Tag Archives: landscapes

Dissecting a Landscape Photo

We all dissect photos! Each time we observe and analyze a photograph, we are mentally dissecting it into what we like and dislike about it. It’s a great way to learn from others and apply what we learn to our own work.

I shot this picture here on a 4×5 camera probably 25 years ago and I have not looked at in many years as it sits in my film files, which rarely get opened anymore.

It is enjoyable to sort through my massive film files and find images I have forgotten about and then, as  teacher of photography these days, I dissect them into what works and does not work, and share that. I even try to see if I can remember what I was thinking when I captured the image.

I see a lot going on in this photo.

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There is a term used a lot in photography these days called ‘lighting in layers‘ and it really has more to do with Photoshop compositing (at least to me) and I think I can look at this image and say the same thing.

When I was photographing this dune in Death Valley, I was very fortunate to be there after a storm which added ripples to the dunes but also erased footprints, which these days, are challenging to get away from.

To the right of the position seen here, was the top of the dune which curved to the right and downhill again. What I mean is that to the right, the dune was more evenly lit and the ripples of sand not so apparent.

By moving left or down slope, the light exaggerated the ripples more. Those ripples also point into the picture and that is a great example of leading lines, guiding the eye into the picture.

There is also a second layer of dunes beyond the foreground dunes and those are followed by the furthest dunes, which are lit with pretty even light due to the angle of the dunes.

All this, plus a little more, adds to an image that incorporates a lot of different elements. You have layers in the three sections of dunes that lead into the picture. Each section is lit differently, going from a dark foreground to the next section of dunes and finishing at the brightest section, which is where the eye finishes. Then there is the bush on the left, strategically positioned in the composition.

The result is an image that has various levels of brightness on each dune section along with leading lines and all this directs the eye to the brightest dune, and the visual destination.

As I mentioned previously, dissecting photographs is a great way to explore what works and does not work with an image and is a great aid when developing your own vision.

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Fall in Badlands National Park

Several years ago I was teaching at the Black Hills Photo Shootout in South Dakota and when the event wrapped up I headed off to Badlands NP.

I had a half day to shoot there before returning to Rapid City for an early morning flight and I arrived in the early afternoon.

I drove the loop road heading west and stopped at each point to see what could be captured. It was unfortunately a perfectly clear day and I adapted the the harsh sunlight and did pretty well.

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Early Winter in Colorado

Fall color is still quite good in many places but the first snows have hit the ground in other places, so I am posting this image from Great Sands Dunes in Colorado.

I was out there years ago and it was freezing cold after this winter storm came through. It did not dump a lot of snow, just a dusting in fact, but it was cold.

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Window to the World

I have a lot of fall color photography from the last 35 years. Great groups of aspens on a mountainside, full frame images of hillsides in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, aspen lined canyons in the Oregon desert, and much more from many places.

On my last trip to the Great Smoky Mountains teaching a photography workshop with my friend Lewis Kemper during fall color, it was a warm, wet fall and the big landscapes weren’t that great.

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Stacking in Colored Layers

Take a look at this photo. Imagine for a moment, that it is all yellow aspens from foreground to background. In this bright, sunny, flat light, there would be little scene depth in the photo.

Scene depth are elements in a photo that give a sense of depth or distance from foreground to background and is achieved in several ways. Lighting is one and can emphasize scene depth, especially when you have varied brightness levels in the scene like a darker foreground and brighter background.

Size relationship is another way to give a sense of depth to the scene. This is usually a subject or subjects that have varying sizes and can be something like a large rock or clump of flowers in the foreground looming large, while the background appears distant.

The San Juan Mountains are a rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining is now uneconomical in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale holdouts were the Standard Metals operation on Red Mountain Pass which operated until late in the 20th century and the ill-fated Summitville mine on the eastern slope of the San Juans.

Then in situations like this image, where the brightness level is pretty equal throughout the image, you dont get much of a sense of scene depth. So instead, I used color stacking of different colors to to give a sense of depth to the image.

There really was not much else to add unless I want to burn and dodge and simulate varied tonal values, but it might look to fake. So I opted for a different approach.

In Photoshop, I selected the orange/red values and then added that selection to a Hue/Sat adjustment layer, and darkened the oranges and reds. Then I did the same for the greens while leaving yellows alone.

In a way you could look at this approach similar to burning and dodging because I adjusted selected tones to changed the contrast, all with the goal of creating scene depth.

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