A couple weeks ago I posted a shot of icicles forming against the sky – it was a pretty high key shot (composed mostly of light tones). This last week I went back to the same place and caught the same scene from a different angle with very different lighting. Instead of the icicles being backlit by a bright sky, they were front-lit with a dark overhang behind them. With this contrast in lighting it was fairly easy to get lots of detail in the ice while completely getting rid of the small amount of ambient light behind the waterfall.
300mm, f5.6, 1/800 of a second
Last weekend Anna and I finally got a chance to get out to the mountains, and it was a trip for trying new things. For the first time ever we tried snowshoeing together, cross-country skiing together, and winter camping. I was also giving my Olympus OM-D a torture test to see how much it could replace my Canon 5D kit for hiking.
Snowshoeing works great and is my new favorite way of getting around in winter. It lets me get wherever I want in any conditions with my hands free for photography, which is perfect for me. Skiing was a lot more fun as an activity, but I found it quite hard to mix with photography. Winter camping actually worked a lot better than expected and we slept cosily through the whole night!
I’ll post a review of my little OM-D in a bit, for now I’ll just start posting pictures from it. This photo is from Panther Falls — icicles forming against an overcast sky. I’m looking forward to printing this pretty large — the details in the ice are fantastic!
f7.1, 1/1600 of a second, 100mm
(I’ll be stating actual focal length here, not equivalent – more on this in my OM-D review)
About a month ago I visited Helmcken Falls for the first time. It was a quick stop on a long trip, so it was in the middle of the day and the light was mediocre at best. But the falls are spectacular! The fairly large Murtle River plunges almost 500 feet in and earth-shaking display of watery power. So how do you communicate this sense of power and beauty in a photo? Most people will (including me) take a photo something like this:
This is not a horrible picture, but it’s not a great one. The falls are small and far away. You get some context, but none of it is very interesting. Also, the sky is very bright and the canyon is very dark. Some people would suggest using some HDR technique to deal with this, but I like to deal with these things a little differently.
There, now we’ve cut out the sky, and the exposure is a little better. There are more details in the trees in the canyon and we’ve zoomed in a bit on the falls, so they’re not lost in the picture. But this is still just an average, boring picture of a waterfall. There are no clear lines in the composition, and besides looking at the waterfall our eyes have nowhere to go. What if we zoom in a little more?
Now we’re limited to just a couple compositional elements — the waterfall and the cliff beside it. Our eyes have two interesting lines to jump between, and some interesting detail in the dark area in the middle. You can also see the power of the water more clearly, with both the piece-y water falling down and a clear view of the canyon it has carved out. But I feel like the black part on the right is not very interesting and is occasionally pulling the eye over to that side of the photo. So let’s get rid of it.
Now the focus is on the negative space, which is actually really interesting. The reds and greys of the canyon are framed by the waterfall and the grassy rocks on the left. I think this is actually pretty interesting and shows off the falls a lot better than the first photo.
But because I like to explore with compositions, I tried some other framings of the falls.
I find leaving the falls completely out of the photo can yield even more interesting results that a photo of the falls itself. You still get a sense of the power here, possibly even more, by focusing on the effects of the subject — not the subject itself.
Of course there are many other ways of dealing with boring photos. You could come here late in the evening with the sunset illuminating the falls in a warm glow. You could come get the sunrise over the falls and use multiple exposures to balance the bright sky with a dark foreground. You could come at night and get stars over a smoothed-out long exposure waterfall. But this is one way of dealing with boring light and still getting interesting photos.
Topographic maps are one of my favorite things in the world. They are so full of possibilities! Who knows what wonders await at every oxbow on a river, cove in a coastline or hidden canyon in a mountain range. So with that in mind, this is not so much a photo of reflections in water to me as much as an imaginary landscape where contour lines can overlap and anything is possible.
Waterfalls are the antithesis of swamps. They’re pretty and everyone knows they’re pretty. There are trails to them, viewing platforms for many of them, and there’s almost always people around. The amount of waterfall pictures taken daily is staggering.
So why add mine to the mix? In short, because I can’t avoid it. I like waterfalls as much as the next guy, and trying to capture them well is fun. I get to walk across rushing streams on slippery logs, clamber up and down rocky cliffs, and relax in the mist beside a natural phenomenon of staggering power. I find myself drawn to waterfalls of a relatable size though. Generally they are a lot more private, you can usually get closer, and I don’t think any of the beauty is lost.
This photo is of a small cascade in the series of falls called the Dragon’s Tongue in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Taken at 19mm, f18, and 2 seconds.
I often get wrapped up in a composition. I get so focused on the lines in my subject that the surroundings fade away. Sometimes this focus helps, but sometimes I ignore the fact that including some of the surroundings will give the viewer a context for the main subject. This is still a very tightly cropped image (taken at 300mm), but I’ve included the shore in the background, and I think it makes the photo. It tells the viewer the time of year (fall), the place (rocky river), and the fall colors compliment the blue-green water. The violence of the water is still obviously the main subject and the part that is in focus, but now the eye is often pulled between the water and the shore.
This photo was taken while lying down near the Clearwater River, BC. 300mm, f18, 1/15 of a second.
Mountains, forests, lakes and oceans — these are the classic beautiful landscapes. Add a sunrise or sunset and you’ve got a good chance at a first rate photo. But where is the love for swamps? Or maybe “marshes” would be a more palatable word? They do have mud, insects, unexpected puddles and chest-high grasses, but they’re so full of mystery and character that their trials only strengthen their appeal.
This is a marsh near the North Thompson River, early in the morning before the sun rose. The air was still and the fog muffled the faint sounds of the world waking. I hope you can almost feel the damp, cool air on your skin and hear the heavy silence of the morning.
150mm, f6.3, 1/320 of a second
More photos from a summer of pushing myself in a different direction. You’ll notice that some of my photos now actually have people in them. It’s been a strange time of not exactly doing what I love, but of expanding horizons around the edges of what I love. Soon I’ll post some of my more normal nature photos, although opportunities for me to focus on photography this summer are few and far between.