One of the most challenging aspects of landscape photography are the variables that luck and chance play in your eventual experience. We can plan, prepare, and hope for ideal conditions on any outing, yet nothing is guaranteed. This variability can be disorienting for some, especially when there are strong expectations for some imagined ideal.
We’d like blue skies with clouds, yet it becomes overcast just before sunrise. Or we prefer a glass-like reflection on the surface of a lake, yet the wind won’t stop announcing its presence.
If only, we say. We may even say that to others when we show them our images, mentioning what the picture might have looked like, if only.
But, as I alluded to in my eight principles of nature photography, a better approach is to discover what’s right instead of what’s wrong. This mindset can lead to seeing the landscape as a partner in your emotional experience rather than simply an object to be photographed. It becomes a catalyst for your imagination, which is a very different relationship to that of a spectator.
This interconnected relationship is one that I perceived early in life, yet didn’t really know how to express until I learned to let go of expectations and simply accept what was being given to me at any particular moment. That takes time and many failures, both of which are necessary for progress.
Summer Fog is an image that “happened,” without planning or really trying. I was in my backyard of the Hudson Valley, hiking up a favorite trail. The summit looked like it was above a fog bank and I wondered if I would get lucky with some warm light breaking through the fog to provide a potentially beautiful scene. That was the plan, but I never made it to the top.
I decided to explore a side trail that peaked my curiosity and lead me off the trail into an area with a group of rather large boulders covered with lichen. I was immediately captured by a sense of wonder and gratitude. In a seeming instant, I was outside of my thoughts and simply enjoying the feeling of being amongst the trees and rocks and…nature.
As I slowly explored, a rather large boulder caught my attention—a spark that often leads to something deeper. It’s here that I start to consider a composition, and the moment I decide it may be worth pressing the shutter. Where it may lead I don’t know-perhaps nowhere—but the creative process can be mysterious and I like it that way.
As I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, I considered horizontal and vertical orientations but ultimately decided that vertical was stronger. The foreground rock feels more intimate, more grounded, and creates repeating shapes that repeat through the image.
The large simple triangular shapes help the composition maintain its simplicity even with all of the smaller shapes and textural detail that an often add clutter. In Gestalt theory, this is known as the principle of closure, where we visually read smaller objects as part of a larger whole.
A sense of depth is created as the textures, colors, and shapes recede getting smaller, softer, and cooler. This let the foreground come forward and establish a sense of weight to the boulder and the image. I also liked the soft but varied quality to all of the greens, which adds subtlety and a sense of life to the image.
In many ways, the fog is the essential element to the image. The composition is distinct from the fog, yet it adds the depth, the emotion, the change in color and mystery that I was connected to emotionally. All of that is ultimately the quality of the light, and perhaps that was the most important part of the moment.
None of this was planned or even expected. Pure luck and some preparation often provide unexpected opportunities. But equally important is the willingness to respond to the environment and to your feelings, without judgment. Of course, I’ve hiked this trail dozens of times and never noticed those rocks before. Maybe I wasn’t curious enough.
Soft light, varied textures, subtle tones, and the overwhelming sense of stillness usually tells me the photograph needs lower density—a matte paper with a textured finish. I want to invite the viewer on a journey with suggestion, not an announcement.
So I chose Canson Infinity Velin Museum Rag, a matte paper with a beautiful texture and finish to help me convey what the moment felt like to me. I printed it on a Canon Pro-1000 on 11” x 17” (A3) paper. I added just an extra slight touch of clarity to the printed version of the image for added depth. This is a common practice for me when using a matte paper.
While I may try a more heavily textured paper in the future, this version captures the most essential elements of the image for me; feel, mood, and depth.
What matters most to me here is not whether I’ve made a good or great image, but whether I’ve engaged fully with the creative and technical process of making an image and a print. Doing that is my primary focus because it leads to progress and growth, one moment at a time.