Anyone can pick a ripe fruit from a tree — Part 1

Anyone can pick a ripe fruit from a tree. But how many people can actually plant the tree in the right place, wait for it to mature, prune and fertilize it so that it will give delicious fruit? It is the same way with photography. Anyone can press a button and take a picture of a landscape, but how many people know how to prepare their subject and change that nice picture to a really great one?

A photo that required  days of preparation and recognition: a village in Haute-Saintonge in the fog in winter. A photo that required days of preparation and recognition: a village in Haute-Saintonge in the fog in winter.

Today, taking a picture of a landscape is very simple. The technology embedded in digital cameras is so powerful that anyone using one can to take sharp, correctly exposed pictures.

This action, which often lasts only a few hundredths of a second, can be repeated indefinitely, producing results that can satisfy many photographers. But are these pictures good? That is another question. 90% of the time, the answer is no. Creating a good, or a great, landscape photo requires a number of steps. We have a process that we use for every project.

The first step is setting up the photo. Before we do anything else, we have to find a subject. This may seem fairly trivial, but in reality it is an art in and of itself. There is no absolute set of rules for what makes a good landscape picture, but we have guidelines that we apply. A landscape photograph must be original, evocative. It may contain elements created by humans or be made up solely of natural elements. In either case, the photograph must have a meaning. When choosing the scene we want to photograph, we imagine what the caption for the resulting photograph might be. We come up with a story for it. If we find no inspiration in the scene, we leave it.

Once we have found the subject, we find the best time of day to photograph it. It could be in the morning or the evening. These are the two times when we prefer to work. The lighting sets the mood for the whole scene. It must be well chosen. We study the topology of the field and find out where it would be best to set up our tripods. We decide what the foreground and background will be. They must be consistent with the aspects of the scene that we want to portray. They must be in good condition; we avoid fallen trees or damaged plants, faded flowers, garbage, etc. We analyze the scene to find out how the colors harmonize. We also avoid incongruous elements which would distract from the subject. For instance, we sometimes drop or postpone an idea we have for a photo because there is a crane or a water tower badly placed in the landscape.

Once we have analyzed the landscape, we note the important points using a compass. We also take the GPS coordinates. Last, we made a mark on the ground to tell us where we should set up our tripod when we come back. Once back at the office or at the hotel, we use special software that tells us the ephemeris. We enter the GPS coordinates and it shows the sunrise and sunset times. We record all the data in a log.

Now, that everything is planned, we are ready to take the picture. We will explain that in the next article.

A photo that required  days of preparation and recognition: a vineyard in the fog in winter at sunrise. A photo that required days of preparation and recognition: a vineyard in the fog in winter at sunrise.
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