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Landscape, Nature and Travel Photography

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Landscape, Nature and Travel Photography
One of the biggest areas of interest for photographers is landscapes, nature and travel. The business market for these kinds of photographs is extremely competitive, but it doesn't matter if you're interested in outdoor photography for business or pleasure. We'll talk about how to take the best photos that you can - the kind that make people stand up and say, 'Wow!'

This is one of my favorite areas of photography, simply because each time you head out to make photos, it's like a mini-adventure. You never know what you'll find or what kind of pictures you'll come home with. So many items are variables that you can't control, from the weather to road construction. It's a creative challenge to produce the best images you can, no matter what the circumstances.

Landscape, Nature and Travel - What's The Difference?
The terms 'landscape photography', 'nature photography' and 'travel photography' tend to get lumped together (sort of like I'm doing in this lesson) but they're all quite different ways of looking at the earth we live on and our perceptions of it.

Landscapes, as a general rule, tend to feature grand, sweeping views of the land, whole cities or buildings, bodies of water and sky. They might feature some interesting object in the foreground - fences, flowers, park benches or just about anything - but the actual subject of the photograph is the landscape itself. They tend to be generic in the sense that they don't provide a 'flavor' of a specific local culture. A beautiful desert scene could be taken in the United States or Africa, but unless you as the viewer are familiar with the specific area, the overall feeling of the photograph is simply that of a dry, arid landscape.

Nature photography covers a broad spectrum of categories from animals in the wild to detailed shots of flora and fauna - there is usually an actual subject to focus in on when taking nature photography.

Travel photography can be a combination of landscapes, nature and several other things. When you go on a trip, you want to take photographs that really capture the essence of the place you've been. Not just beautiful landscapes and cityscapes, but perhaps details of architecture that are unique to the place you're visiting or images that capture the particular culture of the people, whether it be through photos of food, customs, clothing or any other particular man-made influences on the area. Travel photography is both important for sentimental reasons when you've been on a wonderful trip and also a big seller in the travel publishing industry.

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The Lens
Ask most people to name a true master of landscape photography and time and again you will get the answer 'Ansel Adams'. If you ever get to see a 'real' print made by Adams himself, you will be stunned beyond your wildest imagination. No reproduction of his work in a book or any print made by mass-production processes can come close to the magic he could work in a darkroom, making images by using his famous and complex 'zone system' for black and white photography. That being said, he had a wonderful eye for capturing the landscape - for making his vision come to life through his camera's lens. But ask him to tell you how he did it and he'd answer, 'There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.'

Back in our lesson on lenses, I recommended a wide-angle lens for landscape photography. The wider, the better, really. This is because a large part of the horizon can be shown in the photograph and a large part of the foreground can be included as well. Including the foreground really makes the viewer feel like they're standing there. The wider the angle of the lens, the more you can exaggerate the effect, because you can capture the scene in front of you right up to your toes (or the front legs of your tripod, which I've oftentimes accidentally captured in my landscape photographs.) If you use your lens in this manner, it can give great depth to a photograph. Likewise, if you place the horizon at the bottom of your photo's frame, you can add great depth to the sky by including interesting clouds all the way up to those above your head. The following photo is a successful example of using a wide-angle lens to capture a dramatic landscape.


bannack.jpgWhen using a wide-angle lens, it can be fun to get down close to the ground and have some sort of object near you, like in the following picture I took in a ghost town in Montana. The old wagon wheel adds a feeling that takes you back in time - much more so than a straight-on shot of the building would have done.


This technique is particularly popular for travel photography. I've seen pictures that sum up the whole feeling of being in the wine region of France by showing a glass of wine on a table with a corkscrew, overlooking a vineyard. The combination of a successful landscape shot with an element specific to the place being photographed will bring back wonderful memories for you for many years to come. This sort of shot is also in high demand among publishers of travel material.

canoes.jpgThe same idea is employed here with the boats on the lakeshore. While being a lovely landscape shot, the boats being up front that grab your attention and the boat out in the water suggest an adventure awaits the viewer.

wintertr.jpgBut what about a telephoto lens? What if that's all you have? Does that mean you can't take a good landscape photo? No, not at all. (Refer to the quote by Mr. Adams, above.) Just because one thing is 'recommended', that doesn't mean at all that there's no use for another. The picture of the storm in lesson one was taken with a telephoto lens and includes very little foreground. That photo has been purchased many times over and even used by Kodak. This is another image I took one winter using a telephone lens.

The simplicity of this image, the sepia tones and the classic composition make this photo work. There were so many clouds this day you couldn't see any of the mountains in the background and it was grey and hazy. I used that to my advantage by using the haze as a backdrop to highlight the silhouettes of the trees. They were quite far away, and if I had used a wide-angle lens, they would have been nothing but small dots in the distance.

When The Weather Is Bad

Rain
Okay, so yesterday's weather report forecasted blue skies with bright, fluffy, white clouds. You got your camera equipment ready, set the alarm for some ridiculous hour and got up bright and early to go take the most amazing landscape photos ever. But what's that noise? Raindrops hitting your rooftop? You look out the window and see rain pouring down that doesn't show any sign of stopping. Don't despair! Go back to bed, sleep in and when you wake up you can STILL go out and get some of the most amazing photos ever. Head for either a wooded area or somewhere with some sort of a body of water. Rich, saturated colors will spring to life, no matter whether it's spring, summer or autumn. The darkness of the day will allow you slower shutter speeds to expose really nicely for flowing water without getting too many distracting specular highlights. The following images were taken on freezing, rainy days when most people would never dream of trying landscape or nature photography.

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Some guidelines need to be applied when shooting in the rain, however. Take an umbrella - if you can rig up some sort of stand for one so it will shelter you while you're taking photographs, all the better. Make sure you have a way to keep your camera dry at all times. Water dripping off leaves above you can really be irritating when it comes down on your camera lens, so always have your lens cap on unless you're actively taking a photograph. Even then, make sure you have a clean, soft, dry cloth in a waterproof container that you can use to wipe off any water drops you do get on your lens.

Snow and ice can make for some AMAZING photographic opportunities, but they also present a myriad of challenges to the photographer.

treesbla.jpgSnow And Ice
First of all, there are the extreme temperatures you may be dealing with. Cameras (especially digital cameras with their LCDs) are built to work within specific temperature ranges. You'll find the same thing with batteries - cold weather will wear them out extremely quickly. I've been known to remove my camera's batteries and keep them in my pockets to stay warm from body heat so that they're warm while I take pictures. You may prolong your battery's life by several photographs by doing this. If I'm shooting digitally - which I do on a regular basis at this point - I sometimes keep the camera on a strap around my neck and tucked into my coat to keep the whole thing from freezing temperatures. You can also buy those nylon-covered foam insulated lunch coolers in various sizes. If you cut slits inside in the nylon, they will hold those little hand warmers you can buy that contain iron filings and stay warm for many hours. This is another good way to lug your camera and batteries around out in the cold without having to worry about the elements damaging your hardware. Those hand warmers can get quite hot, so figuring out a way to keep them inside of the bag and actually away from the camera itself is a must. Always check your camera manufacturer's recommendations on what temperature ranges are okay for operating your camera before heading out into the winter weather.

frost.jpgThe second challenge you'll run into photographing outdoors in the winter is the bright whites that will trick the light meter in your camera. Your camera's metering system looks at your picture and sort of scrambles up all of the shades of light. Then it tells your camera to expose so that overall you have a 'mid grey'. That tends to work really well when you're photographing normal subjects that have a wide range of colors from black to white, but when you're taking a picture of a snowy scene, your camera will tell you to expose so that the white turns out grey. Ugh. To compensate for this, you'll want to actually overexpose by one or two stops to get really 'white' snow. You'll have to experiment and make notes while shooting to find the perfect exposure for your particular camera.

If you can get up early before the sun rises and things start to melt, you can capture all sorts of beautiful images on a frosty morning. The following image was taken of a barbed wire fence that was completely covered in hoarfrost. A deep blue filter was used to emphasize the feeling of cold.

You can get amazing pictures of leaves, blades of grass, spider webs and all sorts of other ornate natural objects if you make it out before the sun melts the frost.

sunset.jpgThe Ever-Popular Sunset
Ahh Sunsets. Who hasn't seen a spectacular sunset and thought to themselves, 'I need a picture of that!' And who hasn't been disappointed upon getting their photos back and seeing an image that is nowhere near as spectacular as what they remembered? It's the same sort of thing that happens when you try and take pictures of snow - your camera's meter can be fooled into overexposing because you're focusing on so much dark area.

I took this shot and metered for two stops underexposure. The sun is still plenty bright, and that kept the dramatic oranges in the sky from getting washed out and overexposed. No post-processing was done to the photo - this is an example of what you can really achieve in-camera if you expose your photo properly. The silhouettes of the trees help make it even more eye-catching and the wide-angle lens to really highlight the texture in the expanse of clouds makes you feel like the sky goes on forever.

You can even get really creative with sunsets and place an object in the foreground. Then manually set your camera's aperture and shutter speeds manually for the sunset and use a flash to light up your foreground object. There are no limits with the fun things you can do with night photography.



trucksun.jpgIf you have a digital camera, are using a tripod, and know how to overlay photos using digital software, here's another thing to try. Take one picture exposed for the sky and a second picture exposed for your foreground. Then lay the two correctly exposed parts of the image out together using your imaging software. I used that technique in the following picture and it really made a dramatic shot of what would have been a nightmare of an exposure situation, otherwise. It was extremely dark out and the ground and truck required a full two second exposure that would never have worked on the sky. But the two pictures worked out very well together after being combined.

Nature - Don't Forget The Details!
While you're out taking those grand landscape images, don't forget to look closely at the world around you, too. There are all sorts of tiny details out there, just waiting to be captured with your camera. Look up, down and all around for interesting patterns of foliage, rocks, clouds and the way the light plays on them. Experiment with different camera filters and shutter speeds. Hold a leaf up to the light to make its veins seem to glow brightly, creating an attractive pattern. It's easy to get caught up in the big picture, but while you're having fun with that, just don't forget the small pictures that are hiding in the details!

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The Panorama
Panoramic images are a specialty area of photography that can be a lot of fun. There are cameras that you can buy that will let you use regular 35-mm and take either regular 35-mm format shots or panoramic images. These are quite versatile and can be useful if panoramic photography is an area that you are interested in exploring. If you use a digital camera, there are quite affordable software programs you can buy that will let you stitch several images together into a panorama. If you choose to go this route, there are a couple of things you'll need keep in mind. You'll need a tripod with a head that will let you pan the camera from side to side, while keeping the camera perfectly level. When stitching photos together, having them line up perfectly is the most important element. Also, you'll need to set your camera's settings manually, and look at each 'frame' that you're going to expose using those settings. If you have a spot that's darker or lighter than the rest of the series and use automatic settings on your camera, you'll wind up with a panorama that fades from dark to light and back again, making a visually unsettling photograph. I highly suggest trying this - it's fun!


panorama.jpg


Wildlife Photography

Back in our discussion on lenses, I recommended a very good long lens if you plan on doing a lot of wildlife photography. I also recommend large quantities of patience and a willingness to sit in perhaps very uncomfortable positions for hours on end without moving.

Following is my most popular wildlife photograph.

snail.jpgWell, it's my only wildlife photograph, unless you count ducks and geese in the city park. Oh, and there was the time the moose was running down the road in front of my vehicle and I got a picture of its rear end. I live in an area renowned for amazing wildlife and I have seen wolves, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep numerous times in the wild. But photographing them is another story all together. I simply don't have the patience to sit in a stand all day hoping the elusive animal will come by and pose for me. So when I see a beautiful wild animal, I sit back and simply appreciate it, rather than grabbing for my photo equipment.

Having said that, I can still offer some tips on wildlife photography, for those of you who are interested.

One of the most important things that makes a good wildlife photo is when you can really fill your frame with your subject - hence the recommendation for a long lens. Those two polar bears up on the mountainside don't make that great of a picture if they're just tiny white dots in the upper left hand corner.

Make sure you have your focus set on the animal's eye. No matter if the water buffalo are doing a hula dance complete with grass skirts and coconut bikini tops, if the eyes are out of focus, it's a distraction that will keep your photo from being all it can be. Because animals move, I'd recommend no slower than a 1/250 second shutter speed to eliminate blur.

If you're lucky enough to live in an area with a zoo, this is a good place for a beginner to practice wildlife photography. Some of the serious wildlife photographers I know - those who make their own ghillie suits and lie motionless in the bushes awaiting that rare shot of the Ring-Necked African Brush Penguin for 27 hours or more at a stretch - will scoff at this idea because it's not 'real' wildlife photography. Also, many wildlife publications refuse to publish photos of animals that are taken in captivity. However, if I lived near such a wonderful opportunity, you can be sure I'd take advantage of it. If you do have such an opportunity, make sure and check with the officials at the zoo first and find out any rules and restrictions they may have about photographing the animals.

One interesting thing to note is that if your subject is behind a wire mesh screen (like birds in many zoos' aviary areas), you can put your lens right up next to the screen, open up your aperture, zoom in and focus tightly on the subject and the depth of field will completely eliminate the screen in your final shot. Similarly, with animals behind glass, rather than using a polarizer, you can put your lens up directly to the glass and it will eliminate any glare. I'd recommend not using your camera's flash so that you don't disturb the animals.

If you are ready to venture out into the outdoors to photograph your subjects, the best advice I can offer is to research your subjects and the location thoroughly. Go to the spot you plan on taking photographs several times, at different times of day, to see what kind of lighting the area gets and when animals frequent the area. Getting out early to get the best light on the actual day you plan to shoot will benefit you and make for great photographs. You can shoot all morning, and when the sun gets to the high point in the sky where the light has become harsh and is making ugly, dark shadows that don't work well in photography, use that time to move to a different location for an evening shoot.

Wildlife photography can produce some of the most eye-catching shots you'll ever see. I have enormous respect for those photographers who come back from safaris to places unknown with rolls and rolls of film containing dramatic images that took so much hard work to get. If that's what you're interested in and you have the same resolve, there's no doubt you can be successful making the same sorts of photographs.

Tips On Travel Photography
If you're traveling via air, the first thing to consider is x-ray equipment and film. If you've gone digital, you don't need to worry about x-ray equipment, but in the case that you're carrying a dozen or a hundred rolls of film in anticipation of a rewarding photo excursion, here are some thoughts to consider.

X-ray equipment can cause something called 'fogging' on your film. I've seen it and it's not pretty. It generally appears as bands that run across your pictures - dark bands on negative film and light bands on positive (slide) film. The faster speed film you are using, the more pronounced the effects of x-ray equipment will be.

So what do you do? First, the easiest way to travel used to be to put your film in your checked luggage, as checked luggage was rarely, if ever, x-rayed. Security concerns with increased terrorism threats in the world have put an end to this process. Now checked baggage is run through a very strong x-ray process that can permanently damage your unprocessed film. I highly suggest taking any film with you onto the plane with your carry-on luggage. There's a bit of debate about how strong the x-ray machines are that your carry-on baggage goes through and whether or not they will damage your film. Chances are if you're only going through one or two terminals, you won't have any problems. But the effects of x-ray equipment on film are cumulative, so if you have several layovers, change planes and have to go through numerous gates on your voyage, you might be exposing your precious images to damage. The airlines offer hand-inspection rather than x-rays, which might be a good thing to consider if your journey is a complicated one with lots of stops. Always remember to be polite when asking for such an inspection - the airline inspectors are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Their jobs don't pay particularly well, nor are their jobs particularly fun, so the last thing you need is to make an enemy of a tired airline baggage inspector at the end of a grueling 10-hour shift when his or her feet hurt. 'I am a photographer, please hand-inspect my film and camera' will get you a lot further than some of the approaches I've heard of people taking with these employees. Also, non-US airports may not honor this sort of request, according to their country's rules. If you do plan to request a hand-inspection of your film, make sure and arrive early, as this type of inspection takes more time than a quick run-through at the x-ray machine. You can also get film that comes in clear plastic containers, rather than the dark black ones. This makes it easier for the inspectors to see what's inside each canister, rather than having to open each one to make sure it's not packed full of hazardous material.

All right, now you're actually on the plane and on your way to your destination. Don't forget taking photos out the airplane window! An overhead view of the city or scenic areas you pass as you're on your way there will bring back enjoyable memories in the future. Just like we discussed with photography at the zoo, taking pictures through glass can cause disturbing reflections, so get your lens as close to the glass as possible, and use your hand or anything else you can to create a cover to eliminate the reflections. Interestingly enough, that thick glass in airplane windows is polarized already, so if you use a polarizing filter on your camera, the two pieces of polarized glass will work against each other and cause weird rainbow-like effects. You can use a wide-angle lens to capture the wing of the airplane against puffy blue clouds, or a telephoto lens to capture an aerial view of the city you're approaching without getting any portion of the airplane in the shot. If you're stuck with glass that's dirty, there's not much you can do about it, of course. Enjoy the ride and pay attention to what you can see - maybe on your return trip you'll have better luck!

hotelint.jpgI'd advise against taking photographs of the actual airport and runway as you approach or leave, however, unless you've discussed it with the flight crew, first. I've heard of people becoming quite suspicious of photographers taking such pictures in today's world of high security. Unless you have a need for such a picture, I'd skip it and just settle in for landing and take-off like everyone else.

Okay! Whew! Now that you've arrived at your destination, what more is there to say about travel photography? One good idea is to get up early to take photos of your destination. You'll find fewer tourists at popular destinations and you may have a better chance at getting closer to your subjects and not having people in the actual image. Also, if you're not a professional photographer, this can be a good way to get the day's shooting done so that you can still enjoy the traveling time with your companions or family.

jammerbu.jpgDon't forget to take pictures of places you stay and restaurants you eat in, if the dcor is particularly interesting. The picture above was taken at a lodge in Glacier National Park, which is registered as a historic place in the United States. The interesting light fixtures, log beams and Native American influence on the lobby of the lodge made for an interesting shot, full of the cultural feeling of the area.
This next photo was taken at the same hotel, but showcases one of the Park's 'Jammer' busses in the parking lot. These vintage 1930's open-air busses take visitors all through the Park and are quite a site to see. A shot like this that showcases a highlight of your trip will bring back wonderful memories for many years to come.

Well, I think it's time to move on to our assignments.
Rather than require everyone to purchase a plane ticket to an exotic locale, I suggest you go out in the area in which you live and take the following photos:

Assignment 1: A landscape - rather than 'travel' - photograph that doesn't emphasize anything specific to your area. Try and get beautiful early morning or evening light to emphasize nature. If you live in a city, a 'cityscape' will do as well.

Assignment 2: A nature photograph. Anything focusing on a specific subject, whether it be an animal, plant or mineral in its natural environment (or zoo, if you live by one). Remember to get in close and fill your frame with the subject.

Assignment 3: A travel photograph, specific to the area in which you live, which really gives a feeling of local 'flavor', whether it be a barn in the country, a tourist attraction or fantastic architecture. Remember to pay close attention to the rules of composition and frame your photograph creatively! Most importantly, have fun!

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