Today I want to talk about choices in landscape photography.
The list of choices a landscape photographer takes into consideration before he/she trips that shutter button are huge. These choices vary hugely from one photographer to the other. This is partly why two landscape photographers rarely come home with the same image when they visit a location together. They may be similar – but they are never the same.
A lot of the decision-making process comes down to those individual decisions made regarding choices such as focal length, composition, exposure, filters, aspect ratio, what to include/exclude. The list is literally almost endless. It is simply comes down to a case of personal taste. Add in all the choices that can be made at the post processing stage and the gap is widened even further. One photographer can literally end up with many versions of the same image.
I have oftentimes found myself confused because I have many versions of the same scene and not known which one I liked best.
A Recent Example
My latest local jaunt provided a clear example of how different choices can leave you with very different results.
It was a fine summers evening and I decided to forego the almost weekly long journey to the north coast. Staying local was this week’s first choice.
Next up – where to go for a sunset considering I live on the east coast? Salterstown pier in Co. Louth seemed the logical answer but I never made it that far as I spotted a potential scene at Annagassan and stopped the car abruptly. I can only imagine other landscape photographers drive as badly as I do, constantly looking out the window and across hedges instead of focusing on the road ahead.
The sun was dropping nicely to my left throwing shadow across the foreground. I found a beautiful lead in line that helped lead the eye from one side of the image to the other enhancing the composition. If I used a wide-angle lens, I would lose the scale of the Cooley & Mourne mountains in the background but the longer focal length made it hard to work in the chain and rope. Where the mountains majorly important to the story of this image? I eventually opted to lose them in favour of the foreground. Next issue, I didn’t like the piece of land on the right-hand side but couldn’t balance the image by excluding it. Unfortunately, I can’t move mountains.
Arguments for & against
Some photographers choose to overcome situations like this through the clever use of photoshop i.e. stretching mountains, moving and adding elements, etc. I have nothing against these practices once the photographer is honest about what they have done. Lacking these skills, I generally choose not to engage in this and revisit scenes again & again until I have the skill to make them work. There are plenty of arguments for and against manipulation – I can see both sides of the coin. Again, where you draw the line comes down to personal preference and I am a strong believer in “each to their own”.
Exposure & Filtration
I managed to balance exposures between the sky and land via use of a graduated neutral density filter. Should I use a soft of hard grad? Unfortunately, the highlights could not be controlled with a single exposure as the boat mast and the bollard in front were badly blowing out. If I pulled a grad filter down over them, I would darkened the ground around them as well. I knew instantly I needed a couple of exposures with the intention of blending the highlights later in post-production. I then added a tiny amount of polarization to help make the sky pop.
I stood for a while trying to make the best of the scene. Eventually, I literally had to abandon ship as they say because the tide had moved in behind me. Knowing I had a nice image captured but there was one nagging doubt in my mind – Colour or Black & White? I wasn’t sure if the blue sky, green rope and golden sand could gel nicely together in a colour image. I processed one photo as a quick trial. The image is pleasing enough and would sit nicely framed on any wall but it just lacked a little something in my mind – mood.
Black & White
I knew the scene had more to give and may work well in mono. The shadows thrown across the foreground gave great contrast and interest to the scene. I dropped the exposure of the sky to add a little more mood and then brightened the whites in the clouds to add a little more detail. For me, the black and white version of this scene far exceeds what I could achieve in colour. Note how I use the word “I” and that this all comes down to personal preference. Some of you may prefer the colour version and there is nothing wrong with that.
There you have it, I hope I have demonstrated how the small choices a photographer makes along the way can have huge impact on the final image. The two images above were taken and processed slightly differently but the end result is hugely different. Seeing the options available make you think harder about what the final image might potentially look like.
Most of us start out in photography happily snapping whatever scene presents itself in front of us. As we become more proficient, we gradually start to consider more options available to us. These choices happen almost un-subconsciously without thinking too hard. It is only with time and experience that a photographer deepens their understanding of the craft more and more options appear to us. These options give us more choices which in turn demand more decisions. The decision-making process becomes more and more complex. This is not a bad thing as the skilled photographer will learn to make the best choice for the situations at hand and come away with better photographs on more occasions.