When I first started working at MPEX and learning about photography, one of the photographers that initially grabbed my interest was Ansel Adams, as I suspect is the case with many photographers. There’s not much that I can say about Adams that hasn’t already been said, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate how iconic and emotional his images still are, even almost three decades after his death.
Adams makes his black and white landscapes seem natural, as if the complex beauty in his images, which is achieved through tens of wildly different prints off the same negative, is not even just how the world looks, but how it should look. At least that’s the effect his images have in me.
This has another effect: it makes the amateur (i.e. me) think that creating landscape photography that beautiful is easy. Which is obviously totally and utterly wrong.
Landscape photography is incredibly complex. Studio portraits give you almost complete control over how an image will look, whereas landscape photography depends on countless number of elements: not only what camera equipment you bring with you, but what the weather is like, how the terrain falls, when and where the sun is rising. In other words, landscape photography can be trickier than “taking a picture of nature.”
I had firsthand experience of this when I went this morning to Prairie Oaks Metro Parks for my first real foray in landscape photography.
Guided by Sonnie’s tips and tricks, the first challenge was waking up for sunrise. I had a 20 minute drive out to the trail where I wanted to photograph, and sunrise was scheduled for 7:24 AM. I slept through my alarm and woke up at 7 AM. I quickly brushed my teeth, grabbed my photo gear (which I had packed the night before (that’s a protip)), and rushed out the door. Luckily, traffic was pretty thin. Still, I made it to the sight at 7:30 AM and the sun was already up. Strike one.
The second problem, which I had not anticipated, was the fog. There was an incredible amount of fog in Hilliard this morning, especially over the water where I wanted to shoot. Here is some proof:
Fog presents a unique problem for landscapes. I had brought a Nikon 18-35 full frame lens with a Nikon D600 to show off the lens’ capabilities and capture an entire scene, but the fog definitely obscured my vision. On the flip side, I love the mood that fog emanates, so I was excited for the challenge. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to convert my photos to black and white, so the fog lent an interesting dynamic to the scene.
For my initial images, I wanted to foreground the landscape with an interesting object, since the fog was still thick and I couldn’t survey an entire scene. The trail I took had these interesting rock formations near the beginning. I’d scoped out the terrain on 500px the day before, and the majority of the images there were of these rocks. They provided a good focal point for these initial images.
After that, I hiked further and tested out a Promaster Variable ND filter. I wasn’t satisfied with those images (at no fault of the filter) and was feeling a little defeated, so I packed up and started to hike back, figuring I would have to return another day.
However, by the time I made it back to the beginning of the trail, the fog had pretty much cleared, and I had a decent view of a pond and the trees beyond it. I didn’t really have time to set up my tripod again, so I freehanded these next two images, a landscape no-no, but which produced what I think are the better images from this shoot:
I was glad I got to take advantage of the awesome clarity and wide-angle capabilities of the lens I was using, and that I could take advantage of certain elements in the area to get a landscape photo I was happy with. I look forward to taking this lens out again, perhaps during sunset this time, when there will hopefully be less fog.
Want to learn more about Ansel Adams? Check out this extensive 1983 BBC interview:
Do you have any landscape horror stories? Let us know in the comments!