Part III: Techniques for capturing a sense of place
Capturing a sense of place happens through the techniques, approaches and vision you use while in the field. It does not happen in front of a computer screen. Hence, Part III explores some field techniques for you to consider.
Low-level, wide-angle perspective: When photographing at a lower perspective, especially with wide-angle focal lengths, images often become more dramatic and intimate. Consider photographing from a lower perspective than at your standing height. Use a low-angle anchor/leading line in the foreground (as displayed in the photograph above) to lead the viewer into the scene.
Isolated scenic: Sometimes a wide-angle perspective includes too much of the scene, and the resulting image lacks the power and drama you felt. Study the scene to see if portions of the composition are what attracted you to it. More often than not, this will be the case. Switch to a telephoto zoom to isolate segments of the scene, and see how this affects the composition. This is one of my favorite techniques.
Time and familiarity: The more time you spend at a location, the more you become familiar with its moods, its season and its cast of characters. The more familiar you become, the better you will be at capturing the essence of the landscape. Continually explore the location for different angles and photographic opportunities. Take time to walk around without your camera. This technique helps to fine-tune your ability to see and not to just look.
Lighting: Forgo the usual frontal lighting situations, and go for drama by using sidelighting to add depth and dimension to your composition. Use diffused lighting to capture the colors of an autumn forest or a waterfall in a deep canyon. Incorporate backlighting as well. Take advantage of special weather conditions that will help set your photography apart from the typical compositions.
Fill the frame: While keeping the composition simple, be sure to use every part of the viewfinder, from corner to corner, to tell your story. Only include what is necessary to achieve your story. Try both horizontal and vertical formats of the same scene to see which one effectively captures the moment for you.
Photograph a familiar subject in an unfamiliar way: Incorporate new angles and perspectives. Step away from the usual composition of a location that so many before you have done. Find a new perspective to showcase the scene in a totally different way. As I often say, don’t use the same tripod holes as the previous photographer.
HDR: The emergence of high-dynamic- range photography has provided us another tool to photograph dramatic images. Consider using HDR to retain the details in both the shadows and highlights of a composition. Use various settings to achieve a more natural look to the final image.
Part IV will be the last installment in this series. We’ll discuss the personal traits nature photographers could develop to help them capture a sense of place in their photography.
A past NANPA president, Jim is the nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia, and is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Jim currently serves as photographer in residence at the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve near his home in Leesburg, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son, Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or like him on Facebook.