along the Columbia River in Oregon.
Review on the LCD
It’s a good idea to think about why you shot different versions when you review the images later, whether on your camera’s LCD screen or on the computer monitor. Speaking of the LCD, I see plenty of photographers checking out their photos during the shoot. That is fine if you’re checking things like focus and exposure; in other words, making sure you don’t need to re-shoot. Or if you want to get a human subject more interested in the shoot. But don’t take too much time looking at the back of the camera. Avoid the trap of getting too caught up in review when you should be concentrating on your subject and the light.
I try to review the images on my camera’s LCD very soon after shooting. I do this not only to delete images with obvious problems right away, in order to make more room on the card. But I also like doing a quick inventory of my alternate versions while the shoot is still fresh. It is easier than you think to delete images you should have kept. Unlike a computer, your camera doesn’t have a trashcan where you can recover deleted images. It’s forever!
For example, you might think you have useless repeats of the shot when you actually had in mind at the time good reasons to capture an alternate version. Maybe your reasoning was unconscious and maybe it wasn’t. But if it was, reviewing on your LCD soon after the shoot has the effect of bringing it right up to the surface of your mind. I don’t always keep alternates at this stage. Sometimes I realize my reason for the alternate was rather superficial.
Despite a significant difference in composition, the light and atmosphere are similar enough to call this vertical of the above image an alternate version.
Review on the Computer
No matter how conscious you are while out shooting, when you’re viewing and rating the different versions on the computer later, deciding which to keep, it’s helpful to note what sets each alternate version apart. The differences are often subtle but important for what you’re trying to get across in an image. Were you trying to emphasize an interesting foreground with an alternate version? Next time out will you get low and close while the light is at its best instead of doing that as an afterthought?
While it’s perfectly natural and appropriate to prefer one version over another, be careful about your judgments. For example you may prefer the vertical version of a scene you just shot in dramatic sidelight. But that doesn’t mean you should always photograph scenes like it vertically. Say you return in softer, more subtle light. The horizontal may turn out to be the better choice.
Another reason to avoid overemphasizing personal preference is the existence of considerations that have nothing to do with whether one version is better than another. A horizontal version, for example, may obviously look better because of layering or other characteristics of the scene. But what if someone loves the image and wants to frame and hang it in a place that will fit a vertical but not a horizontal? Or what if a magazine likes it but needs one that has more negative space? That’s yet another way to shoot an alternate, by the way. By zooming out and/or flipping the camera to include more blank sky, water, or other similarly plain space, you allow room for type, mastheads and the like.
The vertical of the opening image includes the weather vane atop the lodge.
Using Review to Grow
As you review more and more shoots you’ll naturally learn which kinds of images you like better for which kinds of subject and light. You might notice yourself gradually shooting slightly fewer alternate versions. But the idea behind doing alternate versions is to increase not decrease your options.
Although learning your preferences is a good thing, don’t over-generalize and end up missing opportunities. It’s important to realize that every scene and every moment’s light and mood is unique. Also unique is the message you want to get across in the image. Alternate versions can help you accomplish this most important of photography goals, but only if you do them.
The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula, Mexico.
One thing I’ve learned over time is not to force myself to judge when I’m reviewing images on the computer. Of course I do mostly prefer one shot over others, and one version of that shot over alternate versions. But when there’s no clear winner I don’t spend a lot of time forcing myself to decide. I just give the two an equal number of stars, label them both with copy names (a field in Lightroom just below the filename), and move on.
Most important is to keep an open mind. Open to other possibilities while you’re out there shooting, and open to different ways of evaluating images on the computer. As with all thoughtful post-shot review, considering your reasons for creating alternate versions can inform your next shooting session in interesting ways. It can also force you to grow as a photographer. For example you might find yourself better defining your style. Shooting and then reviewing different versions could lead you to explore a certain way of shooting in more depth. Thanks so much for reading and I hope your weekend is a fun one. Happy shooting!
For this alternate version of the above image I waited until deep dusk (which allowed a longer exposure). I also got lower and closer to the foreground rocks and relied on artificial lights from a hotel to illuminate them.
I’ve posted this image before: dawn at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
This is the second of three parts on creating alternate versions of the same basic image. Definitely check out Part I; these are meant to go together. Alternate versions are not totally different compositions, or one shot looking one direction and one the other. They are those images you may group together on the screen to review and compare.
Creating alternate versions can be as simple as shooting one horizontal and one vertical. Or it could be as complicated as shooting a dozen versions all with different combinations of variables. And speaking of those variables, let’s pick up where we left off last time and look at more ways to vary a landscape image.
- Focal Length. Changing focal length by a lot changes the whole image, by a lot. But we’re talking about alternate versions of the same image, so think zooming in or out by only modest amounts. The idea is to keep the main elements of the scene the same but perhaps include or exclude subsidiary elements. It’s similar in some ways to moving toward or away from the foreground, but although it’s often mistakenly thought that the two are identical, they will yield a different look.
A wider version of the above scene. In addition to shorter focal length, I lowered the point of view, putting the fence in a more prominent position and including more sky. The light is different too, as it was captured after sunrise.
- Depth of Field (DOF). Varying how much of the scene is in focus is something many people don’t consider for landscapes. Most of us always try for the maximum, sharp from front to back. But sometimes it’s interesting to limit depth of field for a shot or two after you get the standard landscape. If you are limiting DOF you may also vary the place where you are focusing. For maximum DOF you really don’t have much choice for point of focus; that is, there is a ‘right’ place to focus (the hyperfocal distance).
- Exposure Time. Another under-appreciated variable. For example most people get in the habit of shooting waterfalls in one way, using long exposure to smooth the water. Even when shooting this way you can get quite different looks and textures if you vary that longer exposure. Another example: changing shutter speed when there are moving clouds can totally change the look of the sky. Whenever there are elements moving in your frame, changing exposure time will give a different look.
Because of a somewhat dangerous position, I only had time for two versions of this spring along Oregon’s Hood River. This vertical has the longer exposure time. 28 mm., 6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.
For the horizontal I went with a relatively short exposure for more detail in the water. 24 mm., 0.8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.
- Light. This variable is a bit different than the others. You don’t have nearly as much control on light as you do the others. But you do have some. The classic example is that photographer who shoots the sun as it’s setting. Then after it disappears below the horizon you look over and they’re packing up, thus missing out on alternate shots under different light. Another example: you may like a composition so much that you go out to shoot it both at sunset and sunrise. If it’s close to home you might shoot it in golden autumn light, crystalline winter light and bright spring or summer light.
There are two main points I want to make. One is that there are always options and usually enough time to get at least a vertical if not other alternate versions of the same scene. And so I recommend trying to do at least two versions of each landscape (a vertical and horizontal). I also recommend that while you’re out shooting, at least initially, you think about which variables you changed and, more importantly, why. As you become more experienced you’ll shoot alternate versions more or less unconsciously.
Next week we’ll conclude with some thoughts on post-shot review and processing of alternate versions. Thanks very much for checking in this week. Have a great weekend and happy shooting!
Sometimes you only have a few seconds to get a single shot. That was the case as I hurried to board a ferry. This is a traditional fishing vessel along the coast of Burma (Myanmar).
Dawn and part of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park. 16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100
Sometimes you have just one opportunity to get a shot. You have to whip that camera up and shoot. If you’re not ready the moment is gone. But more often there is time to capture different versions of the same subject. Since landscape photography is so applicable to this, and because I do a lot of it (I’m not alone!), I’m going to use landscape photography to illustrate ways to create alternate versions of an image.
There are several main ways to vary a landscape shot. Let’s look at those that change the composition but keep the same main elements of the scene the same.
- Format. Changing between horizontal (or landscape) and vertical (portrait) formats is the easiest way to create alternate versions of an image. Normally a vertical emphasizes the height of things like trees and mountains. It can also give a greater sense of depth. Horizontals emphasize a sense of space and can lend a serene feel to a landscape. I usually try to get both unless the picture definitely lends itself to one or the other.
- Point of View. Point of view (POV) can be changed in many ways. I did a mini-series on POV that explores this very important subject. One of the most common ways to vary POV is by changing camera height. Depending on how close the foreground is, changing height will also change the distance to that foreground, which can greatly change the look of an image.
Vertical of the image at top. I lowered POV, got closer to the foreground and thus emphasized the ice and sandstone while reducing the apparent size and importance of the background mountains and sky. 16 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100.
- Proportion of Sky vs. Land. Changing POV in turn can change this variable. It involves changing the relative amount of sky vs. land in the image, a very common thing for landscapers to do. For example, simply tilting the camera down or shortening your tripod legs takes you from an image dominated by sky to one dominated by the landscape below. The possible variants are nearly endless. For example you can change from nearly fifty-fifty to almost all land with just a sliver of sky. You could even shoot with the horizon in the middle, but that works well only in certain situations.
- Distance from Subject/Foreground. As long as you don’t exclude a main element (in which case it’s a different picture), you can change the feel by simply moving closer to or further from the closest element in the frame. Try doing this without changing any of the variables above. It’s hard to do, isn’t it?
A rainbow and a tall fir tree frame Vista House in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. 35 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100.
As just mentioned it can be tough to change just a single variable when you’re taking multiple shots of the same thing. Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to one variable. And you shouldn’t. We’re not doing science experiments, we’re shooting pictures. But if you’re curious and want to see more clearly what the effects of changing a certain variable look like, go ahead and control the other variables. Play scientist for awhile.
Next time we’ll look at a few other variables you can change to create alternate versions of your landscape images. Thanks for reading. Have a fun weekend, one filled with laughter and plenty of pictures!
Which version do you like, this horizontal or the vertical above? By changing format & using a slightly longer focal length, the tree and top of the rainbow are cropped off. The light has also changed slightly. 50 mm., 0.5 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100.
The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.
A worthy theme for this week, Photo Challenge: Path, so here goes. Paths can be literal or figurative. Each time I find myself on nature’s path the figurative comes to mind. It is easiest to be present on the path I’m on and not elsewhere, possibly on another’s path. It’s easiest to stay in this time and place for long enough to appreciate it before charging off to another place. The constant need to move forward is not something that is easily avoidable, being human after all. But I tire of the race sooner than many others do. I don’t relish it as some do. What I do relish is the feeling of climbing upward and outward into the world, and the contrasts of the descent off the mountain, and of the path home.
Have a happy New Year!
A path through the tall trees: Humboldt Redwoods, California.
Guadalupe Mtns., TX
The path home: Gokyo Ri, Nepal.
This is my most Christmasy image from the past year. Since I haven’t yet gone out in winter to some forest to find a small fir tree in a meadow, decorated it (including lights), waited for a gentle snowfall, then returned with a small generator to photograph it, this one will have to do!
Merry Christmas to one and all! (P.S. Friday Foto Talk returns next week)
Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.
This post is one day late for International Mountain Day. But right on time for Mountain Monday! It highlights a relatively remote place in western New Mexico. I’d been wanting to go to this part of the southern Rockies for a long time, and earlier this year I finally made it. I drove up a dirt road that ended at a gate marking the boundary of the Gila Wilderness. The road continued beyond the gate, growing worse and clinging to the side of a mountain.
I parked and began to hike along the rough jeep track, recognizing it as an old mining route. I followed it toward the head of a canyon. Poking around I found some weathered shacks, a couple adits and other remnants of the gold & silver boom of the late 1800s. There is a ghost town not far from here called Mogollon. On the way back, as the sun sank lower, the air cooled and fog began to form over the mountains to the west. It made for a mystical scene. The sunset that followed was nice, but this shot was my favorite because of its mysterious feel.
The Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness march off into the distance.