Yosemite Valley is one of the wonders of the world, but it’s a tough place to capture color images. By the time light reaches the Valley floor, it has become harsh and lost the golden glow of dawn. For that reason the classic Ansel Adams compositions don’t work as well in color, and there is no point in replicating the compositions of the master. The trick is to find a new way to see a familiar landscape. It’s not the subject, it’s the photograph. The union of composition, light and texture create the effects we desire.
During class, I discussed composition and linked photography to the painting of modern masters. All their techniques, from the use of negative space, to line, pattern, and color, apply in photography.
I saw the limitations of the light as a teaching opportunity at the recent Travels to the Edge Field Seminar in Yosemite. Our group set out early to shoot in shade before the sun blew out highlights. When the sun was higher, we hugged the cliffs, explored narrow canyons, or confined our shots to muted forest scenes or details in shadow. We selected blooming dogwoods, moving water, and forests as our principal subjects.
I asked everybody to concentrate on removing distraction so the eye moves as we intend across the photograph. We don’t want a twig to derail us or a white blob of blurred water to divert attention.
Shooting was fun, but people learned the most during our critiques in a grand room in the classic Ahwahnee Hotel. When looking though a viewfinder, it can be tough to see all the small elements that can sabotage an image, to see how an alternate crop strengthens a composition. We projected the images from Lightroom so I could improve the crop and alter tonality. Most often, the images included too much and simplifying added impact. Day by day I saw improvement in everyone’s images as they incorporated the suggestions.
I teach all kinds of workshops, but none are more satisfying than working with these small groups. I look forward to the next one in Maine’s Acadia National Park next month.