A series of columns on outdoor photography
The f-Stops Here
While preparing my 1997 Resolutions List, I found, not surprisingly, many new goals had to do with photography, hunting and fishing. Like many of you, I live for the hunt, the perfect cast to the memorable strike, and for the next great photo in good light.
by Sharon Watson
The next photo I take will probably be of Idaho sportspeople doing their thing in the Idaho wilds. Sometimes, though, I remember to focus down -- on the single feather, a dripping paddle, or snow drifts -- the more basic visual designs found in nature. One of my resolutions is to take more photos like that.
Whether of broad sweeps or small strokes, all photos are technically a lesson in design, form, composition, contrasts and balance. When the form IS the photo, however, the photographic viewpoint is usually more restrictive, a narrower image of the whole.
Yet, that is not always the case. A photo of snow-capped rocks makes a lovely Idaho scenic, even though it may have been intended to be a study in shapes and contrasts. Some photos, though, more closely imitate abstract art by being just pieces or distortions of reality, portions of a natural design used as the primary photographic subject.
Essentially, these "expressions" and abstractions are special-effects experiments -- a search for a more unusual viewpoint of the outdoors, offering unique dramatic and affect.
The search for something more abstract is like an Easter Egg Hunt. It's the hidden form in the grass. What do you look for? You primarily look for PATTERNS. Patterns of light and dark, shapes, lines, colors, texture. Be alert to repetitious patterns like symbols or suggestions of similarities, and patterns of contradictions such as snow on spring flowers, or opposites, including coarse textures mixed with smooth ones.
Obviously, more than one type of pattern can occur in the same photo. And, these photographs will be more dynamic if other elements of composition and balance are combined with the designs. Avoid merely rigid and boring patterns. Concepts of "balance" include a break in the pattern, for instance.
Following are some photographic techniques for capturing nature's designs:
Selective Focus. Using large f-stops (wide open), close-focus on some small element, making all the rest a smear of color. I played with this idea using flowers.
Out-of-focus. Throw the entire scene out of focus so the photo is nothing but color smears or just points of fuzzy lights. Dew on grasses is a good subject for this.
Reflections. Shoot only the reflection of a subject, in water, for instance. If the water is rippled, your subject will have an added textured pattern.
Textures. Shoot through thick glass, focus on the glass or beyond to a subject. Try rough, thick, textured or distorted glass. Shoot through screens, a thin gauzy cloth, netting or through a rainstorm. A downpour can give an oil-painting texture to a scenic.
Extreme close-ups. The more extreme, the more abstract the photo, usually. Try a close up of seed pods, bird feathers, wet fish scales with a polarizing filter, a leaf with light shining through it.
Cropping. Using a telephoto, photograph only a portion of the scene, cropping out the rest. Any lens can be used to carefully select or narrow-down your subject, but a telephoto may help you "see" these abstract, or more expressive portions. Or crop out a section of a photo in the darkroom and blow it up. By blowing up a tiny portion, you also give it a super grainy texture.
One example: a shot of my daughter on her stomach on the wet sand in a receding surf. Her legs are up behind her, her head arched. It's a gorgeous photo, but then I cropped the shot to include her dripping lower legs only, crossed at the ankles. The glow of the evening sun, plus a little sand on her skin gives a sense of warm oceans and beaches without seeing the whole scene.
Unusual angle. Shoot up from underneath mushrooms or flowers, for example. Or shoot straight down on a flyfisherman from hopefully a cliff right over him or her. You get an abstraction with the hat, a piece of net laying partly in the water, and line swirling outward and around.
Sidelighting. This technique is important for capturing texture and three-dimensionality. The texture of some subjects won't stand out in flat light. Sidelighting gives depth. Maybe only half the subject is lighted and the other half is black or barely there. It's dramatically different from your standard shot.
"Patterns are strong visual forces that give harmony and unity to a picture (from JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHY)." Photographic practice on "the rhythm of recurring forms" may indeed help our Idaho photographs have greater visual impact.
When you're trying for something unusual, you more often than not have something already in mind. You have visualized an idea. The more you visualize your ideas in general, the better you'll get at implementing them, and the better all your photography will be.
Happy Outdoor Resolutions!