Take a run of the mill scene and turn it into a dynamic composition. Conveying movement in a picture takes something static and makes it dramatic. In many instances this will draw much more interest for the viewer. The most powerful tool we can utilize in photography is our imagination. If you learn to visualize the potential of the scene you will start to have more creative control of the image.
Here is a little how to for shooting a long exposure using clouds as the dynamic interest of your picture:
Since we are trying to create something dynamic we will also need something static (not moving) to juxtapose with the cloud movement. In the case of the example image I used the mountain.
Once you have identified a possible composition first and foremost you will need your camera mounted on a tripod. Next you will need to be able to decrease or slow down your shutter speed to several seconds. This can either be achieved via available light shooting very early or rather late in the day. This is when your camera is metering in seconds so you can simply stop your aperture down (raising to larger numbers) to lengthen the exposure. Another method as with the example image I am using something called a Neutral Density filter (ND). ND filters in simple terms are filters that knock down the light. ND filters are external filters used in front of your lens. They are measured in stops of light. They come in several configurations and are utilized not only in this type of situation but are also widely used in other applications for landscape shooting. They are used to help balance the light in your exposure which is a whole other story for another time.
Remember when you stop down by one full aperture setting you are doubling the length of your exposure. If you’re at f11 and your camera is metering for a 15 second exposure when you stop down to f16 (1 full stop) you will double your exposure time to 30 seconds.
Using ND filters will give you much more control of the light and can be executed at any time regardless of the current conditions. There is a lot you can learn about ND filters by simply googling them. In the case of the example image I used a 10 stop ND filter adding 10 full stops to the exposure. This image ended up being 228 seconds.
The image here was shot late in the afternoon but with lots of available light so I choose a 10 stop ND to lengthen the exposure time desired. Once I metered the shot without the ND filter I took out my I-phone which has an app that includes an exposure calculator and figured the correct amount of time for exposure when adding 10 stops. I currently use something called Photo Pills but there are many different apps available. You can do the math in your head for a few stops but with 10 stops a calculator comes in very handy. Most DSLR cameras will expose up to a 30 second exposure. I find that anywhere from 5+ seconds will usually add the drama and then it is a matter of your own creative taste.
Remember that after 30 seconds you will need to shoot in Bulb setting mode and have a shutter release device to keep your shutter open for the desired length of the exposure time. Once you make your exposure check your histogram and make sure you are getting a good exposure, if not make your adjustments and try again. Lot’s of trial and error on these shots. I also recommend that if you’re shooting real long exposures that you have your LE noise reduction shut off if it’s turned on. You can always control your digital noise in post. This allows you quicker feedback if you need to try again.
All this sounds complicated but it’s not. It will just take a little time, possibly some more research and lot’s of experimenting. I did not get this shot on my first outing but that is where all the fun lies, in the exploration. Don’t be afraid to take risks and get creative with your image making you will find it will add a whole new dimension to your photography.
For any photographer at any level creating dynamic compositions is the goal and part of the fun of photography. In the last blog, I touched upon the use of the near/far compositional element to create depth. In this blog another very popular method of creating distance is leading compositional lines. Adding compositional lines can provide multiple composition solutions. They can grab the viewer and direct them into and through your image. They can also take you to a destination but both ways will create depth.
In this image the animal tracks are the leading compositional lines. I was looking for strong lines in dunes this particular morning and came across these animal foot prints. Without the lines the shot may be pretty but boring. It would have lacked the visual dynamic that I always look for in a composition. So the next time your out shooting look for things in nature that can lead. Maybe it’s a worn path going off in the distance, a groupings of rocks, a winding stream or lines in a dune (maybe you’ll stumble on other lines like me). There are many leading opportunities in nature , find them and incorporate them in your composition.
There are many compositional techniques to creating exciting and interesting photography. One such way is to create depth and a sense of space in the image. Depth between the front and back of the image frame will increase visual interest in your composition for your viewers to stay engaged. There are plenty of times when a flat composition becomes very effective but there are ways to make visually interesting also ( more on that in a later post). There are a couple of ways to get depth. A near far composition, repeating shapes and leading lines to name a few are all excellent starting points. For this discussion we will be speaking to the near far technique. The near far technique is achieved by having a dominant foreground element as the anchor of the image. Usually achieved with a wide angle lens to enhance a size difference with the rest of the landscape in the far distance. Hence….. near and far.
In this image , shot on the Delaware river in Worthington State Forest, a wide angle lens was used to make the rocks big. Now clearly the rocks are not as big as the trees in real life but by using the optics in combination with the composition a great deal of depth in the image has occurred. Near objects in compositions can be rocks, flowers or just about anything as long as it relates to the scene. The near object relationship with the background will help deepen the connection for your viewer. Usually an already natural foreground will do the trick. Experiment with this technique with different sized and types of foreground objects and you will begin to see a big difference in your landscape images. It made the biggest difference in mine.
I think it’s accurate to say that when I go out to shoot I’m looking for great light. Sure I may pick a destination that is appealing but ultimately as I scan for a composition I’m drawn to light and how it reacts with my surrounding. On this day there wasn’t a cloud in the sky making some of my bigger photographic ideas not as appealing. That same direct hard light though was wonderful as a back light to the budding trees. Backlighting a subject accentuates color and possibly texture given what your shooting. Never underestimate the power of backlighting on subjects.
Hello everybody I hope you have been enjoying this amazing winter we have been experiencing, while I am completely tired of getting out the snow blower the opportunities for photography have been incredible. Since the last time I posted on this blog I have been half way around the world to China as well as Mt. Fuji , Japan and as far north as Yellowknife Canada shooting the Northern lights. However I think the best image I made this winter was right here in Mahwah, NJ at the Ramapo Reservation along the Ramapo River. During the first pretty snowfall of the season I knew the park would be a great place for winter images and as late afternoon arrived the storm had started to break up, it dawned on me that the river set up perfectly flowing west and the potential for some late day sunset color was possible. I found a spot that had a beautiful reflecting pool and then worked on a composition, Mother Nature did the rest.
We are so fortunate to have these resources at our disposal although I have the good fortune traveling around the world to shoot I still think I create my best images here at home in the local parks and trails I have come to know so well.
Have faith the spring and summer will be here soon where you will be reading a post from me complaining about the heat ☺
The culmination of a very long, hard climb on a bone-chilling, dry January day, this image made in 2000, is a portrait of the highest point on Wittenberg Mountain, one of the most dramatic and inaccessible peaks in the Catskills. Although many hikers may disagree with my use of the term “inaccessible” (in truth, it’s not that hard of a climb), it was to us that day. I was accompanied by my friend Ed and dog Jenny. From the parking area, Ed and I crossed the swinging bridge spanning a small creek that leads to the trail head, while Jenny opted to wade the creek. We met at the trail head and marveled at Jenny’s completely stiff, frozen hair. The result of a 5 second immersion in water at 18 degrees fahrenheit. She, in typical fashion, shrugged it off as she flew up the trail ahead of us. Ed and I were moving slower however. At this point in 2000, I was still using my beloved 1972 Burke and James 8×10 inch view camera that sat on a Ries wooden tripod capable on supporting cameras as big as 7×17 inches (film size). Both are now relegated to backup duty because I cannot climb with them on my back. Ansel Adams and Edward Weston both used the same tripod. Its weight combined with the rest of the equipment (plus lunch, water and extra clothing) reached an intolerable 65 pounds. Thus, in 18 degree air, I ferried such a load that within ten minutes I had stripped down to a T-shirt and still soaked it with sweat! The rest of the trip to the summit was a slog occasionally interrupted by a fast downward slide on thin snow-covered ice that brought me painfully to my knees. We reached the summit forest of fragrant balsam and red spruce at lunch time. Within seconds of stopping for a drink of water, we froze in our wet shirts and scrambled for more clothing. Now suddenly we could not get warm! The physical effort had ceased and our bodies were depleted. A quick lunch and warm drink helped but not for long. To add insult to injury a gentle breeze began to wash the summit adding windchill to our problems. I now worked quickly to find my intended image; determined not to freeze on this mountain. The trail lead us to a small clearing with a view facing northeast. High wind clouds dark with moisture began to move in from the southwest. My dog, dry and fed, was shivering from inactivity. I spotted a cliff edge with dead spruce trees leading to a verdant carpet of mountains spread before me. A small spruce crown topped the display. I was ready to work. As quickly as possible, I set up and made the image shown here. Calling it quits was easy. We packed and left having spent all of this energy to make one negative! I did not print this image until an exhibition called for it in 2004. I only print this photograph in large sizes such as 28×35 inches or larger. It doesn’t translate what I felt that day in smaller size. The huge expanse of mountain and sky, shadow and sunlight. The Catskill Mountains in a cold, clear alpine moment. A moment and a day I will never forget.