When I first started out with my camera I fell in love with landscape photography. I fell, and I fell hard. I got it from my grandfather – he was the original cloud and sky junkie in my family.
As a kid, when we went places as a family I was often tasked with keeping track of Pa. I can’t tell you how many times he would just stop dead in his tracks, and stare at the sky. On the golf course, in the grocery store parking lot. It didn’t matter where we were. If something in the sky caught his eye, he stopped. And he stared. After a moment or two, he would give a big belly laugh, slap me on the back and we were on our way again.
Back then, I did not understand the pure joy my grandfather got from the clouds and the sky. It was not until much later in life, while looking through the viewfinder of my own camera that it clicked. I finally understood. Regardless of where I got this love, there is no doubt I have it! The gallery that you see here has some of my very favorite landscape photographs.
My Landscape Photography
Standing before a breathtaking scene and being able to capture that beauty in a photograph excites me beyond belief. The anticipation of creating that one photograph that will hang on my wall has me dancing as I wait for Mother Nature to start her show. Sometimes the show is spectacular, more often it is not. The landscape photos that I create on those spectacular nights often get added to my print galleries. But it is those spectacular shows that drive me to grab my bag of photography gear and go out again, and again, and again.
I took a lot of photographs when I got my first camera. Some were pretty good, while others? Honestly, not so much. But I kept at it, and I learned what worked and what didn’t. I grew as a artist, and as I grew I started to take my landscape photography more seriously, and I explored what I could do with my camera.
When I arrive at a location, the first thing I try to identify is NOT what I see, but more importantly how I feel. What I feel is the single biggest influence on my photographs. If I am not feeling anything I might as well not even take the camera out of the bag. I have yet to create a single, successful image at a location that I did not feel something. Once I identify that feeling, every decision that I make is about enhancing that feeling.
My Creative Process for Landscape Photography
The decisions that I must make are both creative and technical. I am both an artist and a technician. On the creative side it is finding the right foreground to create depth in the image, to provide stepping stones to walk through the landscape. Are there things in the frame that will distract my viewer from seeing what I wish to share? Each decision helps me to create a photograph that tells that story that I am trying to tell.
Decisions made on the technical side of photography are just as important. Does my aperture setting give me enough depth of field to keep the entire image in sharp focus? Is my camera securely mounted on my trusty tripod? Does my histogram indicate that I have captured a proper exposure? Every decision that I make is a factor in the quality of the photograph that I create. Failure to technically execute my vision results in a file in the Recycle Bin, rather then a large print hanging on a clients wall.
Another critical factor of my landscape photography is the time of day. The best light for landscape photography happens twice a day – sunrise and sunset. This time is what photographers called the “golden hour“, and it is when the vast majority of landscape photos are made. I usually try to arrive at least an hour before sunrise to catch the magical light that occurs before the sun comes over the horizon.
As part of my learning, I explored other types of photography. For example, still life and macro photography taught me about light, and just as importantly, about shadow. Patience became a skill that I had to develop. Hours were spent getting a shot just right. A very minimalist approach to my photography developed, and I became very selective about what I included in my photos. I often setup simple backgrounds free of distractions.
All of these lessons and personal preferences were then applied to my landscape photography. This minimalist approach approach became a powerful component of my work. Simplifying a composition often resulted in an image that better matched my vision. Behind the lens I found myself saying “If it doesn’t add, it distracts” over and over again.
Improving My Odds
I hate to admit this, but I am only going to get so many sunrises and sunsets. That means that I have to do everything possible to make sure that when I good one happens, I am fully prepared to walk away with some keepers on my memory cards.
One of the best ways to increase my odds of success is to be as familiar with the location as I can possibly be. Sunrise photography often starts in the dark of night. Knowing where I can park the park, and what path to take to get to my location frees my mind to concentrate on my real task. Creating images.
Including a strong foreground subject is a key element to my landscape photography. I can safely say that finding the perfect rock or puddle to use as a foreground is not easy in the dark of night. Scouting a location a day or two ahead of time goes a long way in making the sunrise experience better. If I am scouting weeks, or even months ahead of time I will make sketches, notes, photographs and even videos that I can reference right before my shoot.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is my skill with my camera. Today’s cameras are technical marvels, specialized computers designed to record light. Mastering your camera, and its plethora of buttons and menu objects, will be one of your most important skills. Spend hours with your manual. Buy a book about your specific make and model. Take notes. Practice. You don’t need to go to some exotic location to practice either. I practice in the living room while sitting on my couch. I practice so that when I do get to that exotic location the camera is something I don’t even think about. Muscle memory kicks in, and my fingers push buttons and turns knobs on their own. This frees my mind to concentrate on feeling and creating art.
I’m a Sky Junkie Too!
Creating exciting and new photos is something that I am constantly working on. Like my grandfather before me, I too have become a cloud and sky junkie.
My landscape photography is often featured in exhibits at galleries around Rhode Island, and prints of my work hang in homes and offices across the country. You can keep up with my work and follow all of my latest adventures by checking out my blog!