I spent some time in Utah this past November, and was struck by the colors of the directional light and shadow on the rugged buttes looming over the landscape.
Artists of the Renaissance period would work on a medium-toned colored paper and used light and dark paints, inks, and other materials to build depth within the image, adding form and dimension along the way. The term “chiaroscuro” has come to define images in which there is a strong contrast between light and dark areas that help inform the shape and form of a subject.
Renaissance artists often painted by candlelight, which provided it’s own harsh directional lighting. With photography we are painting in our own way with natural light we’ve been gifted, or our own artificial setups.Obviously it helps to have strong directional light when the sun is low on the horizon, but still high enough to illuminate your subject.
Capturing brown bears in Katmai, Alaska! Though specific to this location in the video, this is a lesson and focus I employ regardless of my subject – to capture that subject within the context of the environment rather than going for the same ol’ shots. Certainly as you travel and visit recognizable locations and subjects, you should capture the shots we are accustomed to seeing – but moving a step beyond and ensuring your photos are telling the story of that subject’s place in it’s environment makes for a much more informative and lasting image. Taking the time to explore a bit and focus on wide shots where the bears are present but not necessarily the focus, or finding details of the bear’s impact on the environment without showing them directly will not only immerse your audience in the location, it will inform and inspire other shots you choose to take.
Gavriel Jecan has traveled to this location with me many times, and he’ll be leading a trip here in July – sign up today! I’m leading a couple trips here as well, but they are sold out. If you’re interested, feel free to join the wait list in case we have any cancellations.
Sometimes you may need to shoot a moving subject in lighting that isn’t ideal. Add in a longer lens and extension tubes to create the composition you want, and you may need to add a flash to capture effective detail. Shot on location in Manu National Park, Peru.
When shooting in harsh conditions, it’s important to keep your equipment protected. Avoid exposing your camera’s image sensor to dirt and the elements by avoiding changing lenses in the field when conditions may be problematic. Having multiple camera bodies with a range of lenses attached keeps the sensor from being exposed, with the added benefit of allowing for quickly capturing different looks for your images by simply grabbing your second camera.
As you know, I am all about capturing a unique and compelling image regardless of your equipment. However, if you’re going to invest in the time to travel and photograph amazing places it pays to be prepared. If you’re looking into a second camera body, consider checking out some of the used equipment on the B&H website or your local camera stores. Be sure to pick something up that’s compatible with your current lenses. Although the latest and greatest cameras offer some spectacular features, finding a backup camera body in a range that fits your budget will ensure you never miss a shot!
Don’t forget that you can also rent camera bodies and lenses as well! Your local camera shops may rent equipment, and there are websites like borrowlenses.com that will ship rentals to you. This can be a great way to try before you buy, or simply ensure you have the best gear available if you’ve already invested money into traveling and participating in photo workshops.
When lining up a background for a subject, make sure to give it a clean background to create a more graphic image. In this example I am trying to shoot a Chinstrap penguin in Antarctica where the snowy backdrop isn’t working to make the white belly of my subject pop.
In this video shot on location in New Zealand, Art discusses the equipment used to compliment ideal overcast lighting to take photos in a forest of trees, moss, and lichens. The overcast lighting provides the perfect opportunity to capture the many layered textures of the forest without the distracting shadows and highlights of sunny direct lighting that can often hide or blow out the fine details.
Along with the overcast lighting, a longer lens to focus on areas of interest, and a shutter release with tripod to minimize movement, Art is able to capture the immense detail of the thick verdant forest.
Many people believe that great photographic images are composed in a flash of inspiration; an epiphany that presents itself fully-formed, ready to be mined by the artist there to capture it. This can and does happen, yet most of the time we fumbled towards a great shot, refining the composition with each exposure.
Such is the case with one of my favorite images, featured in this video. For Technique Tuesday, hear me pull back the layers of the many elements I navigated through to get the final shot.
Harsh, direct lighting is not always the best option for shooting. However if you pick your battles, you can turn it into an advantage in creating unique imagery. Shot on location in Bolivia Art points his camera directly at the sun and uses a cactus to shield his lens, capturing effective rim lighting.
It’s no secret that soft, diffuse light is often preferred for great photos unless you’re going for a specific style, look, or feel. This quick video shows one reason why soft light is preferable. not only is the location of this village in Mali complex in terms of the many rooftops and structures, the conical rooftops themselves are textured complex pattern. Add in a busy landscape of brush and trees, and there is quite a bit going on.
Shooting this scene in more direct lighting would create a high contrast graphical image that might be interesting, but you would lose the detail that informs the viewer of the context of this location. Most of the materials used to construct this village are from the landscape it’s built upon. Showing the even tones, hues and cohesive nature in which everything blends together helps capture the symbiotic relationship between the people and the land in a way that a high contrast image with dark shadows and bright highlights simply wouldn’t deliver.
Welcome to another technique Tuesday! Today we revisit creating compelling compositions focusing on wildlife that also give context to their environment. Often times just centering up your subject isn’t the most interesting way to present it, even if your focus is on an animal or person. Unless your goal is to inform the viewer about the specific detail of the subject itself, there is often more to be learned about it’s nature by including the world it lives in.
I also give some tips on how you can ‘break the ice’ with wildlife and increase their interest and comfort level, ensuring they stick around until you get that well-composed shot you’re looking for!
Tomorrow I’m heading south to the Washington-Oregon border for my Columbia River Gorge workshop – stay tuned to the blog for new photos!