Friday, March 13, 2009

Including the human element in our landscapes can add a sense of "being there"

For outdoor photographer Adam Barker, his home base in Utah's Wasatch Mountain range is "an ideal place to find photo opportunities any time of year. I’m about to lead a series of weekend fly-fishing photography workshops this spring in partnership with Western Rivers Flyfisher. All three of these images were captured within the past year on Utah’s Middle Provo River. This is a beautiful stretch of water, lined by grand Cottonwood trees that turn golden in the fall, and surrounded by the towering peaks of the Wasatch. The perfect place to capture some scenic fishing images.

"Even if you’re not into fly fishing photography, however, you will likely find that the three photos included with this story draw your interest. That's partly because they're taken in attractive outdoor settings, but let's also consider that sometimes a nice landscape photograph can take on added meaning and interest if we carefully add the human element.

"When most of us think of the 'perfect' landscape image, it typically involves pristine surroundings, golden light and perhaps a colorful or dramatic sky thrown in. It seems most of the time we are trying to eliminate any indication that man was, is, or ever will be in that particular nook of nature to spoil the scene.

"At other times, however, it is helpful to the viewer if we include some kind of human element. This can vary from a subtle prop such as a beached canoe on the shore of a lovely lake to showing one or more individuals enjoying their time in the great outdoors. Including a person in our images can help to lend a sense of scale to the landscape. It also works psychologically by helping the viewer relate to being there.

"From a business standpoint, it is typically much easier to market images that feature someone in them doing something interesting. If we can master the capture of an incredibly beautiful, serene moment with the seamless inclusion of a person participating in that moment, we'll be a step ahead of many others in the marketplace.

"For this particular story, I’ve chosen to highlight three fly fishing images. Those with an affinity for this timeless pastime will understand my desire to parlay a palpable sense of place, time and human emotion in these images. For those a little less experienced with a flyrod, perhaps these images will give you the desire to don a pair of waders and venture out in search of 'the big one.'

"This image above was made about ten minutes before sunrise, capturing that elusive and brief period of dawn light that seems to glow in all its pastel glory. A creamy cloud layer begins to pink up above the mountain peak in the upper right hand corner. In order to maintain detail in the bright mountain peaks, and to saturate the color in the sky, I chose to use my Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. I also used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to give a deeper hue to the sky and increase contrast on the mountain peaks. Capturing a sharp 4-second exposure such as this requires a sturdy tripod and a cable release to avoid any contact with the camera once the shutter is open.

"This second image is a classic example of a subtle human element complementing a beautiful scene without imposing or overpowering it. As the most intense highlights were just above the horizon line and mountain peaks, I again chose to use my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. As mentioned in several of my previous blog posts, I find this is an incredibly useful and versatile filter.

"This third image was captured during a sunrise that could best be described as 'nuclear.' Anticipation was running high--it was one of those mornings that had the potential to explode, but there were no guarantees as clouds were sneakily moving across the horizon line. There were numerous challenges in creating this 8-second exposure. My tripod was planted in the river, with the camera perched just two feet or so above the rushing water. Clenching the cable release in my teeth, I handheld my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad in one hand and steadied my tripod with the other to avoid any vibrations from the strong current.

"I enjoy including the human element in some of my outdoor images for the impact it can have. However, images with impact require more than just technical know-how and choosing the right filter. Challenge yourself to visualize and see the image before the shutter is clicked. Study the sky and understand where the best light will be. Look at your leading lines and place the person in a spot that becomes an integral part of your composition. If you are including a human element, do your best to make them a part of the environment rather than an imposition."

When you seek further food for thought and visual inspiration, check out Adam's website and blog. It should work every time.

1 comment:

Seung Kye Lee said...

Hi Adam.

The Singh-Ray rev.gnd really saves the day sometimes...especially when sun is so low on the horizon as in these beautiful images.

I find that I use it the most by the sea though, making me able to capture "almost perfect" exposures in-camera.

Great article and I especially liked the third image!

Have a great weekend Adam and Singh-Ray.

Seung Kye