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How to get good photos?

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How to get good photos?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Mar 03, 2012 7:53 pm

I am organizing old photos and decided to put the best in a file and have these be my computer background. It is so fun to have my own pictures come up every time I turn on my computer! I should have done this years ago.

What I have noticed, however, is that some of my favorite pictures (favorite because I really love the area) are too busy. Not that there seems to be much to do about it. A lot of the High Seirra has so much contrast and so much "texture" - rocks, scree, vegetation that they look very busy. On the other hand, my photos of Henry Coe are all very "soft". At least from an artistic standpoint they are better photos.

Is my problem due to forground? And how do you get a non-busy foreground if the ground is littered with rocks? Obviously a lake foreground helps, but often the lake is anything but smooth. Also, when I try to process out the contrast, it just looks bad. Or am I trying to get too much in the photo? Or too close- not enough surrounding sky? I love late day lighting, but sometimes that simply accentuates the lumpiness.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.



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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Mar 03, 2012 8:12 pm

Image

Here is an example of what seems "too busy". This is the area of the Upper San Joaquin just north of Twin Island Lakes. Everytime I go there it is so awesome, but I cannot seem to capture the "Feel" of the area. Between all the texture in the rock and all the color, it is just overwhelmingly busy.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sun Mar 04, 2012 12:12 am

I'm not sure that I have ever really considered the notion of landscape photography being too busy. For me it's just all about composition and lighting. Thanks to easy programs like Microsoft ICE you can take photos on their side and paste them together in panoramas that are not so wide a person even thinks they are panoramas. Once you get into doing that at least a third of all your photos when your done editing will be stitches.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby fishmonger » Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:12 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:Image

Here is an example of what seems "too busy". This is the area of the Upper San Joaquin just north of Twin Island Lakes. Everytime I go there it is so awesome, but I cannot seem to capture the "Feel" of the area. Between all the texture in the rock and all the color, it is just overwhelmingly busy.


Some Sunday morning coffee thoughts below.

Same place in different light may be awesome. Back lit, early morning, dusk, heavy clouds, low clouds, etc - it's all about the light. The light in the example is pretty much direct on the suject and later in the day, getting pretty blue, which is a time most landscape photographers scratch off their work hours, unless something special is going on such as big clouds and harsh shadows in low humidity weather. There's some haze in this image that makes it appear pretty flat.

The image isn't too busy - it mainly lacks contrast and drama to stand out, and the subject may have been impressive in person, but flat on a computer screen it'll lose a lot of that appeal.

You can do stuff with perspective, which requires a wider lens, and add something in the foreground. That requires a different position to still see the streams and that may hide the hills behind. If you take a wider lens shot from the same location, your distant peaks will get even smaller. Another approach for that scene would have been a medium telephoto to focus on the image center, where most of the action is with the parallel streams. Perspective compression will also bring the peaks right above that area closer in the image. maybe even a vertical framing to get the center third of the frame. Still boring light and not going to be a stand-out photo no matter how you frame it at that time of day.

A tool to consider for images where color contrast is the story is to use a good polarizer filter. Probably would not have done much at the sun angle I see in this image, but in many cases when you're shooting at about 45 degrees to the sun angle, a polarizer wil take haze out of images and really saturate those colors, which in this image would help a lot. Those things are like sunglasses for your camera.

Another idea to get some intersting stuff to happen in this area would be to shoot with a neutral density filter to stretch the exposure to several seconds, and frame tighter on the water to get the flowing water effect. Rarely done with medium telephotos from long range (requires very solid tripod and it can't be windy), so it would be pretty unique to see those two streams all smooted out into a hazy dreamy look. At the focal length in the example image it wouldn't really do much.

My problem geting the great landscape shots is that I am always bound to a pretty tight hiking schedule and rarely can just kick back and wait for the right light at a given location. It's a matter of luck for me to get both, location and good light. One trick is to set up camp where you hope to get the right light for the scenery in front of you. Probably a reason why I rarely camp in valleys.

Now, if you live in the Sierra for a whole summer like Rogue, you'll get to see enough places in great light to have enough to show off for years to come.

my mountain landscape gear 101:

light tripod
polarizer
ND filter
graduated ND filter (for sunset and sunrise high-constrast shots)
lenses beyond the "normal wide angle"
extension rings for macro work
shoot raw files, so you don't leave the processing to the camera engineers' best guess
software like ICE suggested by Rogue adds to your options, giving you super-wide angle where no lens in your kit can deliver. Example my widest lens in the pack vs stitch in ICE, taken from the same location.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby vandman » Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:29 am

The Sierra is by nature a very busy landscape; it is also known as The Range of Light, so for me it's all about capturing that famous Sierra light. Your photo is a very interesting and beautiful landscape, but it looks like it was taken in the mid-afternoon, which in my opinion is only good for informational photos. Not always, but usually the lighting from 11am to 4pm is harsh and flat. I shoot my serious landscape photos either very early in the morning or in the late afternoon until dusk. I usually scout locations and pick the most promising area for the magic hour. I consider an interesting subject/composition combined with dramatic light and shadow a successful landscape photo.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Mar 04, 2012 12:40 pm

Thanks for the critique. Now that you point it out, I agree that flat lighting is a big issue here. My camera does not take lenses, but it does shoot RAW format. For now I simply want to get the best photos I can with a light weight camera. I will however consider adding a light weight tripod. At this point I do not know how much "haze" is due to shaking. I will confess that I should spend more time playing with my camera settings at home to become familiar with them. I do not think I am utilizing my camera to its fullest. I both want to simply record where I have been and also spend some time in camp when lighting is better to try to get some better shots. I think I am pretty good at recognizing a potentially good landscape, but my technical skills with the camera certainly need some work! All the great potographers on this forum are an inspiration to me!
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby RoguePhotonic » Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:11 pm

Peter is right in saying that because I spend so much time out there that I am bound to have great scenes and get lucky. But being able to see good composition goes along ways also.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby maverick » Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:55 pm

Hi WD

Some Sunday afternoon tea & blueberry scone thoughts below. :D

It seems like you would like to take it a step up from the ordinary snap shot type of
photo, at least some of the time.
What you call "busy" can also be clutter, which sometimes comes from inexperience at
composing shots, and is also caused by just being emotional caught up in a shot.
There is a major difference from a snap shot, and a beautiful art piece that you
hang in you living room or sell at a show.
Many people come upon a scene that may overwhelm them emotionally, and then
immediately take the shot not caring about the time of day, composition, quality
of light, or looking for an unique perspective/angle, which is fine for a large majority
of people, but if you want something better, theses are some of the things you will
have to incorporate into your repertoire.
Take for instance the "Tunnel View" in Yosemite, how many million folks take a photo
from the exact same spot, height, and time of day each year. Sure it is a beautiful
view point, but changing your position, height/level, time of day/year, all can make for
a more unique composition, as opposed to getting out of the car/bus, walking up to
the wall in the middle of the day, taking a shot at the aperture, and speed that the
camera has set for you.
Learn how to use your camera, don't let the camera be in control! Understanding how
different apertures, speeds, ISO, lenses, effect your creative input. Shoot raw, otherwise
the camera is in control of the output, and your creative vision/individuality will not be
present in your photo.
Photoshop, lightroom or whatever software you use is another important factor in
personalizing your photography.
Look at other photographers works like Ansel Adams, John Shaw, Jack Dykinga,
the Muenches, John Sexton, Christopher Burkett, Michael Fatal, and some of
our fellow HST members websites, and you will see that an artists individual style shines
through his/her work, which is what you want to do with your own work.
Your subject matter in your photo is nice, but as others have mentioned the time of
day makes or breaks a photo. Also, as Fish mentioned, using a wide angle, and getting
lower to the ground, and closer to the flowers would give you a greater perceived depth
of field making the mountains fall back with the flowers dominating the foreground.
A longer lens could be used to isolate a subject matter like the flowers, and a telephoto
lens could be used to compress the perceived distance between subject matters.
Cropping off the bottom would make the photo a little stronger, more balanced. Also
getting in closer and lower, and taking the shot in portrait mode would emphasis the
lines of the creeks more, and thereby leading your eyes towards the ridge line in the
back ground.
Your photo has to have a subject matter, a focal point, what is it your trying to convey
to your viewer, the beauty of the mountains, the flowers? Once you answer this question
you need to figure out what aperture, ISO, speed, lens you should use to best convey this.
Then make a decision from what angle to shoot from, are there any natural lines that
can be used to lead the viewers eyes to your main focal point, like a ridge line, rock
formation, a trail/road, or river/creek, which are all parts of the creative process one
needs to think about when composing a scene. This is why scouting the area ahead of
time, and then returning when the lighting is optimal is so important!
Learning to put your focal point/subject matter in the upper or lower, left or right
third of your photo is something to keep in mind when composing, and even though
this rule does not always apply, it does more often than not. Another mistake made
is putting the subject matter dead center(which you did with the creek) or placing
the horizon, or the far end of a lake in the center of the photo thereby cutting the
photo in half.
Polarizer filter's as mention before can help with getting a sky darker, cutting reflection
or glare, but it has to be used correctly. A photo with an overly dark blue or almost
black sky not only looks unrealistic, but aesthetically unappealing. It can also be used in
conjunction with a smaller f-stop(less light reaching the sensor) to get that candy effect
in waterfalls.
The most important piece of equipment that a serious landscape photographer must
carry at all times is a solid tripod. Even the smallest amount of wind, or vibration can
ruin an otherwise beautiful photo. Sure it may look okay on the web, but try printing it
large, it will never happen.
Being able to take good photo's and to make a decent income from it is very hard work,
not only the time and effort to get to remote locations, but also capturing nature in
its finest moments (which is part luck, and also the study of natures habits), having
the right equipment, proper technique, and then being able to develop it properly so
it does justice to our artistic vision are all part of the process. All this may take years
of visiting the same location over an over again for it finally to come all together, but
most people are unaware or unwilling to do this.
Many people do not appreciate all the effort that goes into capturing an art piece
because they see so many people flood the internet with there snap shot photo's,
which gives them the impression that it is so easy and no talent is needed, just go
to a location and just shoot away, which digital has made so easy to do, but try to
get a tack sharp 12x18 print, or even larger print from those files. That is when
you will see the difference what all that learning, practice, and effort that many
successful photographers invested pay off.
Just like our expert fishermen who have been fishing for decades like OR, Markskor
and GB to name a few. No way someone dabbling in a little fishing will even remotely
understand the nuances that these folks have amassed over the decades of experience.
Sure they can enjoy it, even have a passion for it, but it is at a whole different level
which requires dedication and a total commitment.
These are just a few things that hopefully will help in your progress, and if you have
any other questions about equipment, software, or techniques, please feel free to ask.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby copeg » Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:03 pm

How to get good photos?


Isn't that the million dollar question? In my opinion, professional and amateur photographers should constantly be asking themselves this very question in one form or another.

Personally I find 'good' a relative term, which can be defined by the intentions of the photographer - do you want something to capture a memory, something to share with friends and family, something to make a statement (eg environmental), something to print and hang on your wall, something to sell? How you develop this definition might give you direction, as it can give you some perspective in relation to the what, where, how, and when as well as giving yourself context on if or where to seek help and/or critique.

Of course knowing some basics and how to use them in particular situations can always help, for example how to use light (and your camera + filters to help control the light), compositional rules (rule of 3rds, leading lines, balancing patterns and elements, framing, symmetry, etc...), what I like to call shooting in 4 dimensions(time + 3d - include foreground (close) and background (far) subjects to create depth, use long or short exposures to freeze of blur moving elements), and last but not least experimentation (shoot from different heights, move your camera up, down, to the side, etc...) and restriction (force yourself to shoot a single subject or theme, for instance a color, a rock, a pattern, etc...). None of this guarantees success, but can bring you that much closer (I've been practicing photography for over ten years, and would be lying if I said I've reached 'success').
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Mar 06, 2012 9:33 pm

OK so here is another photo of the same area, taken farther downstream at the lake. I wanted to feature the two waterfalls, and they do not show up much, but I think this is a better photo because it has depth (although it still is mid-day flat lighting).

Image

Here is another photo that I like- it is on the Hetch Hetchy trail. I find that it is easier to get a good photo of a single subject, particularly at lower elevations.

Image

I like the photo below, but again, I am not sure if I am not too "attached" to the subject matter to be a good judge. The one below has some good elements but my old camera was just a point and shoot, so the exposure was off and I could only "fix" it so much with Photoshop. The hard thing about this photo is that the sun was shining directly at me behind the clouds.

Image

Anyway, please critique the photos. I really need some input.
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby maverick » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:54 pm

PM sent.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: How to get good photos?

Postby rlown » Wed Mar 07, 2012 3:00 pm

i'd kind of like to see the critique here, as I'm sure most of us struggle with the same problems. It looks great when we look at it, and then it's disappointing when we get home and look at it. My compensation is to take tons of pics, varying whatever i know to do. granted, most P&S don't give you what you want, unless you know how to go manual.
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