I have spent many years chasing sunsets partly because I’m too darn lazy to get up for sunrises. I always tell myself to but I never seem to manage it. Over the years I have managed to come up with a few good spots to go for sunset to make up for these lack of early mornings. One of the things that I have learned is that Spring sunsets can be amazing here in Bozeman.
They aren’t what you would expect. The way the weather moves through the valley often only a sliver of light is left on the mountains to the east as the clouds cover everything else in the sky. This narrow opening out west lets in just enough light to make some magic happen. It’s like that single ray of light on a dreary day to make everything better.
I had this topic come up in conversation this past week and at the end we were both having to take a look at our own photography and wondering how much it applied. So think about this for a second. The Perfect Exposure what is it, how is it captured, how will affect the final image? Exposure is how we deal with light and the absence of light in every photograph. As a photographer our job is to capture the best possible exposure in order to tell the best story. So exposure is important but can it even be perfect?
When I think of perfection what comes to mind is a perfect photograph. That long sought after image that is constantly eluding us so we chase it over and over again. But does it really even exist? If it does what do you do when you get it? Perfection is such a subjective thing that it’s a wonder we even try to make it possible. But when it comes to perfection how can you even know if there isn’t another person taking a similar photo to compare? Each photo is unique and with no way to compare then perfection will always be changing. Exposure is the same way. It’s always changing and how we capture that exposure is also changing. There is no mathematical formula that if you use in every photo you will always get perfection. Perfection isn’t the same as making things easier. Only with practice can you make things easier but never perfect. Why would you ever seek perfection I wouldn’t know but that’s for each person to decide on their own.
Steam is one of the best parts of winter landscape photography. It adds so much drama and character to the images that the landscapes can take on a whole different life form. If you don’t believe me then find a good spot in winter, take a picture and then go back in the summer and you will see the awesome difference. But how do you protect your camera gear while working in that steam?
First off this is for those that are standing in steam while also photographing it. If you’re a good distance away then your gear really isn’t in any danger. With that when you are standing next to a steam pocket remember that the external surfaces of the cameras are quite resilient. It is the internal electronics that aren’t, so don’t change lenses, or cards or batteries while standing in steam. Next carry a towel with you to gently dab off any moisture that gets on the surfaces, especially by the buttons. Lastly be careful with the front element and what I mean is that steam is hot but the air around the steam is not so if you stick that lens into the steam and it gets hot and then you quickly move somewhere else where it is cool then that difference in temperature can cause damage. Instead try covering the front element afterward and then move. Let it be a little more gradual temperature change. I highly recommend NC Filters for these kind of shoots because if you damage a filter it’s no big deal where as a front element is. Don’t be afraid of nature just be aware of what can happen and be prepared.
If there’s one movie everyone like’s to quote, it’s Forest Gump. His running scene is a favorite amongst landscape photographers because all those places are iconic areas in the United States. Of course this one spot wasn’t even in the US it was further north in the Arctic.
How you approach a scene will very much determine the outcome of your photographs. Everyone else when they saw this sunset immediately grabbed the widest lens they could and while it was worth going that route, it’s not the only route.
I grabbed the 70-300 VR for this one slice of that whole picture. An orange background and white water just popped more then anything else. Sure there’s icebergs and gulls flying around but that’s part of the story. And as Forest said, “it’s like a million little sparkles.”
Last summer I had the great fortune to be able to go to England and amongst my time there I was able to see everything fro Spitfires flying over the countryside to the canal district of London. On a photo walk in London the group ventured along the canals which are enormously long and have so very unique history to them. Unfortunately that history I’m not so good with. But the one thing I noticed is color. Everything there was green or some sort of shade of green. The boats are the most unique aspect alongside the architecture that goes alongside the canals. This one stood more then the rest.
Two things to think about here. First off on a photowalk I tend to go minimally, one body and one lens on a camera strap. Less to carry and more of a challenge for the old noggin. Secondly this was taken with the 18-35mm on the D750. A small body and a wide lens because I knew architecture and landscapes were the primary focus nothing far away and nothing super detailed. It’s a fast lens and a sharp one at that. Now back to this little boat. I don’t know what they were thinking when they painted it nor how many times they did paint it but it stands out. On a photowalk if you just come away with one image that stands out in your files, then you’re doing good because they are hard. Exciting and new but hard to come away with something great.
Every photographer knows that light is not only an essential element to any photograph but also shapes the story that is told in every photograph. We spend a lot of our time trying to understand and use light to the best of our knowledge but can a photograph be just about light? Does a photo need to follow the rule of thirds or any other of the many rules that we love to regurgitate? Can a photo be just about light and be successful?
Light is never the same in any two spots. It is constantly making everything around it change and thus in itself change. Can that variation be enough to fulfill the rules? Then of course are the shadows that are produced from the light. That adds a whole other element that can fulfill the needs of the photo. These sorts of questions I often wonder about in winter time when there is more time to think then shoot and with a blank canvas like snow, the options are truly limitless. Have you ever tried using a flash in snow? It can be fun. If you live in an area with snow, which right now in the US thats a few places, then try capturing just the light and see what happens.
It’s fun to play around with this area because you can make some very interesting and some very bad images as a result. While I have some basic guidelines that I myself go by, I’m always playing around with landscapes because there is a lot of room to do just that. When it comes to depth of field you have to remember what the story is. Depth can really change how the viewer looks at a photo. I put up these two images because they were taken at the exact same spot just different depths of field.
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park has some great pools and formations to work with. I’ve gone to those spots many times over the years and each time it’s different. This time I was looking at the steam and the formations. Top image was taken at F/22 and the bottom at F/5.6. The difference is pretty noticeable but each one tells a different story of the same spot. Both exist at the same time so which one is better? There’s no good answer it’s just a different story. If you’re not sure which way to go then take the same composition both ways and see which looks better. Never plan on going back because odds are it will be different when you go back.
I often don’t like shooting landscapes that have just a blue sky because they are kind of boring. Unless there is a lot going on in the composition, having a lot of blue sky just doesn’t make for much of an interesting composition. Why is that? Landscapes are often a multitude of colors and there needs to be a balance of those colors, so when one is more dominant, whether dark or bright, it sticks out. Bright blue sky can be like that. There are times when having nothing but a blue sky works.
One great example of when nothing but blue works is with steam. Steam tends to blend in when there is a cloudy background. Makes sense right, white and grey steam blending in with grey clouds. This is where that whole color pallet with landscapes comes back into play. Landscapes aren’t just about majestic areas and great light, a lot comes back to color.
December is often associated with winter, snow and of course Christmas. The one thing I’ve learned out of all my years living here in Montana is that winter can never be predicted. Even the weathermen a day beforehand can’t figure out what it’s going to do. So how as a photographer do you deal with that?
Lots of exploration. It really sucks when you’re out shooting in need of a good photograph and you just can’t find it. The days where you get skunked are all too real and can be very frustrating because you know what it should be but it’s not there. The answer is to be patient and to keep driving around until you find something. If you keep a journal of great places to shoot, which I encourage every photographer to do, then that can help with those lulls. Otherwise just keep your eyes open and see what comes your way.
It’s impossible to predict what each season will bring and the more time you spend behind the camera the more you see those changes as the years pass by. It makes landscape photography more interesting that way because the same day, a year a part, can be complete opposites. The other reality is this happens everywhere. As a photographer how do you prep going into the field thinking it’s going to be one way and it’s something else? For example; here in Bozeman it’s the end of November and it looks like October without the fall color or the snow.
The biggest challenge is always figuring out what to bring and what to leave at home. Lets face it we all have to much gear, it comes with the job. The best solution is spending lots of time with that gear and knowing what works best as more all purpose. For example my two favorite lenses for landscape work are the 24-70 AF-S and 70-200 VRII because they are so versatile. This makes switching targets way easier. As for figuring out where to go to shoot, that comes down to watching the weather and just looking out the window. I spend lots of time doing both to see what areas are going to be best.