Creating Photographs with Impact
Landscape &Travel Photography Techniques
Oct 29th 2013
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Reviewing some photographs for a submission to my agency made me think about what features of my work I was judging before I put them before the critical eye of my editor.
Being able to critically asses one’s own work is a skill; no one likes to hear criticism, but when it comes from yourself, it’s even harder to take! That said, it’s a vital skill in our quest to sort the wheat from the chaff and only display our best work. So how do I do it? Well, I look at my work from two angles; 1) I make an initial assessment of my work on a technical level-is it sharp, is the horizon level, are the eyes both open, is it properly exposed etc etc.
Once they’ve passed this test, question 2 is; do they work on a aesthetic, creative level? This is far more subjective and probably harder to explain because we all find different qualities in our work. For example, I know what I like and I know my style. I like clean, fresh images with strong features and tones, be they colour or mono, but as long as it’s not a complicated picture with weak colours/tones it’s up my street.
So onto the shots, here I’ve picked 3 of my images from my submission which I thought illustrated my point well. I do follow the rule of thirds but I try to apply it in such a way that it isn’t immediately obvious that this text book rule is in place. I also like the time honoured technique of drawing the eye through the scene with lead lines but that doesn’t mean I need a road snaking through a desert in order to achieve it. Applying these rules with more subtlety and creativity is my aim.
EOS 5DMKII, 1 sec at f16, ISO 50, 24-70mm lens at 24mm.
My dawn shoot at Sydney Harbour was planned in advance to make use of these nice textured rocks in my foreground. I didn’t predict this shot to the nth degree by predicting the height of the tide but I was confident I could figure out an arrangement once I got there in advance of the light. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t mind telling you that I often work ‘off the cuff’ as the light bathes the scene, reacting to the opportunities as they materialise, rather than being didactic and sticking to only one spot. It can make for some wet feet but the process of refining the image as the light ebbs and flows is part of the fun for me and I find it completely all absorbing. The shot relies on strong foreground (without it, it’s a flat-ish shot of some water and a building), it’s a simple arrangement of foreground interest to allow impact and there’s a nice flow along the edge from bottom right and up through the shot towards the Opera House. Just rule of thirds and lead lines. Sprinkle with light, an exotic location and a picture is cooked!
At first glance, this next shot may seem far removed from these principles but when I look closer I realised it made the submission because it had some of the same qualities. A strong, simple and dominant foreground is created from less than two complete bowls of oil, there’s something happening in the middle (bottle pouring) and there’s a clear background from the smiley lady in her nice red top.
1/800sec at f4, ISO 400, 17-40mm at 17mm.
Moving back to the botanical Gardens around Sydney Harbour I found this view of the CBD. I hadn’t planned this-it just came to me when I was wandering there in the morning light looking for shots. There’s no foreground per se, it’s just flat, boring grass but with the low morning light behind me these long, simple shadows of the distinctive trees makes for both an excellent foreground and a lead line. Neither are what you’d see in a text book on the use of foreground and lead lines but both work to fill the picture and lead the eye up to the top.
Sydney CBD, 1/125 at f8, ISO 50, 24mm lens.
Ultimately, finding shots like this is unlikely to happen from a review of the archives if you don’t shoot with this mindset in the first place. For me, it’s a balance between being structured and process driven, counterbalanced with applying some creative, artistic flair that reflects my style. Others approach the same subject differently and that’s why you can stand in the same place and end up with completely different pics!