Photo opportunities are everywhere
Last weekend I was in Jasper National Park. The light was so so and my photos were not so great. By that I mean, they were okay but they weren’t anything that I was especially happy with. It was a case of trying to make the most of the light. Notice I didn’t say mountains? It’s the light. If you don’t have the right light to push your pictures, you won’t get them to the next level.
The next level? Once you’ve become technically proficient in capturing and processing your images, you’ve graduated kindergarten. It’s time to start thinking about what you want from your landscapes. For me, it’s a few things. I want mine to look special. By that I mean, different from the rest. That might not be better according to the majority. That’s not important. What is important is developing the way you see in your unique way. Popularity be damned. It’s over rated.
Sunday afternoon, an hour and a half before sunset, the sky to the east looked interesting so I thought about grabbing my gear and cold weather clothes and going for a short drive. I hemmed and hawwed for a little while as the sun started sinking in the west. Enough procrastinating and out the door!
I didn’t drive for very long and was starting to have second thoughts. The sky that looked interesting was far away on the horizon. Would I get there in time to catch the setting sun? Overhead it was clear, not a cloud to be seen. Faraway on the eastern horizon, it looked good but so far away.
Again with the procrastinating. I’ve gone out so many times and have come back empty handed. Would it be the same this time? I drove on. The farther away I got from Edmonton the more optimistic I was becoming. The sky was filling in nicely. When I got far enough from town, I turned off the highway and started driving the side roads. Driving southward I could see both the east and west horizons.
It was all coming together. I got out a few times and sunk waist deep in the snow, snapping away at fence posts, trees, weeds, anything that would add foreground interest. I drove over these railway tracks. Backed up. Looked up them and down them. Pulled ahead. Stopped. Got out and shot a vertical and horizontal and kept on my way not thinking again about these tracks until I got home. They weren’t anything special when I shot them. I took the photo because it had the strong lines of the tracks going into the sunset. Nothing more.
I had processed a few photos from the trip and didn’t even look twice at the tracks. I got a few keepers and more out of curiosity than anything I processed the tracks. Hey! Why didn’t I notice this before I thought? It looked better after processing than what I remembered when shooting.
You never know what you’ve got until you process it. I do that often and end up deleting many pictures. Once in a while, I get a keeper from an unexpected frame.
Technical stuff. NO graduated filter! Here’s why. After seeing a few hundred landscapes with graduated filters to darken the skies, I immediately pick up where the clouds are tinted purple or the highlights on them are unnaturally dark. If you like that, go ahead and use them. Some of the best landscape photographers I know have stopped using graduated filters because of this. Their skies look more natural as a result. I only need compare their landscapes from two or three years ago to what they are shooting today. The difference is amazing. If you want to see what I mean, take a peak here. There are a few really good photos but the majority are poorly done. It’s comparable to using a hammer when all you need is a gentle tap. The photographers might like that look. I don’t. I only see overly dark clouds, some are black from the filters, others have mountain ridges that start out lighter in tone and darken near the sky because of the filtration.
Darkened skies are a landscape fad that will one day run it’s course and then you’ll end up having “dated” landscapes. Because you’ve “gotten it right” as one photographer says, you’ll be stuck with that look.
The best way around this is multiple exposures, hand blended or tone mapped. There are times for me that one method is better than the other. When your subject matter has a contrast range greater than your camera can handle in one exposure, it’s the only way to get all the image detail that you need.
Like I said, photo opportunities are everywhere.