The images below were all made some time ago, although they are all digital originals. They were edited very little and all of that was done with what would now be considered antiquated software. They are also all mine.
When I look at my life in photography, I can see several generations that have come and gone. Each photographic generation has its own equipment (vehicle), its own goals (where will we wind up), and its own style (what will we say, and how will we say it). In every generation there are leaders and trend setters, and then there are (mostly) followers.
A storm on the horizon. To me storm clouds, are the spice that makes creating grand landscapes inviting. This is especially true when I am not working in the golden light of sunrise/sunset. I love the contrasts it creates, in particular when I am working in “rock parks” like Monument Valley (first shot), or the Badlands of South Dakota below that. Those overcast conditions also help saturate colors, and that is always welcome in the rock parks of the west. I don’t necessarily feature the sky under those circumstances, but I make sure to show enough of it to develop those contrasts, and the make the sky impactful. Make sure you have shelter near-by under these circumstances, but embrace what nature has given you.
Take note that these are actual storms and they have not been accentuated in any way. I am seeing a lot of enhanced and even created storm scenes in the photos I view.
Sometimes it seems today that traditional tools for composing landscapes are not being used because it is somehow too cliché. Smart and talented photographers know that there is no such thing as too cliché, or conversely, too unusual if it works for you. Compositions that you feel good about, in particular after you have garnered some photographic experience, will quite often be appealing to others as well.
This first shot was made in Door County, Wisconsin at a geological feature called Cave Point. This composition is not only logical, but utilizes the tool of leading lines. The natural sweep of the bank, leads you comfortably through the image space. This tool is valuable with shorelines of lakes and oceans, as well as rivers, roads, hiking paths, and natural curves and lines that you find throughout nature.
A year after I made that Cave Point picture, my partner and I were teaching an all day photo workshop in that very same Door County. Those workshops were based in flower photography, both of the small landscape variety, and macro. We always tried to keep our subjects somewhat varied and we photographed lighthouses and full landscapes when possible, and I was even known to loan my 500mm lens to Nikon shooters so they could make wildlife images. We were in fact making close-up pictures of flowers when I looked up and saw this rock formation. Not exactly the wild west so I immediately searched for a way to frame that small amount of rock that peeked out from the trees. I kept moving until I found this tunnel effect frame. I especially liked the way the bottom ( shade) went black. What was a somewhat mundane image, became well worth making.
Abstracts are for everyone. Any photographer can create abstracts and it pays to begin with simple subjects that you are either already photographing, or are right at your feet waiting.
Patterns that are left behind by the mixing of dirt and water, commonly known as mud, make perfect and easy abstracts. It is a great subject to begin this journey into the unusual. After photographing some “square-ish” mudflats in The Badlands, I found some areas where mud had formed in clumps and then cracked from the sun. Look for sidelight. This image has a lot of texture and that is because of all those shadows, both tiny and pronounced, that create contrast between the raised areas of dirt. They were created, by sidelight.
Wild grasses are a favorite subject of mine. The straightforward is also the abstract with this subject. Foxtail Barley Grass in late summer/early autumn produced some interesting color variations. Add some dew and the warm light just after sunrise, and we have an abstract that really isn’t that abstract.
Sunrise/sunset is one of the most popular subjects among many nature photographers. When the skies are interesting but lacking in the true definition of cloud shapes, I begin shooting all sky. The varied patterns a sky like this produces are in fact pure abstract, even though we all know without a doubt what the subject is. After making several pictures with all sky, I finally added just a kiss of land, with an equally small kiss of the sun itself. An abstract rooted in the obvious.
With a combination of photographic logic, and internal imagination, there are no boundaries to what you can do.
There was a time when wildlife photography, meant either behavior, or a formal portrait. Today most wildlife photography is either action, even if the photographer has to create the action by influencing behavior (baiting etc), or sentimental images that show animals cuddling or in many instances, mimicking human behavior. Other than creating action by influencing behavior, I enjoy the rest of that as much as the next person. Still, something’s missing in the midst of all those great shots.
Captive animals do exhibit behavior and public zoos are sometimes a great place to record simple behavioral images such as eating. This zoo shot of a Cinereous Vulture shows it holding dinner in its talons, while slowly picking an animal apart for food. Dinner is a rat that it was fed by zoo staff.
Whether it be yesterday or today, most wildlife photographers seem afraid of light that did not originate from the front of the subject, and wasn’t free of shadows. The light on this Bighorn ram comes from above, and to our left. It bathes his horns and the right side of his face, and leaves the rest in shadow. I love “manageable drama”, and I think it works well with wildlife. This image was made at Wind Cave N. P. in South Dakota.
There are traditional ways to look at outdoor photography, and there are new ways to look at it. Most importantly there is your way. Learn to manage the technology of photography, your camera, and software, and learn the tools of photography, and use all of that to make your pictures. Your pictures. As always has been the case, there are a lot of copycats today in photography. The only difference in today’s copycats and yesterdays, is they come armed with modern technology. It makes them look good, until you see pictures like theirs everywhere. In the end, the photographers who follow their own mind and heart, not the copycats, will create the images that will remain from this generation to the next.
There is no question, that the biggest thing a new photographer can do to become a good one, is make pictures. Lots of them. Pretty simple. Like most things in life, the more you do it the better you get. Pretty soon the mundane things like setting your camera and basic exposure, become second nature. The more automatic the basics of photography (and life) become, through simple repetition, the freer you are to create, and do the big things that will make you special, and separate you from the crowd. That is just as true in everyday life as it is in photography. It is the simplest truth in life, but the hardest to teach others. I often wished I could have met with my workshop participants once a year for about five years, to see if they committed the little stuff to repetition so they could concentrate on the big stuff and consequently realize just how good they really were.
The adage is true that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but everything breaks, and that’s the time to fix it by finding a new way to reach your goal. Don’t be fooled by the fact that broken ideas seem to work once in a while, remember the old adage that states, “even a broken clock is right twice a day”
Have a great day, Wayne