Yosemite National Park is an interesting place to photograph. To call it iconic is an understatement. However, while the iconic vistas are a must do for photographers, the conditions must be amazing to make those images successful. After many years of visiting and observing this alluring valley, I’ve found that its beauty really lies in the subtle details found in the shadows of the “giants of the valley”. (I actually find this to hold true almost anywhere I explore!)
Now, here is where my style diverges from many. Most photographers, especially when shooting digital, will “work” a location. They will start quickly with multiple obvious images of the icon, even with mediocre conditions, and continue to change focal lengths and bracket exposures, capturing every possibility so as not to miss anything. This is more of a photojournalistic / must have volume immediately approach. I prefer to stay relaxed and open, observe, and see what I am drawn to, visually and emotionally. I don’t want to gather hundreds (or thousands) of snap shots in hopes of finding “something good” several days later while weeding through “the pile” on the computer. I am looking for one or two moving pieces of art. I want to ‘Bring the Fine Art of Nature Home”!
When I am drawn to a subject, I take my time. I don’t want to force it. I look at the main subject that grabbed my attention, and then look at the context. If I am still drawn to the subject, I see if there is a specific composition that feels right. If so, I take out my camera, choose a lens (my large format cameras only have fixed focal lengths) and look at the rough composition. Next I settle on my focal length, choose my perspective (camera height, distance from the subject, side to side angle, etc.) and finally, ELIMINATE anything I can from the composition. I prefer clean and simple. I then decide as to whether or not this composition still pulls me in. If so, it’s on to the technical stuff (which I keep minimal!).
Now that I have composed THE image, and the light is or will soon be ideal, I decide whether or not I need to use a filter. (Most often I am filter free, with a few exceptions: Split ND filters to even out exposures, polarizers for removing glare on wet rocks and foliage, and contrast filters for black and white film photography.) Finally, I calculate the exposure, load one sheet of film and capture one exposure.
The image above, Ice Reflection, El Capitan, is a stunning example of this process. With no clouds to make El Capitan appear unique and interesting in a more direct composition, I put myself in a position to explore something unique. I relaxed and maximized my chances by choosing this location (you can’t force it). I was there early, knew the light to expect, and just went with it. I walked along and let the shoreline ice grab my attention. I checked it out, moved around and watched the reflection change as I moved. The ice patterns alone were worthy of an image. When I was able to add the contrasting reflection of warm light on El Capitan with that of the blue sky, the dimension changed dramatically. For me, this image is now about pattern, detail, light, color and place. Amazing!
I shot this image using my 4×5 inch film camera. This large format equipment has numerous benefits: The film size captures a huge amount of information. It is relatively slow to set up (encouraging me to be very considerate in my image choices). It is quite expensive to shoot (again encouraging me to be very considerate in my image choices). I can change the shape of the camera, and thus change the focal plane to match the image needs (this enables extreme critical focus and allows me to use the lens at its strongest working aperture). Each of these factors leads to the finest print quality available. I created one exposure. The exposure of the shot.
Importantly, this process of how I see, work with my large format gear and focus on “THE SHOT” is what has made me a successful gallery owner and workshop / tour leader. I am able to make photography a relaxing endeavor focused on the feelings that brought each of us to outdoor photography to begin with. I am eliminating the intimidation factor of technological overwhelm, and I am sharing the strong basic process of seeing, feeling and composing “The Fine Art of Nature”. When participants visit my gallery and view my large fine art prints on the wall, they find great relief in learning that you don’t have to be a computer engineer to do photography at the highest level. Please join me in the field!
The lesson learned here is one of the biggest I share with my workshop / tour participants. Relax, stay open and don’t force an image. The art of landscape photography begins with seeing in a way that communicates what we feel when we are lucky enough to experience natures beauty. Especially when we have travelled somewhere with the purpose of doing photography, the natural (modern) inclination is to shoot all we can. The reality is, the shot isn’t always there. I believe it is better to come away with a few beautiful, heartfelt pieces of art, than it is to grab hundreds (or thousands) of images that are mere snapshots. Furthermore, I never shoot with the mindset that “I can fix it later” or “make it art” in the computer. Enjoy the beauty in these inspiring natural places, immerse yourself in your surroundings, and use the basics to compose the art that moves you.
Canham 4×5 Metal Field Camera, Rodenstock APO Sironar-S 150mm lens, Fuji Provia 100 Transparency Film, Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head, Gitzo 1325 Carbon Tripod, Sekonic Digital Spot Meter.
I am available for private individual or group workshops and tours near my home in Lake Tahoe, or anywhere in the world! join me when you are ready to take your photography to the next level, when you want a guide for the sweet spots of Lake Tahoe, or when you want to improve your photographic success on your next photo trip! Contact me directly: 530-544-4269 firstname.lastname@example.org www.jonpaulgallery.com