It’s about YOU!
You need to put more “you” into your landscape photography. For your creative landscape photography to make an impact, I have found it is really important that you have a unique “take” on the subject. Take landscape photos that YOU relate to, and don’t worry about if anyone else will approve.
Here’s a little story: I had been doing creative landscape photography for about 6 years, always composing my pictures with the thought, “Gee, I hope Mr. Blah Blah thinks this is a great shot!” (Mr. Blah Blah being who ever I thought I needed to impress, on that particular day.) Of course, the photo never turned out as well as I had hoped, because I was too busy thinking about how to make it appealing for Mr. Blah Blah, and not paying attention to my emotions about the scene!
I keep thinking of all the opportunities I wasted, trying to take those creative landscape photos that would have an impact on someone else!
It wasn’t till I gave up those crazy ideas completely, that I actually began to receive compliments about my creative photos. Now that I have my own style and my own methods, I can’t keep up with the demand!
Your unique interpretation is essential
There are an infinite number of subjects for creative landscape photography, and just as many ways to interpret them. Think of every photography class you ever took. Out of, let’s say, 15 people in a class, chances are, no one shot the same picture the same way. Why, you ask?
Good question. I believe it’s because everyone has a unique set of life experiences that colour the way we relate to the things in our environment, and this affects the associations we make with everything. In other words, we all interpret things in a unique way, according to our experiences.
I always try to make my creative landscape photos as unconventional as I can. (I don’t want to believe that I am just like everyone else!) I think about how a plain snapshot of the scene would look. And then I try to make my shot it as wildly different from that as possible!
So encourage your self to be unique. Let your “take” be a little eccentric. If the idea for your landscape photo seems strange, don’t sweat it. As the Nike people say, “Just do it!”
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It’s all about Drama!
Just like any powerful novel or entertaining movie, our creative landscape photography is a visual story and requires three basic elements. Our landscape photo needs a cast of characters, a central theme, and strong relationships between the characters. This interaction is what we usually call Drama! What we really want in a creative landscape photo is “Drama-tic.”
To help me take dramatic landscape photographs, I ask myself, “What’s the ONE thing here that really moves me?” And WHY?
When I have my answer, I know I have uncovered the central theme of the shot. The central theme leads to the main relationship – the central characters (subjects). And once I know the relationship, I have identified the characters! Sound familiar? I try to keep all my attention on just one (or maybe two – if they are strong,characters ) subject. Try it for yourself, the next time you’re taking landscape photographs.
So when we think about creative landscape photography, we want to think drama! Try different angles to uncover obscure relationships between your characters, and shoot at different times of day to explore uncommon themes. Dawn and dusk are my favorites!
Think about the graphical elements in your photograph. Look for unusual patterns, colors, textures, lines, contrasts, and shapes. All of these of course are functions of light. And it is light that definitely adds the air of drama to any landscape scene. Just like in the theatre, dramatic lighting creates the mood – the emotion and the impact. Light on the landscape does exactly the same thing.
Here’s a handy survey I use to help prepare myself before I make a landscape shot. It also helps me take my time!
- What do I like about this scene?
- What is the light doing?
- How can I best express this graphically in the photo?
- How can I isolate the main theme and characters?
- What equipment will I use?
- Are there any complications
- extreme lighting,
- fast moving elements,
- awkward angles,
- wind etc.
How will these things affect the landscape photograph? How will I minimize them, or how can I use the complications to make more creative landscape photography?
Keeping the composition simple – less is more!
Remember the three essentials of a well composed story (characters, themes and relationships)? In a well composed photograph, the characters are your subjects, the theme is the emotion you are feeling about the scene and what you want to capture, and the relationships add the drama.
To command attention, I try to simplify the number of “things” in my photo so the three essentials remain strong.
Here’s an example: imagine you are walking through a crowded market, in a foreign place, with many vendors, their stalls packed side-by-side in a narrow street.
They are all selling wonderful stuff, it could be foods, handicrafts, clothing, whatever. They are all shouting, trying to get your attention, to get you interested in their wares, so you’ll buy something.
Are you focused, or distracted, by all the activity, the many sights, sounds, and smells? I’d bet that you would be probably a little overwhelmed, not sure which stall to check out first.
T he same thing often happens when we compose our photos. If there are too many items in the composition, we can weaken our emotional message – and dilute the significance of the story our landscape photographs are telling. So I always remind myself to keep it simple.
See how the film sees
Our eyes and brain automatically interpret the things we see so we can make sense of it all. We are able to center on certain things and “shut out” others.
For example, when taking pictures of people in a scene, we notice after our lovely photograph has been printed, that a distracting background makes it look like a pole, or tree, some other goofy thing, is growing out of one of our subject’s heads.
Why didn’t we see this when we made the photo? Simple – we were so focused on the subject, that we didn’t “see” the background.
Film isn’t discriminating like our eyes and brain are – so when I compose, I take a moment in the viewfinder to scan ALL the things I see in there. And I recompose if I think there is too much going on.
We also see in three dimensions, while film (traditional or digital) records the three dimensional landscape in only two dimensions. So what we see in real life, won’t necessarily be translated to film in exactly the same way.
Here’s a really simple trick I use all the time, to help me determine if my shot will be as dramatic on film as it is when I’m seeing it. I simply shut one eye when checking out my composition. I don’t even use the camera! I just shut one eye, take a few deep breaths, check out the light, the angles, the “design elements.” If it looks right this way, it will probably make a good creative landscape photograph!
This works because by closing one eye, we are removing our ability to see depth, so what we view will approximate what the film “sees.” Give it a try!
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If you have been reading all this in order, by now, you are probably thinking “What a lot to remember!” Yeah, it can be a little overwhelming, for sure. But make sure not to waste all your efforts. I always want to give myself the best chance to use my most powerful photography equipment – my brain – so I try to slow down my photo taking process.
I try to approach my subject, thinking about the mood, the interaction, the Drama. I ask myself the key questions – who, what, why, how, etc. I try and explore different angles, maybe try different lenses. I focus on how I’m feeling about my subject, and what that emotion is.
I find if I take it slow, I’m more able to really absorb the landscape and everything around me; to focus on my FEELINGS for the scene; to isolate my main subject; to concentrate on a fine composition; and avoid a disappointing result later on.
Working your Subject
Most of the time, I find if I am truly taking my time on a shot, I’ll be trying out different views of my subject, and different orientations with respect to other elements that I may want in my landscape photograph. I am “working all the angles – working my subject!”
Slowing down will lets me explore my subject from all possible vantage points. Down low, up close, adding different foreground elements, standing on something for a new perspective, investigating all possibilities for capturing something unique and dramatic!
Light can reflect in many different ways, depending on where YOU are to see it. So I try to keep moving, recomposing, using the one eye method – I probably look like a complete weirdo to people who may see me doing my thing, but, hey, artists are supposed to be “eccentric!”
If you have traveled to an exotic place and are photographing the dramatic landscapes there, you owe it to yourself to make your time there really count. Investigate the scenery as thoroughly as you can! You may never have the opportunity to shoot creative landscape photography of this place again, so maximize every moment.
For the best results, I always use a tripod
OK, so this hot tip IS about equipment! And it’s not really one of those “Hey! I never thought of THAT!” sort of tips either, but you’ve been working too hard trying all these techniques to be disappointed with your efforts.
I feel I have to include it to help give you the best chance to make sure the other secrets will work, so you’ll be consistently shooting better creative landscape photography.
If you got up extra early to get the perfect light, spent a fair bit of time thinking about how to capture the shot, how to compose it, defining the relationships – I’d feel terrible if you wasted the moment by taking a chance using only your “steady” hand. And if it was really early that you woke up, you probably had enough coffee to make the earth shake! Tripod, please!
Use a GOOD tripod. Of all the photography in the world, landscapes lend themselves pretty well to careful composition and the sensible use of a tripod, because you can more-or-less plan your shot.
My favorite is an old, beat up Manfotto. I’ve had it for at least a thousand years! 🙂 But it’s lightweight, and sturdy. I also have a tiny pocket-sized one that I carry with me everywhere – to perfectly capture those unexpected opportunities! (My digital point-and-shoot camera is with me all the time too).
Whether you only have a car roof, a table, or a steady boulder, for support, you can use this tiny wonder to guarantee sharp, clear and awesome creative landscape photography.
Give Mother Nature a Hand!
Well, congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the list (almost!). And as your reward for being so patient, I have saved the best for last.
I hope photographers aren’t like magicians – bound by a code to keep trade secrets! Because if we are, I’m going to be in trouble – because I’m sharing some of the real insider secrets of creative landscape and nature photography here with you. Here we go!
OK, I guess some of these are almost technical tips. But, we all know Mother Nature sometimes doesn’t behave the way we’d like. And it creates more opportunity to use our imaginations and get really creative!
Imagination means we’re creative and we like to find novel ways to solve problems, so when Nature doesn’t cooperate with my plans, I try to be resourceful. As in any dramatic production, I’ve found the use of props can drastically improve the show! Here are a few examples of my “tricks” that help me make landscape photography that is much more than a snapshot: They’ll work for you too, guaranteed!
If I ever need a little ambiance, or a little more “atmosphere”, I breathe on the lens and get it foggy. As the fog evaporates, I take the shot! Photos coming soon!
I Keep a spare UV filer and a travel-sized container of Vaseline in my gadget bag. A little Vaseline smeared on the filter diffuses light in weird and wonderful ways!
For spectacular star bursts from point lights sources, or to give a shot a “soft focus” effect, I stretch a piece of pantyhose over my lens. It sounds strange, I know, but try it and you’ll be surprised by the cool effect!
In situations where there is a lot of contrast from sunlight streaming into a dark space, the shade of a canyon, for example, and you are shooting from the darkness, throw a little dirt in the air to create those wonderful “sunbeams.”
Some people may think this is cheating a little, but some photographers use special effects filters on a regular basis to create extraordinary results, so I don’t really think this is much different. I bring a small spray bottle full of water on my early morning shoots. If there was no dew overnight, I can instantly create my own, by gently spraying a fine mist of water on or around my subject.
If I am shooting big landscapes, a thin glistening of water on my main foreground subject can really bring out the colors in the foreground.
Don’t forget, take a look at my new landscape and nature photography “Surefire Success” Handbook. It could be the BEST investment you have ever made in your photography education! And that’s just not my opinion!!!! 🙂
NEXT LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY LESSON.