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Foggy Morning on the Ranch

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 8 April 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

I was listening to a podcast last fall involving an interview with master photographer Jim Zuckerman. The interviewer asked him to share his "secrets" on composition. He thought long and hard and then replied, "it's really nothing more than reducing a scene to meaningful shapes and lines." It was if I had received a confirmation regarding my beliefs!

When I first started shooting landscapes (almost 40 years ago), I just pointed the camera at whatever interested me. Within the past 10 years, and with a lot more experience under my belt, I wanted to formulate some guidelines which I could follow when composing my images. I began to make a list where I wrote down all the elements that resonate with me when looking at others work: light, color, quality of light, direction of light, weather, etc.

When it came to figuring out how I put a frame around all those elements, I was still at a loss. Nature can seem chaotic at times, but there is order within all nature, part of the fun of being a landscape photographer is finding this order. When I started thinking about shapes and lines, the connection became clear to me. It's like assembling a jigsaw puzzle; all the pieces are there (in nature), it's our job to assemble them in a meaningful visual package.

What first caught my attention with this image was the quality of light and the dissipating fog. Next, I spotted this dirt road making a nice S-line up the hill. Lastly, I convinced this cow to stand still so I could complete the image (actually I had to negotiate with his agent)! It's really that simple, I just keep replaying the list through my mind when I feel visually "stuck."

I encourage all of you to develop your own list. Write down what draws you to other photographers work - you will start to see a common thread. Use this knowledge when you are in the field and see if it doesn't help your images improve.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/25 second F/11.0 ISO 100 300 mm

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