One of the biggest problems with social media is that people only ever present their best, their best vacations, their cutest falls sweaters. They’re totally posed, but Oh, look at me. It’s just a candid shot that makes their booty look just so, yeah. And that’s landscape photographers, myself included. We’re no different. We only share our most striking compositions, our most stunning locations and our most Epic light. In other words, my fine, fine audience. You only ever see my successful shots, which means you might be wondering, Hey, does that Crip sky ever take any bad photos? And the answer to that is, uh, yeah, a stupendous unwieldily bring out your dead cartful of bad photos. And in this video, I wanted to show you a few of those photos and talk through the times when I tried to make a photo happen when I worked the scene as best as I could, but I just failed to get a good shot. I’m going to discuss why I failed as well as the lessons that you can take away to hopefully improve your photography. The next time that you go out.
I’d like to start by taking a look at some photos that I took really recently, just this year, 2020. So not going back to like 2006 when I just got started and going well, these photos totally sucked because I was a beginner. No, this is stuff that I just took that I couldn’t make a photo happen. So this was on a backpacking trip that I took with a friend when we hiked from a place called North Lake. And we got kind of a late start that day because of some road construction. And so by the time we reached camp, it was only about 20 minutes until the sunset. So we just threw our stuff on the ground and started running around, trying to find good compositions. And at that time, the lens that I had on my camera was my wide angle lens. And so I was looking at the scene through a wide angle point of view, and there was a bit of nice light way off in the distance in the background.
So I kept that as the background, subject to my photo, and I spent my time frantically searching for some kind of a foreground to draw my viewer into the photograph. And this is really where I failed because you can see what’s going on here with the first shot that I took is I have this Rocky foreground here, but what direction does it lead your eye? That creates a pathway off in this direction that leads to nowhere. And in fact, there’s a huge visual Gulf between this foreground and the background. This is where I want your eye to end up. But look at this, look at all the lines in the photo. There’s a Ridge line here that brings your eye down to this same nether point, not to mention that Ridge line and these trees, they all kind blend together. So this is a bit of a no man’s land here in the photograph.
It makes it really a challenge to get your eye from the foreground into the background, not to mention this particular foreground. Honestly, it’s not that engaging. It’s just some stuff in the land landscape. And this is the problem that I ran into to this whole night as I was trying to shoot. So I kept moving back up the hillside farther and farther triangle, find some kind of interesting foreground object. And although I really liked this huge rock right here, I’m running into a lot of the same problems, right? There’s not a lot of connections between the foreground and the background there break right here. It’s really hard to get your eye to connect those two parts of the photograph and, and this rock, even though it’s kind of interesting, it doesn’t stand out now that well from the background. So I thought, well maybe yeah, I can photograph it from the other side.
Does it stand out better from this side? And it kind of does, but now we have even less of a pathway, even less of a continuation from the foreground through to the background. And the other thing that this competence did, which I found frustrating is it brought this up mountain into the frame and it’s kind of hiding behind this Ridge line like that. And I don’t like that when I have something in my frame, I want it to be in my frame, not hiding behind something in the background. So I’m not in love with this composition either. I just kept moving, moving back farther and farther up the mountain, trying to find other rocks. I mean, this is cool. It’s impressive. It’s in your face. But the amount of visual weight that I gave this rock compared to the background is totally disproportionate. This thing is ponderous and heavy within the frame.
And the background, consequently is just the same little nubbin of interest. It’s a really disproportionate photo and it just doesn’t work for me. So at this point, the sun is basically down, is below the horizon here. And I’m just getting really frustrated. I can’t find any photos. And usually when I’m scouting, I don’t have the camera on the tripod. I’m just handheld I’m shooting. And when you are moving quickly like that, a lot more difficult to simply stumble across a composition that you like. And that’s exactly what my problem was here. I just didn’t have time to work the scene because we got to camp so late, there wasn’t enough time to really scout and look for multiple compositions looking at multiple directions. So I ended up with this frenzied approach, which doesn’t lend itself to good photography. Now, as I kept moving up higher and higher on this one, a little plateau, some of those problems with the connection between the foreground and the background started to disappear peer a little bit.
And that’s basically because the mid ground, it started to flatten out. So you can see here, I don’t have those huge swath of dark trees preventing your eye from going from the foreground to the background. So that works a little bit better in some of these photos, but I have to say, I just don’t find these foregrounds, all that compelling. Again, they’re just stuff in the landscape as opposed to something that I was really personally invested in. So as I kept moving around, I ultimately realized what these issues were. I wasn’t finding it foreground that I was truly interested in and my mid grounds, the way that this landscape kind of flowed downhill away from me, it made it really hard to connect the foreground and the mid ground to the background. And so what I ended up doing is turning my camera 90 degrees, the other direction over here to the left and getting farther over to the edge of the shelf here, where I could actually see down into the Valley.
And when I did that, that’s when I created what I think is the best photo that I was able to shoot that particular evening. I have this nice foreground. I love these little Pines just right up in your face. And as you can see here, this mid ground for the foreground flows through the mid ground, and you can actually see the visual pathway going all the way, obviously to this background element, a dominant background element with some nice bright light around it. So that’s why this photograph is more successful than something like this initial one that I shot that has all of this mid ground preventing flow through the photograph. So that’s what I’m enjoying about this image right here. And if I do a little bit of processing, it actually turns out to be kind of an okay photograph. It’s not incredible. It’s not going to win any awards, but you can see how simply understanding those problems that I was facing enabled me to actually create an image that solves those problems and is better for it.
Now you might be saying, well, what about that first photo? If you just did a little bit of processing to that, don’t you think it would look good? Well, and the truth is if I do the same processing to this first photograph, well, it might be a little bit more acidotic at this point, you can see some more details, a bit more color, things like that, but it still has those same fundamental structural problems that make it fail as a photo, right? This visual pathway leads over here to no man’s land this stuff in the mid ground blocks the visual flow through the frame. And honestly, there’s just not enough interest going on there in the background. So that’s why I was struggling so much with this scene on this particular night. And when I realized and started to solve those problems, that’s what helped me create sort of a decent shot here.
So the biggest mistakes that I really made in this particular scene and the takeaways that you guys can have is I didn’t give myself enough time to truly scout the area. So I didn’t have a good sense for what the different elements were and the different kinds of shots that I could. And the other big mistake that I made is I tried to force a photograph to happen because when I got to camp, I had my wide angle lens on my camera. So that’s what I just grabbed. And I went off into the scene with that wide angle. So I’m looking at this entire scene through a wide angle point of view, and I was trying to make a wide angle photograph happen when perhaps the conditions for wide angles, weren’t really there. And in retrospect, I suspect that if I could go back to that same spot with a mid range or a telephoto lens, I could probably find some really interesting abstract or intimate scenes that would be a lot more successful than trying to force these wide angle photographs to happen.
Now, if you’re looking at this photo and thinking, well, if you had some better light, that might actually be kind of Epic, well maybe because light can be a crutch. You know, you see so many shit photos out there that look good because they have really nice light in them. But for me, the Mark of a truly talented photographer is somebody who can read the scene, read the light that exists and respond to it appropriately and create interesting photographs with the conditions that he or she has right there in front of him. If your emo is to set the composition up that succeeds or fails entirely, depending on the light, which is something that you have no control over that may or may not happen. That is a recipe for disappointment, you guys, and to show you that good light doesn’t immediately make a good photo.
Let’s jump over to a shoot that I did at mono Lake a couple of months ago. This was one of those sunsets that you could just tell was going to be bonkers. There were these deep textured clouds off to the East and a very nice open slot to the West. And in fact, before the sunset actually occurred, the sun was just lasering through that break in the clouds and illuminating the tufa with this almost excruciating brilliance. And there were lots of birds around as well. There were goals and ospreys and these little dudes that I don’t know the name of. And I was just having a blast shooting, all of them handheld with my telephoto lens. Now I typically bring two bodies with me when I’m shooting. So closer to sunset, I set up one camera on a tripod with a wide angle lens. I started looking for composition and I was shooting some long exposures.
And I was so sure that the light would blow up in the direction that I was pointed with that camera to the Northeast, that I didn’t even bother looking for compositions out towards the sunset. Instead, I just left my second camera with a telephoto lens. I left it sitting on top of my backpack and I left my second tripod that I brought out there, packed up. I didn’t even bother to set it up instead. I just went off happily shooting these wide angle, long exposures, and it really was a lot of fun. But even when I started getting indications that the light was going to be really, really good to the West toward the sunset, I still didn’t bother looking hard for compositions. I was being so lazy. I could got my other tripod out and I could have set the camera up on it just in case.
But no, for some reason that night I had the mentality of, if the light really blows up to the West, I’ll just grab a telephone snapshot of it. What was I thinking anyway? I’m sure you can guess exactly what is happened. Next. The light to the West absolutely exploded in one of the most unique and mesmerizing spectacles that I have seen at mono Lake. A column of Ruby red light came shooting up from behind the mountains and splashed all over the clouds to the West. And at this point I basically panicked. I didn’t have a composition set up. I didn’t even have my camera on the tripod and I didn’t know how long this light beam was going to last. So I grabbed the telephoto lens and I started shooting frantically. And this is what my first shot looked like. It’s an okay composition, except for the fact that I’ve got this huge Bush right down there in the front of the frame, that’s annoying and distracting and ugly.
The other problem that I was facing was I’m shooting telephoto lens handheld near sunset. So I’m trying try to keep the shutter speed high. So I have a relatively sharp shot, which meant I opened up my ISO and I opened up my aperture. So now I’ve got basically no depth of field and I’ve got it. A lot of grains starting to creep into the photograph. But at this point, my reptile brain had basically taken over my conscious mammal brain. And instead of getting out my tripod and actually trying to create a shot with good camera technique, I just went leaping off trying to capture this spectacle in some way. So my next shot, I basically got a ramp. I own this Bush and shot some basics, two dimensional grab shots of the light beam. And these are fine. They’re exposed well, and they’re full of color and that’s great, but this shot has absolutely no depth to it.
It’s very documentary as opposed to any kind of artistic photograph. So I took a step back. I tried to recompile it. Who’s on those tufa and you said STEM to a little bit of a, kind of a framing element. And so I ended up shooting a composition like this, and I actually liked this composition. Okay. It got rid of that annoying Bush down in the front of the frame, other distractions, it’s just got the simple elements, the two for the Lake, the mountains, sunset it’s kind of everything that I wanted to have in the photograph. But look at my settings for this photo. I was at [inaudible] and 86 millimeters. And if you zoom in on this, there’s no part of it. That’s sharp at all. And from a technical standpoint where that light beam comes up from behind the mountain was incredibly bright orders of magnitude stops and stops brighter than the rest of the photo.
So with the raw file, I underexposed this quite a lot to capture the full dynamic range. But since I was shooting at ISO one 60 and I underexposed it by maybe two or three stops, that’s actually more like shooting at ISO six 40 or 1280. And so there’s grain in the photo. And as I said, no part of the photo is sharp. It’s super grainy. And I also didn’t take into account the motion of the water. Perhaps this photo would have been better with a nice long exposure to smooth out the Lake, to create some contrast between the two for towers and the water. Plus, I think that would have created this beautiful syrupy ooze of color across the bottom of the frame, but I didn’t do any of those things. Instead. I just sat there like a Slack jawed Yoko with drool running out of both sides of my mouth and a telephoto lens, trying to get this photograph.
And then 40 seconds later that light beam disappeared and my opportunity to get a decent photo of this spectacular phenomenon was totally lost. Now, thankfully the night, wasn’t it total bust. The sky did turn beautiful pinks and blues to the Northeast and a number of those wide angle, long exposure shots that I was doing. They came out pretty well, but it still hurts a bit, actually a lot. When I look at this light beam and I think of how I score it wandered the opportunity to photograph this very special thing in a meaningful way. So the biggest mistakes that I committed in this particular shoot, the first one was simply not being prepared. I wasn’t actively looking for compositions in a direction, even though it was dead clear that the light was going to be beautiful. Even if that light beam hadn’t showed up, the light was going to be beautiful in that direction.
Why wasn’t I scouting for compositions? I was so fixated on this sure thing that I had with the wide angle, long exposures that I didn’t even bother looking around, also being so lazy. And honestly that one, I can’t even explain it and I just didn’t want to take my tripod out. And instead I was putting way too much trust in my gear, like relying on vibration reduction and relying on my full frame sensor to give me a nice clean result. Instead of what I should have been doing is relying on good camera technique, taking the five seconds to get the tripod out, put the camera on there of choosing appropriate depth of field for the scene to get the effect that I want and nice shutter speed, low ISO to get that good image quality as well as the water motion that I wanted to see in the Lake.
I have no excuse for why I was being that lazy. So yeah, all I can say is the more prepared are the better shots you’re going to take. The less lazy you are, the better shots you’re going to take. If I can pass along any message from this video, it’s simply that give yourself the time, be prepared, put in the effort to do things right, and you’re going to be rewarded with good photographs. Alrighty, that’s going to do it for this video. If you enjoyed it, please like subscribe, comment, share with your friends, all that stuff. It tells you to, to show this video to more people which helps me grow the channel and make more videos. I really do appreciate it. This is JC signing off. So until next time have fun and happy shooting.
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