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.
Rainbow over a drill rig, Bakken Field, North Dakota
I’m not going to get political here, don’t worry. I actually long for the days when climate change was a scientific not political issue. It seems strange now but before the late 80s/early 90s global warming was discussed among scientists. Not many of the general public knew about it or cared.
But in the scientific community, it was already a well-studied and discussed phenomenon. It really gained traction in the 1960s when a critical mass of data had been collected. Especially influential were the (steadily rising) carbon dioxide readings from the top of Mauna Loa, a large shield volcano making up much of the island of Hawaii. You can’t find a better spot to collect samples of the atmosphere, untainted by any local sources of pollution.
I recall taking a university seminar on paleoclimatology and seriously considering focusing on that, using glaciology to study it. I didn’t, perhaps because I was scared off by the sheer complexity of the subject (so many variables and feedback loops!). But I wonder what it would’ve been like, mid-career, to witness it become such a silly political football.
These two images are from the Bakken Field in western North Dakota. Bakken is the name for the oil field and also the geological formation, a shale that lies more than 10,000 feet beneath the prairie. Much of the drilling in the Bakken nowadays is for natural gas not oil (though that is still big too). Gas is what this large drill rig in the picture at top is going for. Although there is plenty of gas in this well, it will still be fracked to recover even more. At least here in the Bakken, fracking does not endanger water supplies; it’s just too deep and is also cut off from shallower aquifers by impermeable shale beds.
All over this part of North Dakota you see gas flares, one of which is pictured with the setting sun at bottom. Although these flares of course release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, they are quite necessary for safety. And they don’t even begin to compare to the gas released from pipelines between here, the source, and the refineries. Hooked to each gas flare is a monitor which measures how much gas is escaping. The problem really lies in the pipelines, where we just don’t have a good handle on how much is being released. I think that has to change.
The world is definitely warming, not evenly of course (as if any reasonable person would expect that). We are in large part responsible for that, and I believe that human influence on climate extends back to the dawn of agriculture, over 9500 years ago. We aren’t the first life-form to influence the world’s atmosphere and climate, and neither have we caused the biggest changes (single-celled bacteria hold that honor when they infused the atmosphere with oxygen).
But two things: (1) we aren’t done yet; and (2) although the world has seen big changes in climate in the past, this change promises to affect us and the rest of the world’s life forms in huge ways. We’ve built up our culture and changed our very natures as a result. So even though we won’t be rendered extinct by climate change (probably), the changes coming are such that civilization could very well be thrown into utter chaos. And that’s on top of causing the 6th major extinction of life across the board.
As many have said, it’s a moral issue. Can we in good conscience leave that sort of world to our descendants and the creatures who share this planet with us? The pope spoke about climate change this past week. More religious leaders need to join ranks. But most of all, we need real fundamental change in how we produce and use energy. And now it’s bordering on a political post, so I’ll stop there.
Natural gas flares into the sky at sunset, North Dakota