Archive for the ‘foreground’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View, Part I   2 comments

An image from Guatemala, where just the right point of view on the street created interesting angles.

Having tackled fairly heavy topics recently, it’s back to basics this week.  Basic but definitely not trivial.  Although point of view could describe your own subjective take on the subjects you shoot (part of your style), the term is used most often in photography to describe the physical location of your camera.  It’s abbreviated to POV.

It boils down to a very simple idea:  constantly vary your points of view.  Don’t stand in one place, and don’t shoot from the same height above ground.  Move around; get low, lower, and even all the way to the ground; shoot from under your subject; get high and shoot directly down on the scene.

Snow Canyon State Park, Utah offers some amazing points of view. It felt like I was perched atop a huge animal’s foot here.

Point of View:  Angle & Position

When we start out in photography we tend to shoot with the sun behind us so that our subjects are illuminated.  This is natural and not a bad way to go (exposure is a breeze, for one).  Then we see something interesting and naturally turn our cameras that way.  We just changed our angle of view.

But then, as novices, we stop there.  We don’t vary that angle.  We don’t look behind us very much.  We also don’t consider the direction that the light is coming from.  Better photography comes from shooting in more than one direction (look behind you!) and from remembering the light.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

To start varying POV, simply turn a bit and take a shot.  Go ahead and continue to rotate through the entire 360 degrees of the compass, shooting as you go.  But this is just panning.  It’s important to change position too, particularly for close-up subjects.  That will bring you closer or further away from your foreground subject relative to various backgrounds.

The idea is to vary POV by combining changes in position with changes in angle of view.  But not in a half-hazard or willy-nilly manner.  Don’t be that indecisive photographer you sometimes see, constantly putting the camera up to his eyes, swinging it around and zooming in and out, hoping to land on a good shot.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing using your camera to test compositions, but I recommend the following.

Avoid pointing your camera hither and thither before you decide on a shot.  Use your feet to change POV instead.  Use your unaided eyes and keep the wider view; you’ll see more.  I almost never put the camera up to my eye until I’m ready to shoot, then I shift or zoom only slightly to dial in the exact composition I want, paying special attention to the edges and corners where unwanted distractions may lurk.

So, in order to move with thought and purpose, read on…

  • POV and Subject:  Generally speaking getting closer to a subject makes for better pictures of it.  But let’s go beyond this simple yet important bit of advice.  When you have multiple elements in an image (a landscape with close-in foreground for example), changing position and angle of view changes perspective in significant ways.  Even for things that are further away it’s surprising how a small change in position can change the look of a picture.  Many shooters don’t appreciate this enough.  They don’t think it will matter to walk 10 or 20 yards (meters).  But it does (see images below).
Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

  • POV, Background and Light:  Most of us go for the more spectacular, dramatic background.  But think about it first.  Where is the light coming from?  How will changing your position affect how the light falls on your subject or supporting foreground elements?  In a past Foto Talk I detailed how to use differing angles of sunlight in your photography.  That’s a good post to check out.

 

  • POV, Background and Composition:  If you change your POV to change background, how will that change how your overall composition works?  For example, will the color palette or texture of the background be consistent or clash in some way with your foreground or other elements?  I’m not saying don’t take the picture, but when you take a look on the computer later think about this stuff when you choose selects.
I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

  • POV and Subject Weighting:  For relatively close subjects, where you stand and which direction you shoot may not only change the background; it may also change your subject’s relationship to it.  Will that more dramatic background overwhelm your subject, making it “disappear”?  How close do you want to be to your foreground?  Remember it’s your choice how much to emphasize a foreground subject.
Wanting both the covered bridge and Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot, some careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Wanting the covered bridge to be the main subject, I also wanted Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot.  So careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Next week’s Foto Talk will go into the ways that changing POV in terms of height affects your photography, with tips for varying things to get the best possible images.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn't want the usual composition where the bales are front & center. The cottonwood was my focus.

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn’t want the usual composition where the bales dominate. Instead my focus was the cottonwood in warm light from the setting sun.

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.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Foreground   6 comments

A Rainier Morning

Mount Rainier and aptly named Reflection Lake. The foreground is de-emphasized here to focus on the fog in the middle ground plus the main subject.

I’ve been subconsciously avoiding this subject, perhaps because of my ambivalent feelings about it.  Foregrounds can be a frustrating part of landscape photography.  In my opinion they can be both under- and over-emphasized.  Let’s just say in the past I have had some trouble keeping the proper perspective regarding foregrounds, but I now believe I have a fairly balanced approach.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park.  The foreground rock and trees are dominant.  I was very close to the rock and my viewpoint was (lacking a stepladder!) a bit too low.

The Tatoosh Range catches the evening light at Mount Rainier National Park. The foreground rock and trees dominate in the image. I was very close to the rock (which is good) but (lacking a stepladder!) my viewpoint was perhaps a bit too low.

I should say right here that despite being thought important only in landscape photography, foreground is often a key element in candid people shots, sports imagery and more.  Here are a few things a good foreground can do for a picture:

      • An interesting and/or very close foreground can add impact to any image.
      • Foreground elements can form leading lines, directing the eyes of the viewer to your main subject or toward the center of your image.
      • Similar to the previous point, the shapes of foreground elements can mimic the shape of your main subject or background.  This essentially increases the impact of your main subject or background.
      • Foregrounds can help to add depth to your images.  But it is rare that a foreground alone can give your image depth.  See my previous post on the important subject of depth.
      • If you want to give your main subject top billing, you can simply place it in the foreground.
Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Heather blooms on a high hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Many people just starting out in photography tend to look right over foregrounds, concentrating a bit too much on that sunset, that sailboat, those animals, etc. Then they learn from the “experts” that they should always look for interesting foregrounds to give their images a lot of depth and impact.  After hearing this a few dozen times, many of us run around stressing about foregrounds all the time.  Like most advice in photography, this little nugget is abused and stretched beyond reason.  Yes foregrounds are important.  No they’re not absolutely necessary in an image, no they will not automatically give your pictures depth or impact.

Like anything in photography (life?) foregrounds should be used thoughtfully and judiciously.  Here are some tips on how to find and use them to help improve your images:

      • There are times you will want to sniff out foregrounds like a bloodhound sniffs out an escaped convict.  When you have a beautiful sky with a relatively flat horizon (i.e. you’re not in the Himalayas or Patagonia), you have a pretty but two-dimensional image.  This is a good time to search out interesting foregrounds.

* In the image below, for example, I was up on top of a hill near sunset overlooking Lake Powell in Arizona.  There were other people taking pictures, including two or three other serious photographers.  As the sky grew colorful, people began snapping away.  I suddenly realized it was a dull image without foreground.  So I scrambled quickly down the embankment, soon coming upon sandstone bedrock that wasn’t visible from above.

I quickly found a place where the outcrops formed angled shapes that (with a low camera angle) pointed into the sky.  The orange clouds also formed linear shapes, so luckily enough, I had an effective simple composition.  My willingness to chance missing the light in order to search for a better image paid off in this case.  But I could have easily been skunked and gotten nothing.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

      • In most cases your foreground elements should support but not dominate your image.  There are major exceptions, so please don’t take this as a rule. Instead, think of all your images as a balancing act between each of the major elements within the frame.  The balance between foreground and background (plus middle ground) is just one of the little decisions you make before you press the shutter button.
      • Some people think if they have a fascinating foreground they will automatically have a fascinating picture.  But remember simple is often best in photography, and this definitely applies to foregrounds.  This is actually related to the previous point.  If your foreground is amazing, it will most often become your main subject.  If your background has an interesting subject or is otherwise awesome, you might be trying to jam more than one picture into your frame.  The main elements of your picture end up competing for the viewer’s attention – not a prescription for success.
These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

These rocks plus the waves form a strong diagonal leading line on the Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • Instead of desperately looking for the most fascinating foreground in history, it’s better to find something simple with perhaps a shape that complements your background or main subject.  Then to give that simple foreground more impact all you have to do is move closer.  Moving closer brings opportunities, along with challenges…

*   If you’re using a wide-angle lens moving closer to your foreground elements is necessary so they don’t look too small.  Wide angles (focal lengths of 35 mm. or less) are often used in landscape photography of course.  But they’re also used in environmental portraiture.  This is when you photograph people along with a bit of their surroundings.

*   Moving closer will help to bring out any interesting texture in your foreground elements.  Just be careful to expose so you can see the texture.  It’s common to need a graduated neutral density filter in these cases, so you don’t make the sky/background too bright.

*   When you move closer to your foreground, it becomes more difficult to keep everything in focus front to back.  This is known as good depth of field.  You will need to use the smallest aperture available on your lens, which is usually f/22.  It also helps greatly to know the particular ability of that lens to achieve good depth of field.  This requires repeated use and experimentation.  The small aperture means you will most often need a tripod.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

Life thrives along the rugged northern Olympic Coast in Washington.

      • It can be very effective to allow a foreground element to fade to black; in other words form a silhouette.  It’s most effective when the silhouette’s shape is recognizable.  It’s usually not necessary to move as close to a silhouetted foreground as you would an illuminated one.  This frees you from some of the above challenges.
      • Speaking of fading to black, great images can be had with no recognizable foreground, instead using a featureless or dark middle-ground.  Smooth expanses of water, featureless grass, fog, a dark band of rocks or trees, any of these can form a sort of mid-ground “base”, anchoring your main background subject.  These sorts of anchors can also partly or fully frame your image.
      • Lastly, don’t feel you always need a foreground.  Often a very effective image can be had with no foreground.  You can either utilize middle-grounds as mentioned above or simply zoom in on the background to highlight specific portions of it.
Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington.  Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

Dusk falls on the Olympic Coast in Washington. Foreground elements are simple here, a combination of silhouetted rocks and subtly illuminated sand.

I want to leave you with a sort of truism in photography, at least as far as I’m concerned.  It has to do with the point I made at the beginning of the post and again with that last bullet point.  If you go around shooting nothing but deep images where you’re 2 feet from foreground, you’ll undoubtedly get plenty of compliments. This is how most people are taught to shoot landscapes, and these sorts of images have a “pro” feel to them.

But if you go off on foregrounds your portfolio will suffer just as much as if you had never learned about their importance in the first place, as if you had stuck with shooting nothing but two-dimensional backgrounds.  Mix things up instead.  Diversity in your portfolio is worth having.  And it doesn’t just happen on its own.  You really have to work at it.  The good news is that it’s fun!  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington's largest and most beautiful lakes.  The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Crescent Lake on the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington’s largest and most beautiful lakes. The mossy rocks along the shore make for angular foreground elements while the shadows and shoreline form strong leading lines.

Friday Foto Talk: Depth   6 comments

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Although I don’t like much structure in my life (understatement of the day!), I’m going to force myself to introduce a regular feature in this blog.  Although I won’t drift over to a photography education blog (already too many), just as I won’t drift over to a blog strictly focused on travel, I’m feeling the need from time to time to share some of the more interesting things I’ve picked up about photography.

But please do not think me some sort of expert who is passing on his considerable (in his own opinion) photography knowledge.  That’s exactly the sort of mis-impression I want to avoid.  Instead, please feel free to use these posts to give your take on the subjects covered.  I would very much like feedback on the images as well.  Enjoy!

The four images here were taken on my recent photo sojourn around the American West.  The subject today – depth – is one that’s near and dear to my photographic heart.  To this point I have been sticking with my passion, that is landscape and nature photography.  Perhaps if I ever wish to make a living at this I will need to change that focus, but for now I’m in my comfort zone, and depth is very relevant to this kind of photography.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

One of the most rewarding yet challenging things about landscape photography is introducing a sense of depth into your images; 3-dimensionality if you will.  Think about it: you are taking a three-dimensional scene and rendering it on a two-dimensional medium.  So it’s not easy.  But it’s no where near impossible to accomplish either.  Here are a few tips:

  • Firstly, try to include at least two out of three of the following: foreground, mid-ground, and background.  All three are best.  When you’re starting out, you might forget about foreground.  But then you learn that it’s important, and end up going to the opposite extreme.  So while it’s important to have detail in your foregrounds, don’t forget about the mid-ground and background.  Don’t let your foreground overwhelm the rest of the image, at least not all the time.
  • The closer you can get to your foreground, the better, up to a point.  The foreground has to be sharp, and it’s usually best when the background is in focus as well.  What this means is a small aperture (say f/22) and focusing on a point in your scene that will provide the sharpest results front to back.  This point varies depending on your focal length and the characteristics of your lens, but is always somewhere in the front third of your scene (sometimes only a few feet in front).
  • Also, it helps if there are details in each of these parts of your images.  Don’t confuse detail with texture.  Texture is always nice of course, but I’m speaking of things that are interesting to look at.  Things that draw the eye are good for depth, but you want to keep your image as simple as possible too.  It’s a balancing act.
  • Light is important.  This is difficult to pin down, but if you’ve been taking pictures for awhile you probably are well aware of the difference between flat light and light with depth.   Unfortunately, good light is not always light that will provide depth.  In fact, flat light can be good for some scenes/subjects.  Sorry I can’t be more specific; my best advice is to try getting pictures with depth in different kinds of light.
  • Leading lines can help with depth.  The classic is a one-point perspective, like the railroad tracks merging in the distance, but your lines don’t have to be this obvious!
  • Dramatic clouds in the sky (as in the second image above) can really help.  It can put a sort of “roof” on your image.  Make sure to include enough of the sky to accomplish this.

Back to these four images.  I chose them because of the varying combinations of light and depth.  In addition, they are all desert scenes and so easier to compare.  The light in the first two, and to a lesser extent the last image, is fairly hard, as is typical for deserts.  The first two were taken around mid-morning, so we’re not talking classic golden hour here.  The second image has better light because of a filtering effect from the clouds (a storm was approaching) but neither has truly excellent light.  The third image has nice soft sunrise light, but little depth.  And the fourth has a great combination of depth and beautiful dawn light.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

The first image has, at least in my opinion, nice depth.  It has a detailed and interesting foreground (the cactus) plus a mid-ground (the angled sandstone formation) that leads the eye deeper into the scene.  The background is a fairly detailed skyline plus clouds.  It would have been even better if the clouds were more dramatic (in which case I would have included more of the sky).  Note that the background rocks are not too far away, and so have some detail.  This can help with a feeling of depth.

The second image is dominated by leading lines and so can’t help but have decent depth, but the dramatic clouds really help put a roof on the image (even though they take up a fairly small part of the frame).  The third image was taken during the first rays of light in Death Valley.  Although there are much better images from this place all over the web, the light here is unusually soft (for a desert) and thus demonstrates that an image without much depth can still work well.

The last image has a lot going for it depth-wise, despite its weaknesses.  It lacks leading lines and the foreground and mid-ground are not delineated well.  It has a good sense of perspective from the decreasing sizes of the polygonal cracks in the salt.  It also benefits from interesting detail both in the foreground (the salt) and the background (the moon).  The moon helps to give the already somewhat 3D clouds even more depth.  Lastly, the image is topped off with a beautiful pinkish glow that results from the sun (which is still beneath the horizon) reflecting off clouds close to the eastern horizon.  It’s no surprise that this is one of my favorite images from Death Valley.

A full moon sets over Death Valley's salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

A full moon sets over Death Valley’s salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

Thanks so much for reading.  If you have interest in any of the images, they are available for purchase either as a download or beautifully printed (framed or unframed).  Just click on an image and the rest is easy.  Note that they are all copyrighted and not available for download (the versions here are too small anyway).  Again, thanks for your cooperation and interest.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions, add your thoughts, or give feedback (positive or negative) on the images.

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