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.