How to put a landscape photographer out of business - Part 1

August 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

How to put a landscape photographer out of business

1.  Ask questions

Here's a little secret: I still ask lots of questions.  I still enjoy learning.  :-)

As I mentioned yesterday, I also really enjoy the interaction I have with other people while I'm out taking pictures, and I love to answer questions.

Take Anthony, for instance.  I met Anthony while waiting for sunrise at Mather Point at the Grand Canyon.  Although dozens of people had shown up and were all staring to the east (where the sun would rise over the horizon), Anthony saw me with my tripod and camera aimed to the northwest.  Curiosity got the best of him, and he asked me why I wasn't looking the same direction as everyone else.

A little bit of back story: I visited the Grand Canyon once as a child, shooting with a 35mm film camera.  I shot a roll or two of sunset pictures facing directly into the sun and when I returned home to develop my photos, all I had were a few dozen identical pictures of a super-bright sun against a completely silhouetted canyon.  Honestly, they were pretty boring.

With this in mind, I could show Anthony where the light was going to fall, and why I pointed my camera away from the sun.

Seeing the sun rise is neat, but here's the thing: it happens just about everywhere, just about every day, no matter where you are or whether or not you're awake for it.  If the sky is clear (as it was that morning), the sun will always look about the same as it comes over the horizon.  Since my location was new and different, I chose to make that my subject.

2.  Wake up early / Stay up late

Sunlight changes throughout the day. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are the "golden hours" for photography, because the light takes on a different color, quality, and character than the rest of the day.  It illuminates landscapes with an indescribable brilliance, and makes everything it touches more vibrant.

Take a look at these two photos.  The first photo shows the Grand Canyon just seconds before sunrise.  The next shows the exact same scene 77 seconds later, just after sunrise.  (I processed both photos with identical settings.)  You can clearly see the difference in the golden glow that the sunlight casts on the canyon wall in the foreground.  (Click either photo for a larger version.)

Grand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at Sunrise Grand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at Sunrise

In the middle of the day, sunlight is harsher and casts hard, unpleasant shadows.  It's great for sightseeing and spending time outdoors, but not so much for photography.

As I've said before, sometimes the simplest and hardest part about landscape photography is just getting up early, but if you want to get a great shot, that's what you need to do.

3.  Anticipate the light

Photography, fundamentally, is capturing light.  An extraordinary scene with poor light will only give you a poor photograph.  Case in point: I arrived at the rim of the Grand Canyon at 4:30am.  Standing at the guard rail, I could see nothing but a thick, black void.  No light, no photo.

With the sun as your primary light source in most landscape photography, you cannot force it.  You must learn to follow it and anticipate what it will do next.  It's rarely enough to show up at a scene at just the right moment, snap a single picture, and be done.  (Wouldn't that be nice?)  At Delicate Arch this spring, we had cloud cover for most of the evening.  We waited for an hour and a half because we could see that a break in the clouds on the horizon would give us five minutes of perfect light just before sunset.

It takes patience and a bit of practice, but it's totally worth it..

Grand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at SunriseGrand Canyon at Sunrise from Mather Point

I shot this photo about 45 minutes after sunrise, while the light remained golden and had just reached the lowest parts of the canyon.

Part 1 here focused (no pun intended) on learning about light.  Come back next week to see Part 2, which will deal with composition.

 

Thanks for looking,

Adam@LiC


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