Are you consistently happy with your landscape photographs or are you always feeling you could have done better?
Most photographers can usually find an image to be proud of from every photo session but it’s those times when you have more images to be unhappy about that are cause for concern.
It’s natural to wonder what you might be doing wrong that spurs a search for answers. Careful examination of how you work when in the field might point to a number of different things but one that is quite consistent with bad images is how time is spent with the subjects.
Since we all want to make photographs that are masterpieces, here’s one thing that you can change today about how you create your images.
The Key to Great Photographs Might be to Slow Down
I fondly remember the many years I photographed with my 4×5 view camera. It really has not been that long since I quit using it and went totally digital. Maybe 10 years.
I ran thousands of sheets of film through that camera and what I liked best was the amount of time spent on composing each image. That was due to the cumbersome nature of the 4×5, the amount of time it took to set it up, and for a hungry photographer: the high cost of each frame of film made me want to insure I had a great shot before pressing the shutter. I know I learned a lot from working with the 4×5, especially patience.
These days with the digital, photographers can come upon a scene, setup the tripod and camera, frame the picture, bracket like crazy, and then move to the next shot and all within minutes. It is easy to become consumed, even overwhelmed by the scenery and then go ‘machine gun’ shooting fast and furious until the camera shutter starts to overheat.
Is volume helpful?
Shooting volumes and volumes of images is not a problem anymore. There is no cost to shooting 500 mb or 5 gb of images, unless you consider the time to wade through everything on the computer. The photographer can return to the computer and blends exposures, add or reduce contrast, paint in shadows and highlights, change skies, enhance colors, remove distractions, and create an image that might not have really existed.
What got me thinking about the idea here was that I did this very thing a few weeks ago. I landed in Petrified Forest National Park and was SO EXCITED to be back there. I set my camera to 5 stop auto bracketing (for exposure blending IF needed) and the drive to rapid fire so to shoot those brackets at lighting speed. Knowing I was only there for a little more than one day, I started to fill up that flash card fast. In some cases the resulting images were great and in many other shots, not so much. Probably half of what I shot was negligible at best. In my post shoot evaluation I determined I needed to spend more time in one spot and if the light was not perfect, move to another location where it was.
I am not the only photographer who has done this. I have had many photographers shoot this way and even during my workshops. As an example, when you take the time to look at images on G+, there are many mediocre images that have been heavily processed. Can this be a sign that ‘fixing it in Photoshop” is a widely practiced methodology to great imagery? Is there a belief that it’s better to grab a shot and then make it great in the digital darkroom?
During most of my 4×5 shooting days there was no digital darkroom when shooting with film, only the wet darkroom where you could make great things happen, but they were limited for the most part. For me the wet darkroom was used for fine tuning. The true image was captured in the field!
I consider myself quite competent in Photoshop and I do like compositing images, enhancing color, retouching out a distracting twig, but I LOVE my photography to look real. I was trained with film. A graduated neutral density filter was an AMAZING new tool when it came out and I used it as needed, bit only when IT WAS NEEDED.
I, like all of you, want to create amazing images. But my foray into Petrified Forest reminded me that:
GARBAGE IN EQUALS GARBAGE OUT! (USUALLY)
My Petrified Forest excursion also reminded that more is not always better. It reminded that Photoshop cannot always fix it. It reminded me that just because HDR is an amazing tool, it does not make hard contrasty light coming from the wrong direction necessarily work. And I was most importantly reminded that slowing down and taking the time on each image will produce much better results.
And best of all, it reminded me of what I already knew: the key for great landscape photography is to slow down and explore a scene for compositions that are striking and then work the subject in every way possible way.
The steps to better landscape images are:
- Find a strong subject
- Evaluate the light
- Determine the best angle based on the subjects position and lighting at the time.
- Determine the best camera height: should you get a little higher or get a little lower?
- Work the subject and scene hard no matter how long it takes.
You will feel much more gratified if you worked hard on only one image, making you feel like you created a masterpiece.