Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 2010 - Coloradoan Xplore Column

On the calendar, June officially marks the start of summer. As for me, I judge the seasons more by what's happening with our landscapes and wildlife. It's been a few months since I've been up to Rocky Mountain National Park. This past weekend I drove through my usual haunts. It's clear the warmer seasons are finally here. It'll be another month before wildflowers really get going, but there is some early color to work with right now. Morraine Park has an impressive display of golden banner flowers. Elk calves are bounding about. This year's nursery herds can be found in the lower valleys for another couple weeks. It won't be long before they move high up into their summer range in the open areas off Trail Ridge road.

I find the landscapes especially impressive right now. Deep green meadow grasses, a touch of early color, budding willows, concentrated wildlife and heavy snowcapped peaks offer a very appealing mix of subjects. Landscape photography isn't my primary area of focus, however, the wildlife subjects I shoot live in some of the most beautiful areas imaginable. So it's hard not to be drawn into capturing these settings. For my eye, the composition choices a photographer makes when creating a landscape image will determine whether the result is a snapshot or an impactful photograph.

The first choice we get to make is whether the image will be portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal). Look at the subjects in front of you. Are the primary features more vertical or horizontal? Prominent tall trees or streams flowing away from you are usually better represented in vertical format. If the features are more distributed throughout, horizontal is generally better. I also like to shoot both, and then decide which I like better, when I get back to my computer.

The second choice is about creating depth and interest in the photograph. Think foreground, middle ground, and background layers. The foreground is perhaps the most important choice you'll make. What you place in the foreground will draw your eye into the photograph. Placing a strong, uncluttered subject off center is a great way to anchor your foreground. The middle ground is also important. Many photographers place negative space here. Negative space is the area void of prominent detail. An example might be forested hillsides framing a foreground of forested meadow flowers. The key is this is not dead space, which is an area empty of any content. Your background should also be anchored with a strong subject. For instance, snowcapped peaks or a strong sky.

Now before you fire the shutter look through your view finder. Look at the proportion you've given to each layer. Well balanced images will have roughly a third of the field of view given to each layer. Also look at how the details in your image flow together. It's easy to overlook, but adjust your position, up-down or side to side, to remove any content in your image that overlaps or gets cut off from natural flow. For instance, a fence row in the foreground that sits half way up the tree line in your middle layer. Or perhaps a rainbow that is placed partially into a tree. Try to separate the subjects in your image.

While I enjoy our winter seasons, this time of year is what I live for. It's a great time to be out enjoying all Colorado has to offer.

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