If you want your nature and landscape photographs to be more powerful then you must have something to say. Photography is a visual form of storytelling. The difference between writing a story and a photograph is you only get one page to tell your story with photography and several to several hundred pages for a book. So inside that one photograph you must have something meaningful to communicate to your audience.
In order to capture the right essence of the scene you will have to study it. You’ll have to stand still and “see” the way light changes the contours and shapes of your scene or subject. As the sun moves across the sky, it light will dramatically change the features of your subject; revealing some features and hiding others. It took me some time to see that the light gives the landscapes and natural elements of the world their voices, moods and emotions. This voice is one of the key factors that separate photography into two parts; snapshots to document an object or scene and art that speaks to the viewer.
Title: Abandoned House on Adams Dam Rd
Studied and worked the scene for 30 – 45 minutes.
Snapshot: Abandoned House in Virginia
Taken in passing at 60 miles an hour on a road trip.
I can not stress enough the importance of planning your trips and studying the area that you plan to visit. It doesn’t matter if your shoot relates to nature and landscape photography or a on-location outdoor portrait sitting. Doing your homework doesn’t just help you define your photographs, it can also keep you safe if you are approached by the local wildlife or with potential natural poisons in the habitat. Knowing what animals are in the area during that season, how they react to people and if it is hunting season could help save your life. The same goes for what poisonous plants of the area look like; there is nothing worse than a lot of discomfort from encountering Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Sumac.
Here is a perfect example of a photographer not doing his homework before going out on his shoot. If this photographer had taken the time to read up on the local wildlife, the photographer would have seen Elk on the list. He would have learned about the Elk’s habits and aggressiveness; he would not have been in this situation for long with the proper knowledge. This photographer came very close to having his lungs punctured by the Elk’s antlers all because the photographer lowered his head. A lot of animals find this gesture as a sign of submissiveness. However, Elk use their heads to defend themselves. The Elk took the photographer’s actions as a threat and attacked the photographer. The photographer is alive, he walked away with bruising and cuts but the Elk had to be put down.
Elk vs. Photographer | Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The second example is of a photographer in a travel party that encountered a family of gorillas; one of which is a Silver Back Gorilla. This photographer had done his homework and learned that looking the Gorilla in the eyes is a sign of aggression and dominance. Tucking the head tells the Silver Back that you are not aggressive or a threat to its family; reducing the likelihood of an attack significantly.
At one point or another you will come upon a location that has been photographed a thousand plus times. In the variety of photographs on the internet you’ll come across photos taken by professionals as well as amateurs, hobbyists and tourists. When I think of an overexposed locations the first place that comes to my mind is the Taj Mahal located in Agra, Indian. I have never been there but from what I have read and seen in photographs, the Taj Mahal is a beautiful picturesque building with a grand garden plaza in front of the entryway. The reflection pond and walkways in the plaza garden create stunning leading lines to the grand Mughal architecture of the building. However, the surrounding area is nowhere near as beautiful as the features of the Tomb. So the vast majority of the images found are all from the same vantage point as well as around the same time of day, so after viewing about ten or so images the scene becomes blah. As a professional or budding photographer you should always try to focus your views of the world differently than everyone else, that is what makes our line of work so interesting and compelling. I love the challenge of finding and exhibiting an extraordinary feature about my subject I’m photographing.
If at all possible, when you are planning your trip to an overexposed popular location, try to schedule your trip so that you have time to not only enjoy the site as a tourist but also have time to work with the features, weather conditions, lighting, and other admirers at the site. Take time to research the location for possible shots before you ever book your trip and leave home. Some locations have a lot of tourists, there are peak seasons for the vegetation as well as the tourist population.
Here are a few tips to think about before and during your trip.
Look at images created by other photographers on the internet. Do not copy another person’s work but look for a detail that you would like to emphasis in your photograph when you arrive on scene.
Think about what you love about a particular feature and come up with a rough idea of what you would like the end results to look like in your photograph. (then go out and practice your camera setting for that type of lighting).
Check the weather (this includes temperature), you may not want to schedule a trip to the hottest part of the world during peak heat wave season (unless you want to lose 20 pounds in a day). When your body temperature has to adapt quickly to another area you will tire quicker than normal; you will become more irritable and your focus will be more on your comfort level than creating beautiful unique photographs.
Make sure you pack gear that will hold up to the weather conditions. Again, you will lose valuable time, effort, and focus trying to protect yourself and your camera gear without the proper protective gear.
Try to hit common sites at off traditional hours, meaning if there are 6 scheduled tours to a location try to be in the first group out or the last. This will give you the ability to capture the site in lighting conditions most people hardly see. Check out this landscape photograph of the Taj Mahal at sunset, photographed from the east plaza. This photograph not only uses an non-traditional vantage point it also uses the “Golden Hour” lighting. Both features used create a stunning landscape photograph and helps enhance the beauty of the Taj Mahal in a unique manner.
When dealing with people and if you are efficient with Photoshop take multiple shots with all of the same camera setting (with the camera on a tripod) and merge them together later in post-production. The best thing about tourists being on site is they do not stand in one spot too long. The multiple shots with give you a variety of photographs with clear landscapes and other features, allowing you the ability to mask over the people. Just don’t change any of your settings or focal lengths.
Patience is key in all aspect and types of photography not just travel and landscape photography. The only difference is photographs in your local area can always be re-shot at an affordable rate. So if you would like to come home with beautiful, unique photographs of your next trip that will WOW your audience, I recommend doing your due diligent first by studying, practicing, and organizing.