When you are driving through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, somewhere near Banff National Park, and you notice a black SUV parked half off the road and some Dutch guy leaning to the left to avoid a branch with his camera in the act of getting that perfect angle, you have met me. To me, a trip anywhere isn’t complete unless I have manage to take some of it home – either for those who can’t explore that beauty on their own, as well as to inspire others to embark on their journey of a lifetime. In short, that’s why I do what I do as a fine art photographer. Today I’d like to share some of the techniques that make scenic photography such a wonderful form of art – simple, yet elegant.
First off, equipment
As much as the cheap point-and-shoot camera might appeal from a budget point of view, get real. Even though they have gotten much better, manufacturers still have to cram everything into the small camera body, typically resulting in blurriness & boringness. Good photos are sharp, unless you use blur for artistic effect. Practically speaking, a DSLR is the absolute best, as they can be used with top quality lenses. Digital SLRs are not as expensive as they used to be. If you’re budget conscious start with an entry-level model, as usually you can still use the interchangeable lenses once you upgrade to a better camera body (from the same manufacturer) later on.
Motions and emotions
So now that you have a camera – have you ever found a spot that’s so wonderful that you wanted to capture it from every possible angle, only to be disappointed by the pics? What happened? Emotions got in the way! When you experience a place, you experience it with all your senses: there are sounds, smells, breezes as well as the visuals of the spot. When overwhelmed by a scenic hotspot, we are often overwhelmed by all of these elements. Needless to say, you cannot photograph all of these elements, only the visual.
While you cannot capture all of the elements of a scene, you can hint at them. For starters, motion. Even in a still picture, there’s motion. Something happened before, during & after your picture. In a mountain vista scene, you may find something that hints at motion, whether it be a branch of a tree that has been swaying in the breeze, or a river flowing through the valley below. These elements add a sense of motion, even if they’re froze in time.
Plan for the perfect photograph
So what to do to capture that perfect spot? Look through your camera: the viewfinder (usually) does not lie. Try to see what you are looking at as the finished picture. Most people randomly press the shutter, hoping that somehow the shot will come out great. If you wonder how the pics came out when you are downloading them onto your computer after you came home, you are doing something wrong. Right before you take the photograph, you should know exactly what you want to get – and you should verify on the camera’s display if the result is what you aimed for.
Then there’s the “rule of thirds.”
When you place the main object of the picture perfectly in the centre, the image will be static and boring. Place your subject one third of the way from either side. The same goes for the horizon in a landscape photo: place it a third of the way up or down, hardly ever across the middle.
Remember, when a person looks at a picture, their eyes move. You need to compose your photograph to help that movement. If you can find some lines in the scene, such as a skyline, a cloud formation, a path through the forest, a fence, etcetera, use it to point towards your subject, and using the rule of thirds to draw your viewer’s eyes into the picture.
Avoid “summit syndrome.”
You made it all the way to the top of the viewpoint in Banff (or took the gondola) and shoot the majestic view. Great. The pics come out… not so great! How? There’s no perspective. Big vistas will be flat unless you have something in the foreground, such as a rock or a tree, to give the image perspective. Then the eye grasps how big this scene is. The goal is to have the viewer of the photograph identify with the emotions of the photographer, giving the image real impact.
Yes, the minute anyone finds out you have a DSLR, you will have to take the family photos, it is mandatory and usually unavoidable. But when you do, make sure that you show the location of the photo. Otherwise, you might as well do it on your driveway. Frame the scene in context, with landmarks as part of the picture. Find a way to tell a story in the picture, such as young Arthur climbing up the rocks by the waterfall. You get the picture.
Finally, any element in the picture that hints at more senses than the visual elements only will make the image remarkable. If you photograph a garden, the viewer may experience the smell of the flowers or the fresh cut grass. A tourist street with an accordion player on the corner may have your amazed friends whistling “Dixie.”
In summary, taking photographs, especially while traveling, is recording the experience in a satisfying way. Use the techniques from this article to bring your photos to life. Oh, and needless to say, make your job easy and visit some great places!
Looking forward to learn more? Join my completely revamped online photography class today at a discounted rate!Join my online photography class