Up Close and Personal, Part 1: The Grand Landscape

by Ann de Bruyn

If you’re a regular reader of my tips, you know I highly revere light. I’ve written a number of tips on many different aspects of how it impacts any subject and any image. As I’ve been quoted often, “It’s All About The Light.” That being said, I sat in front of my computer screen and pondered a way to come up with an idea to write a two-part tip that’s not simply entitled, “Composition.” When I make landscapes, I like to “Exhaust All Possibilities.” That means I capture the grand landscape and the intimate landscape. That’s it! Hence this week’s and next week’s tips!

Many factors go into making a good grand landscape photo. It’s not necessary to incorporate all of them into a single photo, so don’t feel compelled. As a matter of fact, most great landscape images include just a few. As someone who loves to share my knowledge, I offer the following list. While it’s extensive, know the focus of this week’s tip concentrates on a single aspect. This unto itself provides a hint of just how complex making a great landscape can be. In no set order, factors that should be contemplated when you create a scenic image include:

  • The light
  • Simplicity
  • Framing
  • Leading lines
  • Perspective
  • Depth of field Composition
  • Fore-, mid- and background
  • Scale
  • Subject choice
  • Background
  • Time of day
  • Impending storms
  • Lens choice
  • Filter choice and more

Wow—with all these factors, it’s a wonder any great scenic image has ever been created. And yes, another few keys to add to the mix are investing time, patience in learning and practice!

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My wide-angle eye mode compels me to attach my wide-angle lens for what I call, “In Your Face” photography. My goal is to find a prominent foreground I can reach out and touch as I lower my tripod to almost ground level. This exaggerates the size of the foreground and makes it “look” much larger than it is in reality. The challenges in incorporating the technique are many. The subject must be in pristine condition, it has to fit in with the rest of the environment, it must fall into the realm of sharpness, it may require extra safety in where I stand, and the light that illuminates it must fit in with the light on the rest of the landscape.

Pristine Foreground

To exaggerate the foreground, move close to the subject that will dominate the lower part of the image. I usually try to get closer than 20 inches depending on its size. The smaller it is, the closer I need to get. This is the key. In that a very wide lens “pushes” subject matter away, it makes everything look smaller. To exaggerate this perspective, I need to get close. When I began to use the technique, I was surprised at just how close I needed to be. Don’t let this fool you. If you need to get close, get close.

A Good Fit

The subject matter should fit in with the rest of the surroundings in the composition. It should look natural and look like it belongs. Finding just the right subject is more difficult than you may think. It requires concentrated looking and walking around the area. Sometimes, when it’s finally found, it doesn’t line up with the rest of the composition. Keep looking until everything falls into place.

Depth Of Field

This is the technical aspect that requires acquisition of knowledge of Depth of Field. It’s essential to use a small aperture to attain the maximum range of sharpness. It also requires you to focus using the hyperfocal distance. A number of photographers also use focus stacking with a medium aperture to attain maximum sharpness. (This can be researched in other tips). Regardless of the method you use, the key is to have sharp details from the most foreground subject to the distant sky.

Safety When Capturing Grand Landscapes

The environment dictates how careful I need to be based on where I set up my tripod, where I stand and how sure I am of my footing. It may also present danger in desert red rock country of snakes, spiders and other critters. Regardless of where you make your images, it behooves you to take precautions.

Grand Landscape Light

The obvious is to work the edges of day at sunrise and sunset. The tricky part is in many locations, the foreground doesn’t get lit until the sweet light on the clouds or background dissipates. You can work around this in a number of ways. Incorporate the use of HDR, use a small amount of flash to illuminate heavy foreground shadows, use a reflector to kick early or late light onto the foreground or find locations that are sprawling where most of the landscape gets evenly lit as soon as the sun nears the horizon.

Be sure to check back next week for part 2, which deals with exhausting all possibilities in the form of the intimate landscape. Rather than use the methods to capture the grand landscape discussed in this week’s tip, use your telephoto eyes to pick out narrow sections of the landscape to zero in on the environment on a smaller scale.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.

Originally Published February 10, 2022