Robert Harvey BA (Hons) ARPS EFIAP treated us to Landscapes for all Seasons on the Feast of St Patrick. Starting with a straw poll as to which was the clubs favourite season for landscapes, apparently it is always Autumn, Robert took us through a wide variety of seasonal landscapes, features and how he captured them in a richly illustrated, wide ranging evening.
Although the camera basics are fairly well established, let’s call this the science, for taking landscapes, as ever the art has more to it than just pointing and shooting (for which f11 and focus two steps – 5 feet – in front of your 18-50mm kit lens set at 18mm. Gets everything in focus from 2’6″ (0.75m) up to infinity; works from 6 feet (well 5′ 9″) with a 24mm lens on a full frame. See the 30 July 15 blog post for an explanation of hyperfocal distance) of knowing your subject, knowing the conventions, knowing the sort of things that only practice really ever teaches. The art of knowing lies in critical observation and informed practice, often known as reflective practice, and Robert has 25 years photographic experience as well as a background as a natural scientist to draw on.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us should pack up and go home, but it does contain a general principle we can all adhere to. When we take the camera out we do so with a purpose. That isn’t to say we should squeeze all the fun out of it, that we can only take the camera out of the bag to conduct our photography with serious academic intent. We need to recognise that any photograph is the sum of the decisions the photographer has made about his/her relative position to a subject in a given environment. More of this in a minute.
Landscape photographs do have their own conventions and competitions have their own conventions and rules. Certainly the do no harm principle we talked about in the last post on natural photography, is an ethical place to start. Though as with nature photographs this idea can be both selectively and subjectively applied. But it does go deeper than that to the core idea of what a photograph actually is for, what it represents. We’ve touched on this recently with David Jones’ evening and the notions of authenticity. It is a question of what we are claiming to represent. If it is within a genre where the integrity of the image as a documentary record is sacrosanct, say photojournalism, then it is pretty straight forward. If it is more representative then it matters less. If it’s Snapchat then an altogether different, informal set of rules apply.
That may be the underlying code that dictates the what, the why, the where, the then of what gets captured but the how is, as we have touched on above, a process guided by the decisions we make. So, we’ve set the camera to manual or aperture priority and we have raised to the camera to the eye because something has captured our attention. Broad vista? Enter the rule of thirds. Most cameras, including compacts, have an optional thirds grid you can put on live view or through the (E)VF. Even if yours hasn’t it’s not too difficult to imagine one over the scene. The trick is then to align a feature on one of the lines, or at the junctions of the lines. If it’s patterns that have caught your eye then it will be a question of cropping in as tight as you can so the detail is very clear and a lot of the context available in a wider view will not be available.
You can still use the rule of thirds in a detail crop, indeed it can be very advantageous to the overall effect as there is less relative information to go by (not a bad thing). In the broader landscape you are looking to put the sky one third or two thirds of the way down in the picture. In the detail shot it will be the main feature (focus point). In both cases you really need to make the point of focus obvious using natural or man-made features, lead lines and so on. The broad tendency is for detail shots to be more abstract, the key to both is to be as close to the subject, as cropped in, as is possible and necessary to give the image punch. If you can’t frame it change position, shapes and features make the photograph, there absence just makes for an empty space that just happens to have something in it.
In essence that is it, seems simple, doesn’t it? Well it is and it isn’t. It is because that is what you do with the Bakelite lump you attach the expensive glass to. Three useful things to add: learn to use the histogram if your camera has one (or use your eyes, they tell you the same thing but the histogram measures the fall of light on the sensor and makes it obvious about spikes on the extreme left -shadows- and right – highlights); Expose for the sky/highlights (details in shadow are easier to recover in post production than highlights); Shoot in RAW (linked to the previous point). That doesn’t mean that JPEG is evil or wrong but where there is a high dynamic range in your image RAW will leave you with more information to manipulate. JPEG makes certain decisions about what data is used as a baseline and preserves/eliminates it on that basis. What is left is less data to manipulate.
It isn’t quite so simple because you cannot compensate for a lack of knowledge about where to be and when on a consistent basis just with luck. Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Photography. Club members Kev Speirs and Rich Price gave us a good grounding in this a couple of years back based on their 2013 trip to Iceland – which is where they are as I write this having returned to further their experience, Iceland, that is, not 2013, no not the frozen food chain either). The performance booster we are looking for is a planned serendipity. We’ve been here before so I shan’t dwell. Robert is an environmental scientist as well as a photographer and photography for him is more than a hobby, it is a business in more than one sense.
So, our thanks to Robert Harvey for a an interesting and well rounded evening.
N E X T M E E T I N G.
Judging ROC Round 3.