This is the third post in a series in which I pick some really cool photos and break down the elements about them that I like best. They’re designed to help you (and I) improve your photography. In case you missed the last one, you can check it out here.
I promised last time that the next post in this series would focus on a wide-angle landscape shot, and I think we’ve got a beauty to work with today. This fantastic shot was taken by Frank Köhntopp, and it’s got a lot going for it. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Use of Lines
I read a great article in Shutterbug magazine the other day about the use of lines in a photograph. This shot makes it especially easy to talk about how they can enhance a photo. Let me make my point by asking you a question: when you first saw the photo, where did your eyes go first?
I’m willing to bet that the first place your eyes gravitated toward was the bottom center of the photo; right where the tractor path starts. Then, they followed that path into the distance. If they didn’t do that, then they started with the sunset, and followed the path toward the foreground instead. Either way, your eyes follow lines. It’s what they’re programmed to do, and knowing this can help you improve your shots.
The reason I said you likely started with the foreground is that our brains are wired to be concerned with our surroundings in order of importance for survival. First, we need to know what’s immediately around us (i.e. Am I about to step off a cliff?). Only then do we concern ourselves with where we’re going.
Used properly, lines in a photo act like a roadmap, telling a viewer where to focus their attention and helping them navigate through your shot. Pretty cool, right?
That Sky, that Beautiful Sky!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a clear, plain blue sky just isn’t that interesting. Here, we get much more than that. Let’s address the most obvious thing first.
The photographer has captured a beautiful sunset here. The blaze of colour in the middle of the horizon gives way to softer pastel oranges, which fade to a deep, vivid blue at the edges of the shot. It’s an effect that is surprisingly tricky to get, but you can see why it’s worth it.
The second thing this sky has going for it is clouds. The clouds in this photo have really interesting designs, and are dispersed throughout the sky in a relatively consistent way. They’re there, but they don’t take over the entire shot. It’s like sprinkling a dash of cinnamon on top of your coffee. Gives it a little something extra without stealing the show, you know?
Speaking of clouds, one of the easiest ways to change up the look of your landscape photos is to use a slower shutter speed (you remember shutter speed, right? Read this post if not). The landscape typically won’t move much, but the clouds will. The result is a more striking contrast between the sky and everything else. Try it sometime!
A Tale of Two Fields
This is one of the main reasons I chose this photo. The reality is that finding a pretty landscape isn’t that hard. We live in a beautiful world filled with picture perfect vistas and lookouts. What’s harder is making your landscape shot tell a story.
That’s where this photo really blows me away.
Look at the contrast between the field on the left, and the one on the right. One is alive, vibrant, growing. The other is finished growing for the season, brown and ready for harvest. It makes me contemplate the life of the farmer and the growth cycle of a crop.
Reaching a bit? Maybe.
But even if you don’t go that far, the fact remains that contrast like this is a great way to add more interest to your shot, to take it beyond a simple landscape shot and force the viewer to think a bit.
Contrast is actually one of the most important elements in any shot. It can be contrast between foreground and background (post #2 in this series, anyone?), between the focal point and its surroundings, even in the emotions of people in the shot. If you’ve heard the phrase “A picture is worth 1000 words” before, know that contrast plays a role in that.
Use of Symmetry
Here’s another thing the path in the middle of the shot does. The line cuts straight through the middle of the shot, creating a symmetry that’s really easy on the eyes. Do all photos need to have symmetry like this? Absolutely not, especially when the lines in the shot aren’t straight. When they are though, a little symmetry can go a long way.
If that path were off to the left or right of the shot, you’d have a very different photo. You’d lose the sense of tension between the two fields, and your eye would flow through the photo differently.
A Subtle Vignette
What is a vignette anyway? Something to do with wine? Nope. A Vignette is a technical term that describes the circular black gradient that sometimes appears at the edge of photos (especially wide-angle ones).
Sometimes you want to avoid vignetting, but other times it’s useful to draw the viewer’s attention to the center of the shot (or wherever your focal point is). In this case, because the two main focal points (the sunset and the path) are in the middle of the shot, a gentle vignette around the edges serves to focus your attention on those key points. There are no key details at the edges of the shot that are lost because of the vignette, and that’s why it works here.
Wrapping it Up
Landscape photography is one of my absolute favourite kinds to shoot. It’s easy to get to a baseline level of quality in your shots – just find a good view, point, and shoot. To get beyond good and into “great” though, you need to do something more. You need to be patient, wait for the right conditions, and compose your shot so that it’s more than just a photo. It’s hard, and that’s why I like it so much. Every quality shot you get is earned.
Next time, we’ll dive into the world of portrait photography, which is unlike anything we’ve looked at so far. Until then, happy shooting!
Did you see something I didn’t in the photo? Share it with us in the comments! I’m learning just like everyone else. Got a photo you’d like me to feature? Contact me and let’s talk about it!