As I walked up Indian River in Sitka, Alaska I wanted to do a broad landscape showing both the river and the old-growth forest on either side. The only way to do this, to get a wide enough reach to get both sides of the river while in the river is with a wide angle lens. So I put my trusty 24-120mm Nikon lens on and starting looking for compositions.
Whenever I am doing a broad landscape shot I know I will have to have a good foreground. This is because I like to tip my camera down to emphasize what is close to me and de-emphasize what is far away from me. If done correctly this creates a composition that appears as if the viewer could step right into the photo- it creates drama. I call these compositions participatory landscapes. It is a tried and true compositional technique that just about every landscape photographer has used and prospered from forever.
A good foreground is one that is both pretty and that visually leads to deeper into the scene. Not just any close part of the landscape works as a good foreground, it’s got to make sense with the rest of the scene and be able to stand alone as a pretty compositional element.
As I wandered up the river I saw this quiet pool by the left bank. Walking over to it I noticed all the pretty rounded rocks and, when I got to the head of the pool, the nice reflection of the trees.Aha! Me thinks there is a picture here!
I got low on my knees and began to frame up the shot. What I noticed right away was that at 24mm my lens wasn’t wide enough to get the entire pool- it cut off the two light green leaves and the close end of the pool. So I put on my equally trusty Nikon 16-35mm lens and recomposed the scene. It was okay but not good enough. I had to get closer to the foreground.
This is a very common problem I see when I critique images during the workshops I teach. It takes some practice to get close enough to the foreground to make it truly compelling. So I sat down on my butt, lowered my tripod and recomposed the scene once again. Aha! It was beginning to look really good.
I had three things left to do. First, I moved my tripod about 4″ over to my right. This allowed me to capture the maximum amount of the tree reflection. Notice how I tucked the top of the reflection into the little notch in the close rocks? This small movement created interest in all the pool and it had the added benefit of covering as much of the white sky as I could.
The second thing I did was put on my polarizing filter and turned it just enough to cut the glare on the wet rocks but not so much to wipe clean the tree reflection. Polarizers aren’t either on or off- they are everything in between. By turning the outer ring of the filter I could see exactly the effect I was going to get. When I went “oooh” I stopped turning.
The last thing I needed to do was figure out where to focus. The rule of thumb is that your point of focus will be 2 to 3 times the distance of the closest object in your composition. I saw that the closest wet rocks were about a foot and a half away from the camera so I focused about 3 feet away (just about dead center in the composition). Doing this at your smaller aperture, f32, allowed me to get the maximum amount and the properly placed depth of field. I took another couple of shots and then quietly marveled at how pretty the picture looked on the back of my camera.
A good eye is very important to find pretty things to photograph but it is no more important than good technique. When combined with a stunningly beautiful scene and perfect conditions you can’t help to get a magnificent image.