Kev and Rich talking about landscape photography was our last meeting, two of the clubs finest and most experienced landscapers. We all take landscapes, it is hard not to, apart from the obvious fact we live in them to a greater or lesser extent, but to get them just right requires planning, determination and patience. And practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice.
What comes first though? You have to spot the picture. Not everyone sees the subject of a photograph in the tangle of the environment it inhabits. Certainly two photographers can look at the same thing, pick out the same subject and one will think the shot worth taking, the other not. Both are right, at least for them. There can be a lot of stuff going on and as with other forms of photography the first strategy is to tell one story in one picture. This means looking, critically, at what is in front of you. Yes, as often as not a landscape is taken with a wide angle as a telephoto lens, lens choice is not the point, it should be consequent to a decision about how to frame a picture you have in mind. You use whatever you think is necessary, but the absolute basis of landscape as any other form of photography is the composition. You have a frame made by the physical interaction of object, light, glass and sensor size. You control distance, angle, subject focus, depth of field, about the subject itself. You vary these elements to compose your image in the frame and ….. click.
Well, if only it were that simple and of course it is, but it is a lot more than about the mechanics. We are not after the best shutter sound, most satisfying zoom look and feel nor any of the other myriad electro-mechanical marvels that go into making a retrievable image. We are after the essence, the soul of what we have observed in the landscape. We want to ensnare what the poet John Keates observed simply because “A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.” It is the sweet dreams, health and quiet breathing that we are trying to capture. Indeed if there is a poem for landscape photographers then Endymion is it. Maybe all photographers.
Waxing lyrical aside, that which we can control in landscape photography is a good deal less than we can control in studio photography. Get up well before dawn, drive to the appointed place safe in the knowledge that the several weather forecasts we have consulted the day before assure us that it will be excellent weather. Trudge for half an hour in the dark: set up camera and tripod; find out that the weather forecasters got it wrong; employ colourful epithets around the possible uses of weather forecasters who can’t; pack up go home; come back tomorrow. Or at sunset. Or buy yourself a 720 nanometer infra red filter and make a day of it (or any other IR filter depending on the number of batteries you have with you and the length of the chapters of the book you are reading when taking 30 minute plus exposures with 900nm filters). Still, as Mr Keats put it: “That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast;/They always must be with us …“. Or maybe not abandon the day? Maybe you should go and look for particular details of interest in themselves, who don’t need the context of the vista to make a story? It won’t be that story, but it will be a story, if only a different one. You could even do your own mini photo-marathon. Always pays to have a foul weather alternative at the very least.
If this is the case it really shouldn’t be by chance. The successful landscape expedition is always going to be at mercy of the weather. So are the unsuccessful ones, but the difference between the two is planning. You may not get what you thought you were going to get but you can get something and this is far more likely to happen if there is a plan in place and, as I always say, if you haven’t got a plan B you haven’t got a plan. As for luck, as we have visited and revisited in this blog, originally from a presentation by Kev and Rich on their first Iceland trip, you make your own.
That doesn’t mean that spontaneity should be crushed in pursuit of the single frame, though at least one speaker we have had over the last year said he tended to relentlessly pursue the single image he has in mind, then pack up and go home. Whereas I admire such tenacity I have to say, where’s the fun in that? There is a middle path here that certainly will yield results. Looking without seeing is the difference between the lay person and the artist, the bloke-with-a-camera from the photographer (regardless of gender). It isn’t about being a professional. A professional gets paid for it. Not all of it, but some of it, enough of it and they make a living, but certainly the some of it good enough, or suitable enough to get published. Composing in the mind’s eye then varying those things we talked about controlling above, and post processing as and if necessary.
The basic rules is the same for landscape composition as it is for everything else we want to take a good photograph of. Reduce the contents of your frame to the absolute minimum. Then reduce it again. What? With a wide angle lens and a huge landscape in front of us? Yes. A single focal point for the eye to rest on. Then the other details in the frame unfold as our eyes are lead from one point to another. The less the competing details the larger the impact. It’s why we fill the frame. All that varying the angle? To avoid the middle and make more use of the space in the frame. Then there are the lead lines, diagonals, to play with perspectives and backgrounds and borders to police for distracting extraneous detail. Above all, have fun.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Week 7 – 13th Oct 2016 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Margaret Collis “Photography For Fun”