Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Creating Images with Impact

It’s one of my favorite images…one that captures the essence of a Kentucky Morning.  It’s an image that projects boldness, story, drama, and power…yet its structure is subtle and possesses a simplicity about it that defines its true nature.  It was taken at an ordinary location during the early part of a transitional season, yet from this ordinary situation evolved an image that is unique with a flavor of Kentucky that permeates its composition.  It is an image with Impact.

The story of this image has roots going back over five years.  How I happened to capture this shot culminates from a series of events that ultimately lead to that moment.  What it is not is a random chance event, where I just happened to be there at the right time by accident.  It involved research, preparation, timing, and technical understanding.  It was in fact one of those events where circumstances blended perfectly with preparation.

That is the key to capturing images with impact.  I found this location one summer afternoon as I was driving around looking for potential locations to photograph.  I happened down a progressively narrowing back road that eventually came to a T.  Here is where random chance did play a part.  Do I turn left or right?  I turned right, and the road eventually wound its way into a valley, then, climbed to the top of a rise to end at a gate.  From that vantage point I could see across and into this river bottom farm country.  At that particular time of year and that time of day, the scene possessed a rather ordinary character about it…rather flat in light, with little or no drama.  But, as I stood there and surveyed the valley, I began to realize the photographic potential of what was there.

The Barren River cut along the ridge that curved around the backside of the valley.  This alone was a good indicator of the potential for fog on a cool morning.  Fall was still a few months away…by then the sunrise would migrate further south and after making some simple visual calculations, I realized that by late September, the sun would rise from behind the ridge to the east and would potentially fill this valley with early morning light.  Late September also would bring cooler morning air and light winds…the water in the river would still be warm…a perfect generator of fog.  I set my internal calendar to return late September and see what would happen.

A couple months later I found myself leaving early one Saturday anticipating what might present itself along that river valley.  As I stood outside in the cool air before leaving, there was a light fog that drifted across the pasture across the road…good omen I figured.  When I arrived at the top of that rise and looked across the valley below, just enough ambient light provided enough illumination that I could see a light fog drifting low across the corn stubble and pasture.  After a short time the sun began to glow on the horizon and eventually progressed to where it was just shy of breaking above the ridge.  The valley below was still mostly in dark, but when the sun broke above the ridge a single beam of morning sunlight caught the top of a spit of trees that extended into the pasture.  The early fall colors began to glow and the fog that hovered around the base of the trees softened in the light.  I waited…at just the right moment the trees exploded into color…and I fired off the shot.  It became one of the most iconic Kentucky Morning images I’ve ever taken.

The capture was a result of exploration, visualization, planning, and being prepared technically.  When I arrived that morning I did not have to waste time trying to figure out how to set the camera.  I did fire off a few test shots prior to the actual image photograph being taken to verify my settings.  The trick here was to not allow the relative darkness over influence the exposure and so the metering setup I used was Spot metering and I metered off the glow in the trees which at the time was a middle tone value…and allowed the rest of the image exposure fall where it may.  

Once I had the metering locked in, I repositioned the composition by placing the main subject slightly offset where it intersected a rule of thirds transition point.  This not only created a more pleasing composition, it also allowed a layer of banding near a fence row to angle across the lower part of the image helping to balance the image compositionally and across the color spectrum.  A tweak or two of post processing to bring out more of the contrast and the image reflected more of what I felt and experience.  This image is all about mood and contrasting energy.  There is the boldness in the sunlit trees contrasting with the subtle nature of the light layer of fog all set against the still dark background with just enough detail showing to give the image a sense of depth.

Creating an image with impact involves blending composition with light…and using light to generate mood…using mood to influence purpose…using purpose to dictate timing…using timing to generate drama…and using drama to tell the story.  Although I could not predict exactly what conditions were going to exist…by using a bit of intuition and common sense, I was able to place myself into a situation where if the conditions were right, I’d be there and ready to take advantage of it.  It’s less about technical skill, and more about knowing what to look for…applying visualization techniques to see beyond the ordinary and recognize the potential of a given location.  It’s understanding that photography is all about quality light and how light influences the photographic decisions you must make to take advantage of it. 

Capturing images with impact requires situations that generate an emotional response.  It's not always about sunsets or sunrises...more often than not its more about how the light from those two situations affects the surrounding landscape.  Although I do photograph sunsets and sunrises...more often than not during those times I'm looking over my shoulder away from the main source of light to see how it is affecting the things around me.  That soft subtle light can often be more powerful that the bold rich light of the setting or rising sun.

Images with impact...look for those bold yet subtle contrasts of light...warm vs cool...soft vs hard...bright vs dark...Look for transitions where the light is changing...and the soft after-light that drifts across a landscape and casts a glow that generates mood and energy where shape and form blends with drama and story.


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