|Back to Basics
by Gary W. Stanley
Several years ago, I submitted about two hundred slides
to a stock agency in New York, having heard some good things about them.
I carefully edited my slides and sent them on their way. Even though I
felt fairly comfortable that they would like my work, I was admittedly
somewhat nervous about what they might say, or even the possibility of
What she said next, however, was what really caught me by surprise. "It's so refreshing to see good, sharp images."
What I had assumed was a given, was apparently not as common as you might think. Hence, this is the very reason for this article. No matter how long we've been photographing, the basics still apply. Good technique and artistic vision go hand in hand, and a back-to-basics refresher course is good for everybody.
Within the realm of nature photography, whether it is landscape or wildlife, I feel that nothing justifies not using a tripod unless you've just thrown it on the ground in hopes of out-running the moose that's chasing you.
Tripods are the single most
important piece of equipment designed to improve your photography,
period! Besides stabilizing your camera, it forces you to slow down
allowing you to double-check everything; from your focus, your
depth-of-field, distracting objects in the frame, and the impact of your
Using the rule of thirds in photography is the first step to making your photos more interesting. Placing your horizon line for example, in the upper or lower third of your composition can place emphasis on either the foreground or the background. Dividing your composition into thirds helps to avoid a static composition.
Your eyes will flow more easily through that composition. Finding a foreground object to lead your eye through the composition will also help improve your image and add scale and depth as well. This is part of the basic design elements of line, shape, texture, and form.
In nature or especially landscape photography, I'm generally trying to
have everything from foreground to background tack sharp in our
photograph. I usually stop the lens down to a small opening, say, f/16
or f/22. One easy way to assure maximum depth in your photograph is to
focus a third of the way into the scene. Not the actual
distance of the subject that you are photographing, but a third of the
way into your frame as you look through the viewfinder. Use your
depth-of-field preview button, to stop the lens down to its taking
aperture to visually check and see if everything looks sharp. Take your
time, and allow your eye to adjust to the darkened image in the
viewfinder. Remember again, an autofocus camera doesn't know that you're
looking for maximum depth of field, so focus manually.
It allows the natural beauty of fall foliage for example, to come through in your photograph. A warming filter adds a touch of warmth, warming some of the cooler subjects in nature.
You may also want to consider a warm polarizer. These filters combine an 81A warming filter and a polarizer into a single filter and they're available from most manufacturers.
I also use graduated
neutral density filters (A four-inch square filter that is dark on the
top half, and clear on the bottom half). This filter allows you to
control the contrast range of your film, especially slide film. I use it
when I'm trying to expose for the subject in the foreground and want to
maintain the deep rich color of a sunset, or the sky for example. I
carry both the one stop, and two stop grads.
If this method sounds familiar, John Shaw talks about this in-depth in
his latest book from Amphoto called, John Shaw's Nature Photography
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