Winter is definitely coming as the latest snow storm has made it clear. That means a lot of days of cold fingers and toes. It is really important if you go out this winter that your hands and feet are properly protected. It’s not fun taking pictures if you’re cold. Been there, done that. For years I’ve used XC Skiing gloves to keep my hands warm and boots from Northern Face and Alpha. XC’s gloves are thin which are great for pressing the buttons on the camera body. Northern Face boots are lighter while the Alpha’s are for the negative digits. Winter sales are coming up and if you’re planning on doing a lot of shooting this winter be sure to be prepared.
Storms are fun to chase because you never quite know what you’ll find at the end of them. A lot of time you end up with a whole lot of nothing but you had a fun drive. Then again you find those rare moments where the skies open up and let down something amazing. This was a quick click with the D750, 18-35 f3.5 on Lexar UDMA Digital Film on a recent trip through western Montana. One of the great things about the transition from Spring into Summer are all the chances at these storms.
I actually have more of a question then a lesson here. If you get the chance to go up flying is it worthwhile to photograph the earth below you or not? Since I have never considered myself an aerial landscape photographer I can’t say that I really got into this sort of thing. But it comes down one of the basis of photography and that is every opportunity is a chance for another photograph. Since you never know when or where you might need a certain photograph, often times it’s best to just keep shooting so that you have plenty of options, right? Well that’s my thinking at least.
But to add another layer of thinking to this. When you’re flying and you have the chance for an aerial landscape shot, do you leave the strut of the plane in or take it out? The same could be said with a commercial plane if you have a seat over the wing. Do you even have to choose or can you just take both images? If both options are presented and you can do both I tend to lean towards that. Again it comes down to taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. In a travel piece having that strut in the photo could add a little more backstory. For an environmental or commercial purpose maybe having a clean look is better. These are things to think about when you’re out shooting because you just never know.
Scale in a photograph can be measured in multiple forms. It can add drama and sense of placement for everything in the photograph. It can also make it confusing as to whats what. In a world where everything man makes becomes bigger and bigger, it’s easy to loose sight of the fact that the world is still bigger. Using the D5 and 70-200 VRII, the landscape and houses along the Madison River compress into one view but the scale is still there.
This is a lesson I learned a long time ago from my Dad and it has to do a lot with the rule of thirds. Is it always necessary when you’re composing? Spring puffies are a great example in my mind because they fill the sky and add so much character that they could practically fill the frame by themselves. In that instance do you even need the land? Two thirds of this photo are filled with clouds which breaks the rule but it is also makes it more compelling then the alternative. Rules are important as a basic guideline when you start. Some are carved in stone due to the physics of light that they encompass. Others can be bent. It’s our job to figure out which are which.
Time in the field is a necessity in order to get better with your camera. The more you spend the better you will get. That is the nature of being human and the truth with all things you can get better at. However, does every photo shoot you go on need to take a lot of time? Is simply going out for say an hour, enough to make you better or just keep your skills on par with where they have always been?
I think about this often in Spring because we get great thunderstorms in the afternoons and it’s often fun to go out just for sunset to capture their beauty. Not long in the field but still time. While that simple afternoon shot often provides enough for a blog post it doesn’t do much else besides that. It is something but it doesn’t seem like much. So that’s the dilemma. How much time in the field is enough even when you come back with a result?
Not in Montana! This old adage is a favorite among farmers and ranchers but it certainly doesn’t seem to apply this year. With storm after storm bring record levels of water content into the mountains it’s hard to say when the snow will give way, when the temps will rise and when those posies will blossom.
These two images were taken in June a while back because like this year, those years the bloom didn’t happen until June. Now I have never been a huge macro flower person but I love landscapes that are filled with color from those flowers. Something as simple as a field of Mustard Grass can be rather amazing. Like with all my landscapes I look for clean backgrounds and clean lines. Notice there are no trails of people having walked through the flowers. Also blue sky days are great, blue sky days with puffy clouds are even better. Don’t go just for the sake of going, be picky, and find the good days. I bring this up now because with all photo subjects you need to prep ahead of time.
I really like using longer lenses even mid range lenses when it comes to landscapes. I often find that there are avenues in landscape photography that make for a stronger composition then if you were to use a wider lens and capture more info. A big part of landscape photography is finding those areas where the light is making a statement about the land. Too much negative or positive space can lead to a boring image. Kinda like here, having a wider lens really wouldn’t add anymore to the story.
Winter landscapes and black and white photography really remind me of poetry. I don’t know why but that’s just where my mind goes. When the afternoon goes from gorgeous god beams to so flat a grey that you could use it as a color checker it makes one wonder what kind of poem is being written. Low clouds, steam from the rivers and folks burning ground clutter can make for some interesting backgrounds. Combined with Cottonwoods and snow the valley can become rather surreal, much like a poem.
Well it’s starting to feel like winter already which is kind of amazing considering how short fall was. With this last big storm that swept across Montana, a blanket of snow was dropped and it was a pretty good size blanket. We got a good foot here in the valley which is actually typical for November as we always seem to get at least one big storm before Thanksgiving.
When big storms come through I watch the weather carefully never knowing when the whole will come in the clouds letting in just enough light to really make that fresh powder shine. Sunday we had a few hours before the next storm cell would bring in more snow I went out looking at all that great powder. Sadly I returned with nothing. That’s how it goes sometimes. You get all ready to find that image only to return empty handed. Then looking out the window in a brief moment there was the image. This is why it’s important to have a camera on your desk for you never know when it’s going to be needed. This was a simple click with the D5 and 70-200 VRII out my window towards the neighbors horse ranch. A little bit of finishing in ACR and there ya go.
One of the reasons I became a photographer was because I enjoyed exploring. One of the great things about Montana is that there is a whole lot of area to explore. One of those areas I got to explore recently was a private ranch outside of Columbus and not only was it a huge ranch it still had that old timey western feel, like at any point some outlaw was about to ride up on his horse.
One thing that can make a difference in your photography is to challenge yourself by only using one lens. While I was out at this ranch I did a lot of hiking. I decided to make life simple and carry only one lens, one body. The light was somewhat diffused but nothing worthwhile by going wide, so I went with the D5, 70-200 VRII and a TC-17E II in my pocket. I was looking for those pockets of light where the most drama could be found.
Obviously, I found an old building. It’s really not that hard to do in Montana, there are a lot of old structures still standing. Each one has its own characteristics which make it unique. This particular one was kinda sinking in on one side and slanted over on the other side. So when it comes to these structures showing these details are important.
As you can see even with just one lens, with a little time you can go from that wide shot, to the detail shot and capture the whole story. My favorite part is all the nails going in at an angle.