Often while immersed in capturing a stunning landscape, bathed in beautiful warm light at sunset, a passer-by will stop to talk to me. The first and more than likely only question will typically be; “what are you photographing?” As if there is something that they are missing looking out over the same fantastic vista in front of them. It is a question that annoys me at times, partly because of being interrupted from the moment I’m in, but also because it seems they feel that this beautiful landscape is not worthy enough to make a good photograph on its own. I could, and often have replied to them with “this beautiful landscape, isn’t it stunning?” They will generally seem a little disappointed by this answer, as if they were expecting something else, perhaps some exciting wildlife. But in reality, it’s a very worthy question. Yes, I am standing in front of this stunning landscape, but what part of it is my subject? What is the story I wish to tell about this landscape? If I point my camera towards this grand vista without considering this, I am going to record the scene without any personal or artistic interpretation. As a photographic artist, it is my job, not just to capture this landscape but to add my visual interpretation to it and tell a story in my work. Sometimes it is also what we leave out of a photograph that can help define our subject. A painter has the luxury to choose what to include in their painting, as a photographer, we often need to decide what does not add to the image and how we can leave this out. Deciding what to leave out of a photograph is often harder than it sounds, especially when faced with an amazing vista as it is all too easy to include everything. I think there are three crucial elements that make up any successful landscape photograph; subject, light, and composition. Just shooting some beautiful light (e. g. a fantastic sunset) is not enough on it own to make a great image. If we start to break down the landscape in front of us, we might wish to capture all of it, but which part of it is most interesting? What part of this grand vista should our subject be? Once we have made this choice, we can then decide how to compose the photograph to make this subject clear to the viewer. We can also PINK BOULDER, LAKE OAHU F11, 4s, ISO64 48 NZPhotographer
FROSTY TUSSOCK, TASMAN RIVER F11, 6s, ISO64 determine what other parts of the landscape will add to the picture, and what will only be a distraction. While teaching on workshops, when I ask a student what they are photographing I will often get a reply like “that interesting little rock on the side of the lake” – the rock they are standing 10 meters away from with an ultra-wideangle lens on their camera. While that rock is a great subject, it will be lost in their final photograph, due to their current composition. With their distance from the rock and lens choice, the rock might only represent about 5% of the image area in the photograph. Therefore, it’s important to decide what our subject is before we set up our tripod, this will then inform our decisions of which lens is best to use and where best to capture the subject from. If they had started with deciding this rock was to be the main subject of their photograph, they could have moved closer to it, made it larger and more defined within the surrounding landscape. Or they could have selected a longer telephoto lens to zoom in on the rock and isolate it from the rest of the landscape. Both of those choices would allow it to be a more significant part of the end photograph and define it as a subject to the viewer. Hopefully, the subject, (“what I am photographing?”) in the pictures with this article, are clear. For the image looking out across lake Ohau, it is the foreground rock on the side of the lake, I framed this with the distant mountains and soft light behind. The photograph looking up the Tasman River at Mt Cook is about the lovely texture of the frost-covered tussock against the soft swirl of the river pool. I framed Mt Cook in the background, but this is to give a sense of location, not as the subject of the picture. So the next time I am out photographing a beautiful sunset at one of my favourite landscapes, will I be any less annoyed when a passer-by stops to ask “what are you photographing?” Probably not! If I replied to them that I am photographing this little rock on the side of the lake, instead of this beautiful landscape, do you think they would be less disappointed with my answer? Probably not! They might even reply with; I thought you might have been photographing the sunset!