This past Sunday I ventured up to Harriman State Park. I left my house at 5:15am to ensure I would get there in time to shoot some sort of sunrise. The weather report wasn’t looking too good the previous evening in terms of cloud cover ( I always look at cloud cover on the weather sites) and sure enough it was clear and bright moonlit skies when I walked out my door. I actually debated in my head whether to go or not. Figuring that I made the effort to be up that early I started the truck and began the trip north. As I was driving into the park there were some clouds passing by so I was beginning to feel a little better about my decision. As the skies were brightening I could start to see some really good possibilities taking shape. At this point, I realized I need to find a spot quickly and I chose Lake Kanawauke. Truth be told, it was the closest lake at the time. Normally I have a plan but on this particular day I was photographically improvising. I usually have some sort of sketchy plan on where I’m going to shoot. Scrambling to find an interesting shot I came across a grouping of rocks and quickly worked out the composition. I chose this dominant foreground rather than an over all wide lake shot because I wanted some additional interest and depth. I wasn’t feeling a straight shot of the lake would be all that interesting.
After the beautiful sunrise I walked around and continued to shoot and scout for future visits. I wanted to go down to Silver Mine Lake and see if there were any opportunities to shoot there. It’s one of my favorite spots in Harriman. At this point there were enough clouds starting to build to have some interesting skies. After parking in the lot I took the trail that skirts the left side of the water. Not far down I found a nice quiet spot. I like the composition and while I don’t normally go out of my way to shoot with a sun burst effect it does add some additional interest to the shot. When the colors change I will be back in this spot for sure.
Overall, It never ceases to amaze me that this kind of photographic potential is so close to New York City.The variety of the landscapes makes this place a must do in the area. With Fall fast approaching you can bet you will find me there.
Here is another shot from my hike on the Van Campens Glen trail in the Delaware Water Gap. The hike is better described in a previous hike to photo ratio blog. This water fall is not far into the hike and is one of my favorite places to shoot. Assuming your careful it can be accessed from both sides and the top. Obviously this image was taken from the top of the falls. For this particular spot you’ll want to be sure that you have solid footing for your camera and tripod not to mention yourself. It’s definitely not desirable to have your equipment or you go over the top and in to the pool below.
This image is one of my favorite shots of the year so far. Using some of the compositional elements discussed previously with the addition of another creates an enormous amount of depth in the shot. First, the foreground rocks/ledge anchor the front of the composition. Second, the waterfall itself has beautiful lines as it leads into the creek below and curves off to the distance to a vanishing point. Lastly, on this morning if was slightly misty/foggy which is always accentuated in the distance. Atmospheric conditions affect objects further away rather than up close further adding to the depth. Couple all those elements together with a wide angle lens and the image has many visual points to look at.
I love to shoot waterfalls and there are not that many many in New Jersey to begin with that offer this kind of beauty and solitude. Everyone’s safety is always paramount when shooting around water but the rewards if everything comes together is incredibly satisfying.
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.