3 Tips for Better Landscapes

I’ve been thinking about the purpose of this blog, and how besides helping me to develop as a writer, I’d like it to be of some value to the audience I naturally tend to write for. Namely, people captivated by the sublime beauty of nature, and especially artists concerned with improving their ability to express personal vision through nature photography. Hopefully at times I’ll have something relevant to say for beginners as well as those more seasoned, while at the same time keeping it interesting for nature lovers and those interested in creativity and the philosophy of art. I know that’s a pretty tall order, even for a good writer, but I also know that you learn by doing. So, here’s to more doing.
Following are three tips to help jumpstart your creativity, and hopefully inspire you to get out in the field to create more compelling landscape photographs. The images are three of my top 30 images from 2012 that didn’t make the top 12 cut.

1. Put the Sun in the Frame

Eternal Sunrise, Salt Lake City Foothills, Utah

The sun can create a focal point, a resting place for the eye in a complex forest scene, shot with a wide angle lens. Or, it can be a primary subject, as in the photo above. I used a 300mm telephoto lens to make the sun look huge in the frame. Whether working with a wide angle lens or telephoto, putting the sun in the frame will draw the eye, therefore placement is important.
Lens flare is usually my chief concern when photographing the sun. For this image, photographed without any filters, partially blocking the sun with the mountainside was the only way to transmit an image without any objectionable flare. I was able to shift my position back and forth to fine tune exactly what portion of the sun was blocked by the mountainside. This image contains nothing but pleasing flare, accentuated by a slightly smoky sky from late summer forest fires. Not so great for breathing, sometimes smoke can work to your advantage photographically. With careful placement and attention to detail, including the sun in the frame will make an impact.

2. Photograph Silhouettes

Russian Olive Silhouettes below Little Black Mountain, Utah

Silhouettes are quite simply the outline of an object filled in with black. Although, or maybe because of their inherent simplicity, silhouettes can make a powerful photographic statements. Working with silhouettes always forces a close examination of the separation between shapes in the frame.
Trees against a twilight sky have long been a favorite silhouette subject of mine. But it’s not necessary to wait until twilight to photograph silhouettes. Image number 1 could also fall into the category of silhouettes, and it was photographed hours after the official sunrise.
 No matter what time of day, if the sun is out, or the sky is bright, you have the chance to photograph silhouettes. The chance to let the contrast between light and dark define the relationship between elements in the frame, the chance to look closely and apply the fundamental elements of design. Line and shape for instance.

3. Photograph in Bad Weather

Sudden Downpour (Wide View), City Creek Canyon, Utah

Don’t be afraid to get your camera wet. While it is challenging to keep raindrops and blowing snow off the front of the lens, it’s usually worth trying. A lens shade and a chamois cloth go a long way toward maintaining sanity. I’ll also drape a t shirt or a jacket over the camera/lens in an effort to keep them somewhat dry, being careful to keep it out of the frame.

When you’re out in the thick of it is often when you can create those best of the year images. It’s a little more work to photograph in the rain and snow to be sure. Generally the best opportunity for photography is right at the edge of the storm, either right as the storm is rolling in or as it’s breaking up. It is undeniably more difficult to head up the trail in the middle of a storm than to be out in a great location and have the storm come to you, but both approaches can lead to dynamic landscape imagery. The important thing is not to leave your camera in the bag.