Thankful For All The Time Spent in Nature

I’ve been really fortunate in my life, simply because of all the time I’ve been able to spend in nature. That’s probably the main reason I decided to become a landscape photographer.

More than the cameras, the gear, the prints, the often scary but exciting opportunity to share my work with others…it’s the quiet moments in nature I appreciate the most.

And more than that, I’m thankful for the privilege and opportunity I’ve had of sharing nature’s beauty with family, friends, and students this year.

A great little book I picked up recently summed it up pretty well.

Happiness is…a day spent in nature!

Happiness in nature

 

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

 

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Learning the Essentials of Composition in Landscape Photography

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Yesterday I gave a talk at the BH Event Space titled “Essential Composition in Landscape Photography,” and I wanted to share some of it here on the blog. As I prepared for the talk, I realized how daunting it was to try and cover all the different approaches to composition, and at the same time make it clear and simple to understand. So I relied on the best definition of composition I have ever heard:

“To compose a subject well means no more than to see and present it in the strongest manner possible.” – Edward Weston

I love this definition because it is specific yet so empowering at the same time. It promotes a personal approach unencumbered by rules, formulas, or popular opinion.

Composition is my favorite part of landscape photography.

There is nothing I enjoy more than bringing the camera up to my eye, and discovering a whole new world inside the artificial window of a viewfinder. And even more exciting is that I get to compose what others will see in this window. I would imagine it’s the same for you.

So when I say it’s equally challenging, frustrating, and ripe with failure, you know exactly what I mean. When you get it right, it opens a doorway to new ways of seeing, and the exploration starts all over again.

Composition is the essence of any visual artwork. It establishes the relationships of the objects in the frame, and relationships are everything in photographic composition. The compositional toolbox includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  • lines – lead the eye through an image
  • shapes – define visual weight and subject matter
  • forms – create depth and dimension, make an image more immersive
  • light – the fundamental ingredient to any successful image, the “glue” that holds everything together

How these elements relate to one another defines the context by which the viewer is going to interpret an image and its meaning. Meaning is what gives life to an image, what connects the photographer to the viewer, what makes the creative act worthwhile.

Image Analysis

Land of Rock

Hi-lights and shadows lead the eye diagonally across this image. The blue strip of sky balances the color and provides relief to the starkness of the background. 

The Challenges of Composition

Landscape and nature photography poses many unique challenges, all of which I’m sure you’re familiar with. Making good compositions is hard, really hard. In my experience as a teacher and photographer, I think there are three fundamental challenges we struggle with every time we venture out into the field and “consider” a specific composition. These are:

  • Managing complexity – not letting images become too busy, or having too many competing elements in an image (sound familiar?)
  • Understanding human vision – understanding how we see and react to our environment or a particular subject vs. how a camera “sees.” This is the bridge that gets us from capturing a “vista” to telling a visual story.
  • Improving our intuition – learning and then internalizing the basics of visual design, expanding our visual literacy, and practicing over and over again.

These are big topics, and they come before any discussion of focal length, perspective, or selecting a subject. But coming to grips with these challenges will do more to improve your photography than any other thing I can think of.

Improving Your Composition

Over the coming weeks, I will be discussing each of these in-depth, providing you with a basic framework that you can use to explore composition in a way that is meaningful for you. No formulas, no rules (at least none that you can’t break at will), and lots of room for discussion.

I’ll talk about music and composition, landscape painting, gestalt theory, and many other concepts that I hope will help you think more creatively. There will also be a chance to join an online course on composition I hope to announce soon!

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know when it launches. 

Please feel free to let me know what you think, and send me your compositional questions too!

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Workflow Video – Editing and Stitching Panoramas Using Lightroom and Photoshop

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Hudson Valley Snow / 8 images from Olympus E-M1, f/5.6@1/1250 sec / ISO 400, 20mm, no filters

I get lots of questions about stitching and editing panoramas, and since I just made one last week here in the Hudson Valley after our first snow of the year, it seemed like an opportune time to make this video. I used Adobe Lightroom 5 to make the initial adjustments and Photoshop CC for stitching. I also used a new fantastic FLM tripod and ball head which I’ll get into more detail in a future post. Watch the video for the in-depth details, as well as my aesthetic approach to making the image.

Watch on Youtube

As always, please feel free to share your questions and comments. Thanks for watching!

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What You Need As A Photographer

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There’s only one thing you really need to be creative as a photographer; imagination and the commitment to hard work. While magazines and camera manufacturers may disagree, I think most experienced photographers will agree that tools don’t inspire creativity, imagination and curiosity does. Human history has produced great art regardless of the tools available, from cave paintings to fantastic pinhole photographs. None have let the limitations of their tools inhibit their inspiration to share something worthwhile, or work hard at developing their vision.

How do I know this? Because I’ve fallen into the same trap as nearly everyone else in believing I needed just one more “_______.” But over time what I realized was that my inspiration came not from my tools, but my state of mind, my emotional connection to the subject, my feelings, and my purpose. And showing up every day to do the hard work.

If you’re searching for inspiration, for motivation to get out and shoot, live life more fully. Laugh, cry, find something to get the hairs on your neck to stand up. Visit your local museum and get real inspiration. Explore your feelings and share them with everyone else. Consider why you do what you do. Stop thinking about the next camera, the next software, the next new technique that might suddenly make you creative. That comes from a totally different place.

Consider Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Cartier-Bresson, Porter, Rowell, or those making incredible images with older iPhones. How primitive their tools must seem to us now.

Am I saying not to buy new gear, or enjoy the marvels of technology. No. What I am saying is that it’s the imagination and work that really matters, that actually makes the meaningful difference, nothing else.

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E.O. Wilson On The Value of Metaphor in Art

“The creative writer, composer, or visual artist conveys, often obliquely by abstraction or deliberate distortion, his own perceptions and the feelings he hopes to evoke — about something, about anything, real or imagined. He seeks to bring forth in an original way some truth or other about the human experience. He tries to pass what he creates directly along the channel of human experience, from his mind to your mind. His work is judged by the power and beauty of its metaphors. He obeys a dictum ascribed to Picasso: art is the lie that shows us the truth.” E. O. Wilson

I read this, then smiled and read it again. In addition to being a brilliant biologist, E.O. Wilson describes the essence of art as well as anyone I’ve heard or read.

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