2 – Local Knowledge and not local knowledge
I’ve heard it and read it countless times that there is no substitute in landscape photography for local knowledge.
And I agree with that. If you are familiar with a landscape, you will know exactly how the light fills all the nooks and crannies of the landscape at any time of day, at any time of year. You will know all the vantage points that offer all the best views. And if you live locally, you can go out there time and time again until you get that perfect shot.
For other landscapes that are further from home, maybe a place you love to go hiking in once or twice a year, or maybe a big city that you work in for your day job, visiting and re-visiting these places will instill into you a local knowledge that allows you to plan ahead and work out some potentially striking compositions before you even leave your house.
That title may not be strictly true, I just liked its slightly over the top drama….it would be nice though if these tips improved someone’s photography, or gently nudged someone in the right direction. I see a lot of articles that have a similar title…you know, five tips to make great photography and so on….10 tips here, 20 tips there…..and then sometimes one of the five might be an explanation of the rule of thirds that could have been cut and pasted from Wikipedia…and so on….and that sort of stuff turns me off. I like to get personal, so I thought I’d write my five personal things to better my photography…..that was until it turned into eight…and even that might grow a little…
My advice is to cherry pick the bits you like and discard that which you don’t.
Visualization in Landscape photography is a term made famous by American landscape photographer Ansel Adams, who is one of the fathers of American Landscape Photography, and one of the most famous photographers in Landscape photography.
One of the components in Ansel Adams’ armoury of components regarding photography was his ability to ‘visualize’. He is quite famous for using that term. Put simply, visualization is the ability to see the final photographic print in the minds eye before pressing the shutter.
Compositional technique doesn’t change between urban and rural landscapes, these skills are transferable between photographic genres! So a concrete overpass on a freezing cold rainy day whilst waiting for a bus has just as much potential as a beach scene at dawn in summer.
Landscape photography goes way beyond standard compositions like the sweeping vista. The sweeping vista is a fixed composition that works best with a particular view in a particular light. That is what photographers often mean by ‘chasing the light’ or ‘waiting for the light’
The sweeping vista is a very commercial composition, and is still and always will be in great demand. It’s a great way to practice your technical skills and it is guaranteed to impress your friends with it’s ‘wow factor’. Just don’t forget the summer storm in the middle of the day.
Firstly, I’d just like to say that this post is not a definition of the rule of thirds. Wikipedia has a very good definition here. My post here is more about how it can be interpreted and employed in creative outdoors photography, and how it applies to my photography.
And…to save any confusion further down the post, just a brief explanation of the ‘tic-tac-toe’ grid (click on the thumbnail images for a larger version). The four points where the lines cross are the intersections. According to the rules when elements/objects are placed on the intersections, the photo will be enhanced/better balanced etc. It is also said that if you place horizons on the bottom gridline or the top gridline your photo will be better balanced.
Rules, rules and more rules. What about the photography? Can’t I just take photos?
There are no rules in photography composition in the conventional sense. I mean, there are rules in football so that you don’t have anarchy on the pitch. And there are rules in the workplace. And there is the law of the land. They are all rules designed to confine us in some way, and for good reason.
The rules of composition in photography have been written down, like the rule of thirds for example. Such rules do physically exist. But they don’t exist to control the photographer in any way. They don’t exist to tell the photographer what he or she can or can’t do. The being told what to do bit is a mis-interpretation that seems to annoy some photographers. Then there are others who treat it as a rule even though it may be to the detriment of their photography.
Panoramic photography gives the photographer more creative options when creating an image. Sometimes elongated feels better than rectangle or square. I am not really talking about gigapixel images that allow you to zoom in on a town square or an office window from the top of another building. I am thinking purely from a creative point of view, the compositional aspects of panoramic photographs rather than the billions of pixels aspect. I am also talking about digital photography and seeing the final image in the minds eye before pressing the shutter. And that means multiple images that are stitched together later in Photoshop, or Hugin or something like that.
Actually, I sort of lied in the title a bit. But only a little bit. The artistic part of a photograph is the instinctive bit, the original idea before your finger gets near the shutter or before you put the camera to your eye. It is the bit that is unique to you.
Landscape photographs don’t have to be big wow factor dawn landscapes, they can be of mundane things, the skies can be dull or middle-of-the-day bright. There are absolutely no restrictions. What matters is that you engage with your surroundings, you should feel inspired to take photographs. It also helps if you have a reason for being where you are, and that you want to be there. You shouldn’t feel pressured into taking or making a particular type of photograph, and you shouldn’t be intimidated at all by anybody else’s photography. You need to find your own style in your own time.
You still need good composition of course, a photograph is nothing without good composition. Many compositional processes are mechanical and can be learned. And poor photography nearly always result from poor composition. And so, given that composition is partly mechanical and is learnable, practice will make good photography inevitable. And that means that everyone is capable of creating captivating, artistic photographs.