Archive for the ‘Pacific Northwest’ Tag
Snowy Mt Hood catches the first rays of the sun as it presides over rural Hood River Valley, Oregon.
America is still largely a rural nation. And not just in terms of area. Many states lack major cities and most people still live rurally. In states with metropolises, a well-documented trend, the return of Americans to city centers, has been going on for some time. But another trend has continued unnoticed, and it involves far greater numbers of people. Suburbs have expanded into more traditional rural areas, places once dominated by farming and ranching. These so-called exurbs sit some distance from a city but are still connected to it in many ways.
While some of the exurbs resemble true suburbs and should probably be described as quasi-rural, many actually have a strong countryside feel. They’re usually centered around small towns that retain much of their original character. As mentioned in the last post, those living here are an important political force these days, as witness the last election.
In many exurbs it is only a matter of time before they lose any remnant rural feel. A progressive expansion, fed in large part by retiring baby-boomers but also by steady population growth, is pushing aside America’s original rural character. But this blog series is not about bemoaning that loss. I prefer to celebrate what is left, which while inevitably changed from the old days, is still very much intact.
Seeing Rural America – The Pacific Northwest
Let’s start out in a part of the west that will always be special to me. If you have read this blog for awhile, you know that Oregon is where my heart lies. It’s a place I’ll always call home. I was born and raised on the east coast, but I’ve lived by far most of my years there. I’m currently living in Florida, in self-imposed exile. But I’ll return someday.
A farmhouse sits in the Willamette Valley south of Portland.
DOWN (UP) THE WILLAMETTE
In order to see some of the prime farmland of that drew early settlers to this territory on the Oregon Trail (see the Addendum below), start in Portland and drive south up the Willamette River. I know, south upriver sounds strange. Avoid Interstate 5 wherever possible. Instead take the back roads, hopping back and forth over the river using the few ferries that remain (Canby, Wheatland). Visit Aurora, and Silverton, stretching your legs and being wowed on a hike in Silver Falls State Park near Silverton. Continue south past Eugene, saying goodbye to the Willamette as it curves east into the Cascades. The Cottage Grove area is famous for its covered bridges, so get hold of a map and enjoy the photo opps.!
Keep going south, making sure to stop at the Rice Hill exit off I5. Here you should partake of Umpqua ice cream the way it should be eaten. Delicious! Visit the little town of Oakland just north of Roseburg, where I lived for a time. Then divert west from Sutherlin on Fort McKay Road. to the Umpqua River. Then wind down the river on Tyee Road. Drive slow or better yet, do this on a bicycle!
You can keep going to the coast or return to I5 on Hwy. 138. Another detour takes you east from Roseburg up the North Umpqua to Diamond Lake and the north end of Crater Lake. If you’d rather stick with the rural theme and save nature for later, keep going south and visit the rather large but still charming town of Ashland, where a famous Shakespeare Festival happens every summer.
It’s difficult not to include Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak, in photos of rural bliss.
THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA
Let’s not forget the great state of Washington. One of my favorite places in the world is the Olympic Peninsula. It can be visited on a road trip that takes in both nature and rural charm. The towns are spaced far apart here and Olympic National Park covers much of the northern peninsula. But lovely farms still lap the slopes of the Olympic Mountains and talkative waitresses serve pie at cafes in towns like Forks, which retain much of their timber-town flavour. Everybody still knows everybody in these towns.
Lake Crescent (image below) is incredibly scenic and a great place for a swim. At dusk, in certain light, you can sit lakeside and easily transport yourself back to quiet summer evenings at the lake. I wonder when vacations stopped being full of simple pleasures like jumping off a tire swing, fried chicken on a screened porch and word games in the dark, and became all about ticking off bucket lists and posting selfies?
Even areas quite close to the metropolis of Seattle retain much of their charm. Take the back roads directly east of the city and drop into the valley of the Snowqualmie River. Take Hwy. 203 north or south through Carnation, site of the original dairy farm of the same name (remember?). Generally speaking you need to travel either east or, overwater via ferry, west of Seattle and the I5 corridor in order to experience rural western Washington.
Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula in very interesting dusk light.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention the forgotten half of the Pacific NW. It encompasses an enormous region east of the Cascades, one that retains in many places nearly all of its rural character. The Palouse is a perfect example. Lying in southeastern Washington and far western Idaho, the Palouse is wheat-farming at its purest. It is an expansive area of rolling hills, backroads and picture-perfect barns. Despite having become very popular with landscape photographers in recent years, its size means it always feels quiet and uncrowded. I won’t say anymore about it since I posted a mini-series on the Palouse geared toward anyone contemplating a photo-tour. Check that out if you’re curious.
There are so many other routes to explore in the Pacific NW that will allow you to experience the unique flavour of each region. For example a fantastic road trip, again from Portland, is to travel east over Mount Hood. But instead of continuing to Madras, turn off busy Hwy. 26 at easy-to-miss Hwy. 216. Drop into the high desert and visit the little burg of Tygh Valley. Continue east to Maupin on the Deschutes River, famous for its trout fishing and whitewater rafting. Then drive over Bakeoven Road to historic sheep central, Shaniko. Then drop east down twisty Hwy. 218 to Fossil and on to the Painted Hills. This tour, by the way, is popular with motorcyclists in the know. Thanks for reading and have a fun weekend!
A patriotic barn in the Palouse of Washington state.
Addendum: Pacific NW History
I’ve always vaguely resented the fact that the Pacific NW is divided into two states. I think the Oregon Territory should have been left as Oregon, no Washington. To make 50 states we could have split off northern California (plus far SW Oregon) and called it the state of Jefferson. I know a bunch of people who would be very happy with that!
Native tribes have occupied this region for thousands and thousands of years. In fact some of the earliest remains of paleo-indians in North America come from eastern Oregon and Washington. Now a semi-desert, back then it was significantly wetter, with large lakes full of waterfowl, and the rocky hills bursting forth every spring with all sorts of edible plants.
White Europeans began to take an interest in the area very early on in the 1700s. But they only visited by sea. To the north, British fur trading companies sent parties into the Canadian part of the Pacific Northwest eco-region. But it would not be until Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a party of young, energetic men down the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast near what is now the little town of Astoria, Oregon in 1804 that the young country signalled its intention to make the region part of America.
Edgar Paxson’s famous painting of Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, Charbonneau and Clark’s slave York at Three Forks.
In the mid-1800s mountain men of the west, with beaver all but trapped out in many areas, turned to guiding settlers west along the Oregon Trail. The destination these hardy families had in mind was the rich farmland along the Willamette and other rivers of the Oregon Territory. Some never made it all the way, instead stopping in cooler, drier areas like the Baker Valley of eastern Oregon and the Palouse, a dryland farming area in Washington.
Timber harvesting, farming and ranching have long been the mainstays of the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve never read Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Keasey you should do so. It is expertly written and imparts an authentic look at traditional family-based logging in Oregon. The movie is top-notch as well.
But times have changed. The mills are shut down in most places. Private timber lands are still harvested but with few exceptions federal National Forests are for reasons both environmental and economic no longer being cut. The ways in which people here make a living have largely changed from natural resource-based to a mix of technology, tourism and a variety of service jobs.
Oregon’s rugged upper Salmon River valley, an amazing place to photograph in cold wintry weather. 70 mm., 1/6 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100; tripod; converted to B&W in Nik Silver Effex 2.
This continues the mini-series on black and white (B&W) photography. Check out Part I for tips on what types of images lend themselves to B&W. I really like trying monochrome processing with any shot, because you never know until you see the image. A few things to keep in mind while shooting B&W:
- See in B&W: This can be tough to do, since we see all day everyday in color. One thing to try is setting up your camera to display in black and white while shooting. If you’re shooting in RAW (which you should be), the image is still recorded in color. It just displays in B&W on the LCD. Also try going out and shooting only B&W, as an exercise. Shoot Jpegs and deliberately limit yourself to B&W. I don’t recommend doing this regularly though; give yourself options by shooting RAW.
Sunset on the Olympic Coast, Washington. 50 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held.
B&W conversion in Silver Effex 2.
- Look for Texture: As mentioned in the last post, textures are just made for B&W. That’s because color often distracts us from the underlying texture of a scene. Remove it and voila! Interesting textural patterns are revealed. Many people have too limited a view of texture. They think of peeling paint, tree bark, or a patterned rock wall. That is texture at one scale. In reality texture comes in all sizes, from the very fine to much larger patterns. Try to get used to looking for texture in all its forms.
Ancient sand dunes near Page, Arizona. 32 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200; hand-held w/polarizer.
Bringing out the texture: converted & processed in Silver Effex.
- Don’t Forget the Basics: The same principles of composition that make color images work apply to B&Ws as well. Limit the “junk” in your comps., and seek balanced scenes that are interesting and pleasing to the eye.
The foot bridge at Ramona Falls, Oregon. 50 mm., 4 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Lightroom.
- Go for Monochrome Scenes: These are situations where the light and your subject are already monochrome, either nearly or completely so. Often it’s when the light is quite low, since light begets color. When things are already nearly monochrome, it’s quite easy to see and shoot monochrome images (funny how that works!).
Zooming in on Faery Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, the image became nearly monochrome. 50 mm., 0.4 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50; tripod; Processed in Silver Effex.
This wider composition of Faery Falls is a panorama of 6 shots combined & includes the surrounding green lushness.
- Get in the Mood: Finally, try to feel the mood of a scene and shoot it accordingly. Foggy and mysterious is the obvious one, but there are many other moods, including bright, contrasty and optimistic. Try to mentally impose different post-processing looks, such as toned to sepia, high-key, low-key, and so on. For example, with a monochrome scene that is already a bit dim, I’ll try to imagine what it might look like even darker and toned with a subtle sepia or cyan.
Okay that’s it for today. Stay tuned for more on black and white. Have a great weekend and get out there!
Beacon Rock on the Columbia River, a landmark that Lewis & Clark mentioned in their journals in 1803. 106 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/10, ISO 200; hand-held; processed in Nik Color Effex, then given antique sepia tone in Lightroom.
Springtime on Alec Creek: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.
I found this mossy scene while exploring a creek in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. This is one of the most amazing of America’s National Forests, huge and full of hidden waterfalls. The backroad I was on crossed over the creek and I decided it was time for some “creeking”. Creeking involves getting up close and personal with a stream, looking for mostly small-scale intimate landscapes. Mostly it requires scrambling over, under and around logs and rocks. And your feet usually get wet.
In the Pacific Northwest, springtime means the color green will probably dominate the palettes of your photos. While negotiating a section choked with huge logs, I found this mossy scene. But it was impossible to shoot without getting very low. The tripod was a possibility, but a simpler and easier method was just to plop the camera right down on a small shelf of rock on the stream bank, using small pieces of wood to prop the lens up.
The nearest moss was only inches away, so depth of field was a challenge. I had to focus stack, shooting a few images with focus increasingly further away. Then in Photoshop I stacked the images together so that in the end I had one with pretty much everything in focus.
In one respect it’s a picture with perhaps too much “stuff” in it. But in a way it’s also a very simple composition. It’s definitely not a very standard way to shoot a creek, from the side under a log, with an ultra-low point of view, and with super-close foreground. I actually have no idea whether it will appeal to anyone other than me, so I’d very much like to know what you all think. Thanks and have a great week ahead.
Trout fishing anyone? Crooked River, Oregon.
This is a short Foto Talk. The light was beautiful this morning at Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon. Even though dawn lacked that warm orange or pink glow we all associate with beautiful sunrises & sunsets, it was a lovely morning for a walk and some photography.
So in the middle of shooting, and just after getting the image at top, I paused and stood on that rock, admiring the river. I wished I could snap my fingers and make my camera gear switch instantly to fishing gear. The Crooked River is a fine trout stream, and all of a sudden I was into enjoying the moment, not photographing it. Bald eagles were nesting nearby too, and at one point a half-dozen little goslings followed mom across the river.
On the grassy banks of the Crooked River in central Oregon.
So today it boils down to one tip and one tip only: enjoy the moment. Actually, enjoy a lot of them! Wherever you are, and whatever kind of photography you’re doing, take time out occasionally to simply enjoy your surroundings and your subject. It’s the reason we do this, to show others through images how we feel: about a place, a person, or whatever subject we’re focusing on.
So leave some time for those feelings to flower. Don’t make photography so much like work. And now I need to find a fishing rod compact enough to fit in my photo pack! Have a great weekend everyone.
Morning sun hits the walls that line the Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Day’s end on beautiful Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. The cedar trees form framing foreground elements.
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.
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!
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; 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
- 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. 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. 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. 16 mm., 1.6 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200, tripod.
Book Cliffs, Colorado. A landscape image shot just this morning at an unconventional focal length of 310 mm.
I’m starting an occasional series on common photography myths and misconceptions. This one is pretty widespread. It goes something like this: “If you want to shoot landscapes, you need to do it with a wide angle lens.” That’s often extended to “and the wider the better”. It’s mostly assumed and not stated outright. But it’s yet another case where good advice is stretched well beyond the original scope and meaning.
When I posted the series Learning Photography, in the part about lenses I recommended that if you’re serious about landscape photography, you really need to get a wide-angle lens. Does that mean all good landscape photos are done with a wide-angle? Certainly not!
I know (very good) photographers who shoot almost nothing but wide-angle landscapes, some loving the ultra-wide. This is what they like, so I’m not knocking them at all! But even though many of these pictures are amazing, there’s a risk of getting stuck in a rut, with images that begin to all look the same. Little or no variety means eventual boredom, on the part of the photographer if not their viewers and fans.
Columbia River Basalt, Washington scablands. Wide but not too wide at 28 mm.
The fact is that landscape photos are simply images of the land (I’m including seascapes). That’s it. The only other limitations are what you put there. And if you accept limits as an artist you’re shortchanging yourself. I shoot landscapes at every focal length I have. I’ve even done landscapes with my 600 mm. wildlife lens.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t feel good going out to shoot landscapes without a wide-angle lens, one shorter than 35 mm. in focal length. A sharp zoom lens that covers about 16 mm. to at least 24 mm. is just about perfect for many landscapes. I love that close, detailed foreground and the sense of depth you can achieve.
Panther Creek Falls, Washington. Going wide at 16 mm. because I was so close to the falls.
Note I am talking about 35 mm. equivalent focal lengths. If you have a full-frame DSLR, 24 mm. is 24 mm. If you have a crop-frame with a 1.6 factor, multiply your focal length by 1.6 to get the full-frame equivalent. In that case a wide-angle zoom of about 11 mm. to 16 mm. would be good for wide landscape shooting.
But if you capture pretty much every landscape with a wide-angle lens, too many photos will include a lot of uninteresting stuff around the periphery of the most interesting part of the composition. It’s a case of seeing that good photo within the larger average photo.
Many times I’ll start out with a wide-angle but then, bored with the foreground, I’ll switch to a longer lens in order to focus in on an interesting part of the scene. Tip: If you’re shooting wide, keep an eye on the light and be ready to quickly switch lenses or zoom in to catch smaller areas when the light falls just right.
For so-called intimate landscapes like the last two images in this post, everything is fairly close to you and elements tend to be evenly weighted in the frame. Because of this you have to be even more careful about going too wide. Depending on how close you are, a medium focal length (35-50 mm.) is often best in these cases.
Fall colors in rural Oregon, captured at 200 mm.
The fall colors above were captured at a long focal length (200 mm.) mostly because I didn’t want to trespass. But if I’d bothered to get permission, I would have gotten close and gone wide, to add some depth. But I like how it turned out. The river image below was shot at 24 mm. But I cropped it on the computer, just a little. I would have used 35 mm. if I had that available at the time.
So there you go! I hope the accompanying images have convinced you how misguided it is to go out shooting landscapes with the mindset that there’s a ‘proper’ lens and focal length to use. Happy weekend and happy shooting!
A mossy spring on the Hood River, Oregon. 24 mm., 0.8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50.