I have one thing learned in 2018 and with the gift of knowledge I will try to practice the lessons learned upcoming year. I’ll kick off this post with the saying A great picture is plannable!
Actually, all of this started at 20th of September last year when I had a lecture from Bas Meelker. He is a well-known landscape photographer here in the Netherlands (and probably outside) and a Canon ambassador. He showed some examples from his work and had a simple but very effective talk about how he works and thinks about the playing field called landscape photography. That night he opened my eyes actually, the way how I think about composition, the way how I think about using Photoshop. Something never happened to me before, not on this scale… He didn’t give me the feeling that I didn’t know anything, but he was just reflecting his own opinion and views about different aspects in the world of photography.
I thought I’d knew something about composition, Photoshop, and the use of additional hardware. For sure I was aware of the fact that I’m not a pro at all these topics but I knew my theory (I thought). For landscape photography his camera and lenses didn’t matter that much. He didn’t need any fast autofocus, F1.8/2.8 lenses, all he needed was sharp lenses and if that was at F8 or at F5.6 he didn’t care. Also the camera he didn’t need a new released body. But the specific thing he thought that was important the choice between APS-C and full-frame. The first point we could agree on! Error! Filename not specified.
Well what he did made me realize was the need of better filters. I thought you could always Photoshop things away. But he showed how the filters did add something so Photoshop could do an even better job. The reason behind this because the image is already more the way it should be. The more you change the physical form of the histogram in Photoshop the more destructive it will be for the end result in the picture. And for sure not everything you can fix with a filter, and there are still situations you need to create multiple exposure from one scene and combine them later in Photoshop to get the light and dark parts right. He convinced me finally after showing some examples from with and without filters. I needed better filters but those huge filters are expensive! So I wrote a letter to Santa with this story and look what I found underneath the tree.
But the filter part wasn’t the only thing he did change the way of thinking for me. There was one magical word that kept coming back all the time. Composition! I hear you thinking this is a cliché everyone is already telling that and everyone tries to do that. Yes that is so true, and I always thought about the composition-rules I learned from others. Bas mentioned he was looking at composition with only three components to create his pictures.
- The lighting conditions
- The location
- The composition
The last point mentioned is the most important one. A good composition is the initial base for a good picture. But don’t apply to some golden rules from the photography like not placing your object in the middle of the frame. Bas showed some examples from great pictures where his subject was right in the middle of the framed picture. it’s actually all about balance.
Rules about composition are simple (more or less) but you have to realize there are way too many composition options like central, symmetric etc. Your camera is a device that registers a picture only in its two-dimensional shape, your camera doesn’t see the depth we are seeing. You need to bring the factor depth by a simple game called create attractive lines. Depth you can create simply by placing an object into the foreground, by doing this you create an effect of something close and the background being far away.
I’ll try to go more in-depth into composition later. Because I could write multiple posts about it I think… But remember as long as the composition is right the landscape doesn’t have to be beautiful! What makes the composition beautiful is the light. With the perfect light at a good composition you can make the everyday simple object/scenery turn into something outstanding. At this point he showed a scene from a ugly fence in a meadow by daylight.
|Without the right conditions Source||With the right conditions Source|
Nothing special actually very boring. He got the reactions from the people he wanted, so he told them he created that picture. The people didn’t believe him. But then he showed the same scene with the right light and OMG!
I did start this post with the saying, a great picture is plannable. So I mean you could make a plan for the pictures you created in your fantasy. You can find out where, when, what, light, time, season, lens to shoot. So many factors you can control, so don’t leave anything to chance. One of the things I hope to learn this year is planning, think several moves ahead
But how do we create such a plan, I’m afraid there is not a simple recipe for that. I mean every photographer is different, has different goals, is working differently,
It doesn’t matter what your subject is, it is more important to know everything about your subject. Like Bas already showed with the boring subject, he planned to get a picture from this scenery with certain light and fog conditions and look what he achieved. And this specific thinking is what making your pictures YOUR pictures. With animals you can think about patterns in walking, flying, showing up at specific places, where they hunt. For a landscape you can think about composition, attractive lines, light. The picture needs to have a certain ambience, so light has an important role. Every season has its own habit regarding light because the sun is behaving different and so the weather does. Here in the Netherlands for example we have dew in the morning during summertime, freezing nights during winter, long shadows during daytime in winter, fog in the morning in autumn.
Pick your spots
I think everyone has that feeling, you see in front of you something happening, what a great picture would that have been. Would have been… indeed because you didn’t bring along your gear. Or you see a great scenery, but the weather is wrong, the sky is blue and the scenery needs some dark clouds, or you need snow and you are there in summer. Whatever you do, don’t forget to write down these places. It can take many years before that exact scenery comes by but the day might be there sooner than you think and then you forgot about this place. I know while traveling thinking like this is far from ideal. But you can use this for places nearby, everyday places you know the ins and outs. On a great day, when the circumstances are right you have to be there and know THE spot to place your tripod.
While traveling this isn’t an option, I’m aware of that. For example, you get out of a bus loaded with tourists, everyone is running to get a picture from a popular viewing point. You can follow the crowd and get that view or you can get out, look around first, create a composition in your head and take the picture. There might be a chance you will use the composition everyone is using, but most of the times there is always something else.
The time of the day is also very important, you have golden hour, blue hour, harsh light during summer etcetera. So think ahead and keep in mind what lightning conditions you need for your picture. And what time/season offers the best chance for this type of light. This gives you the opportunity to be there on time. Not the minute everything starts but before that, so you have time to setup your gear. I think everyone is always surprised how fast that sunrise did pass.
The weather controls the light and the weather is something we still can’t predict for 100%. Every plan you create the dependency of the weather is always there. You can check the weather every day, or you can create multiple goals for the same period. But always think of a plan B.
I did talk a lot and here I’m getting to a point I’m still not sure how to present this properly. But you can create an overview to keep it simple, but with all those factors how do you keep this simple? Does this have to be a simple overview? Well yes because you might be using this for years, because the conditions weren’t right.
I tried a table concept in a Google document. Draft can be found here. But I could use some tips, how are you guys planning things?
A little challenge
Let's face it, my photography was one of the things that got forgotten while not being on the road for traveling, I think many photographers have this issue. When we start with it, when we got new toys etc. we live and breathe photography (just read above, I've got some new toys and my posts about photography pop out of nowhere). But there will be a moment in time you don't know what to shoot anymore, will you hunt again for another sunset at a location you already had 12 sunsets before this year, or will you keep waiting for that specific moment to shoot at the right location (Hey I've just made my whole list for that!?), or wait for my next adventure while traveling? NO!
I might have decided to change how I live photography this year and that's why I created my yearplan. But to keep me motivated next to my yearplan, I've also added a little challenge to it with a subject for every month. The subject I tried to choose as random as possible so I could create something with the subject as inspiration. I can create a picture whatever I like, with whatever gear I would like to use but the picture has to be made. So every month I guarantee myself a moment of time to get out with my camera.
I hope this article has inspired you! Will you join me on this uncertain road, where we don't know where our photographic journey will end this year? But all we know is that we try to keep ourselves motivated. Maybe you create another beautifull challenge for yourself to change your mindset. Would love to hear your ideas!
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