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Photographing Familiar Landscapes In New Ways

I’m sure most landscape photographers would love to regularly shoot the amazing waterfalls and glaciers of Iceland, or the vast mountain ranges of Peru, the rolling green hills of the Palouse region of the northwest United States, or the colorful sunsets of Fiji.

Most of us should only be so lucky. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create compelling images of the less spectacular locations in our local regions. Every location is just another place to be creative and invite those who haven’t been there to a new, unknown place.

Over the last few years, I have visited my local national and state parks dozens of times. It may seem like there’s nothing left to shoot after the first few visits. But, it’s not so much what you shoot, in this case, but when and how you shoot it.

I have a favorite small waterfall that I like to shoot at my closest national park. It’s nothing like the waterfalls in the Shenandoah Mountains a few hours away, or the ones in Washington State, a plane ride away. Let’s face it…it’s tiny, maybe a few feet high. But it is close by. I can be there in half an hour. It’s always different, based on whether a storm recently came through or some fallen trees and branches changed the course of the flowing water. Here are some ways I can create unique, compelling images from such a small landscape.

First, I can use a telephoto lens to zoom in on specific areas of flowing water, creating a more intimate landscape. I can ‘focus’ on the curves of water around specific rocks. Combined with a longer exposure, I can create leading lines with the water flowing over the rocks and into a basin. It’s good to go ahead and grab the wide shots of the entire falls, if it’s an interesting composition, but sometimes there’s just too much going on in the scene and too much clutter.

Second, I can look for different angles. One of my favorite methods is to get as close to the water at the bottom of the falls as possible, creating the idea that I’m in the water looking up at the falls. With waterproof waders, I might even get into the water to shoot. Another angle might be to shoot from the side of the falls and try to include some of the area behind the water.  If possible, I’ll try to shoot from the top of the falls and lead the viewer with the flow of the water.

Third, I make sure to visit at different times of day and throughout the different seasons. Any landscape looks different between sunrise, mid-day, and sunset. The light is always changing and offering different looks. The light from an image I make tomorrow morning will have a different look than if I shoot later in the day. The earlier shoot will probably have a much warmer look than one later in the day. An ice-covered waterfall shot in Winter will obviously have a completely different look than one created in any of the other seasons. The different seasons also add different elements to create unique images, such as patterns in ice formations or the vibrant colors from fallen leaves in Autumn.

So, as much as we all might like to jet off to some exotic locale and photograph a majestic landscape, we can often create some of our favorite images just from the smaller, more intimate areas where we live. Hopefully, these tips will help you see some great photo opportunities around you every day.

The Fisherman at Sunset

During the sunsets in Hawaii, besides hoping for vibrant, dramatic skies, I was also looking for interesting silhouettes. I got lucky with this fisherman, and even the cigarette dangling from his mouth. I would have liked it better if the sun was lower, but who knows if the fisherman would have still been there later.

The Hawaiian Palm Trees in Infrared

Of all the trees I shoot in infrared, I think palm trees are the coolest. You get the the patterns of lines from the palms. The bark has interesting textures and lines. And the vertical lines of the trunks create even more interesting lines.

The Lagoon at Ko Olina

There's something about standing on the beach, any beach, in Hawaii and letting every care and stress in the world just evaporate, at least temporarily. This shot was taken on the Hawaiian island of Oahu at a resort area called Ko Olina. There are several beautiful hotels in this area, but the main draw is the series of lagoons along the beach. Whether you prefer lounging on soft sand of one or climbing the rocks of another, the lagoons are great places to let your stresses disappear.

The Twisting Tree in the Fog

For a long time, I had been wanting to photograph some trees at Manassas National Battlefield isolated from the background. It's too hard to do on a normal day, but when it's foggy, it might make for the perfect opportunity. This was one of those mornings where the fog was thick enough to make the background almost disappear and this was one of my favorite shots - the twisted tree practically in silhouette.

Abstract at the National Cathedral

Continuing from last week's post about the National Cathedral, here's a departure from most images you see from that iconic location. As I was exploring some of the lower level hallways of the cathedral, I came across this beautifully lit and textured arch. Even with all of the ornateness surrounding me, I gravitated toward this very simple area. It's actually one of my favorite images from that trip.

The Way Up at the National Cathedral

My previous post showed you one of the wonderful interior hallways in the National Cathedral. This image is an exterior infrared photo of the Eastern side of the main entrance. I chose infrared because the midday light would be too harsh for normal photography, but great for black and white. It was really interesting to look up and see how the spires, arches, and narrow windows all lead your eye straight up to the sky. At the top, you can see some of the scaffolding being used to fix the cathedral's damage from the 2011 earthquake.

The Hallway at National Cathedral

I recently had the honor of joining Angela Pan and a small group of other photographers for early entry into the National Cathedral in Washington DC. We got to walk around most of the building before tourist hours started. On top of that, we got to see the early morning sun shine in through the stained glass windows and project multiple colors on the walls and columns of this east-side hallway. Such a great experience to have the place mostly to ourselves and watch the light change as the morning passed.

The Train on the Bridge

This was an interesting image to create. It involved the cold, the snow, the rain, and a lot of time. Since it required some experimentation to get the shutter speed right, I had to wait for several passes of different trains. And I only had split seconds to capture the train at just the right exposure. But, it all paid off. I like the blur of the train and the snow flying off the tracks.

Tourists at the Lincoln Memorial

Everyone knows the main area of the Lincoln Memorial with President Lincoln's statue and the steps leading up to the memorial. But I don't see too many people walk around the outside of the memorial. This is my favorite part, especially for interesting photos. The huge columns and marble tiles create interesting lines with the light and shadows. And they're always different, depending on the time of day.

The Lincoln Memorial in Infrared

A little more architectural fun to continue from the last post...here's an infrared detail shot of the Lincoln Memorial. Since it's best to use an infrared camera in the middle of a sunny day, I obviously had to deal with the hundreds of tourists enjoying the monuments. No problem. I just had to be creative and figure out some unusual angles or focus on certain details. The interesting thing about the sky in this one is that it looks stormy and ominous, but it was really just light overcast.

The Washington Monument

It was a pretty nice, though cold, day in DC yesterday, so I headed over to the National Mall with my trusty infrared camera. Though it was an overcast sky (not too pleasing for infrared), there were some nice textures in the clouds. The Washington Monument was crowded, as usual, but that was okay. All I needed was to get close enough to shoot up and find some unusual angles. This one turned out to be one of my favorites - wacky angle, nice cloud texture, good contrast between the two sides.

The Tree in the Fog in Infrared

Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia is such a cool place to photograph on foggy mornings. The fog gets rid of all the clutter in the background. It lets you concentrate on the subject, like this tree and fence. What I like, especially, is playing around with the tone of the image. In this case, I shot in infrared and created more of a sepia tone to give the image a 'vintage' look.

The Tree in the Fog

On a recent weekend, I traveled to Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia for some early morning photos. It was the foggiest morning I had ever seen, like a giant blanket covering the entire battlefield. Which was fine, since I had been wanting to shoot in the fog for the longest time. My goal was to isolate some of the more interesting trees with nothing visible in the background. Goal accomplished.

The Samoyed In The Snow, Part 2

Before I return the blog to my landscape and infrared images, I thought I might post another favorite photo from the Blizzard of 2016. Here again is Leika, the Samoyed, pushing through the wind and the snow. She looks like she's having a tough time, but she's actually loving this time of year and the snow that comes with it.

In terms of photography, the most important thing I did was to cover the camera and lens with an  OpTech Rainsleeve. They're not the toughest of covers, but they do a great job for a great price. I also made sure to increase my exposure by one stop to get the snow to look white, otherwise it might look gray.

The Samoyed In The Snow

Stepping away from the landscape/infrared images. Here's a fun photo of my dog, Leika, a Samoyed (aka Smilin' Sammy) getting excited for the start of the Blizzard of 2016 here on the East Coast. This is within the first hour of the storm. 36 hours later, we'll have reached over two feet of snow, unusual for this area of the country. But this pup has loved every second of it.

Virginia Beach Pier at Sunrise

A couple of hours drive south of Chincoteague is the resort city of Virginia Beach. Staying overnight at a hotel on the beach, I was excited to get up the next morning to photograph the sunrise. But sunrises on the East coast are so hit-or-miss. You might get some nice clouds or you might not. In this case, I didn't get the majestic clouds I hoped for, but I planned my shot out ahead of time to get the sun right as it lined up with the end of the pier. I also chose a shutter speed that wouldn't smooth out the waves too much, so that I could get a nice texture in the water.

Chincoteague Beach at Sunrise

Chincoteague Island in Virginia is mostly known for its wildlife refuge and wild ponies, but it also has a really nice beach. Once on the island from the west side, you drive through the refuge to get to the beach. Luckily, the refuge opens before sunrise, so photographers like me can get to the beach early.

I was surprised to see how many people were on the beach this early, but had plenty of room to work and get some nice images. This particular photo turned out interesting because of the rays of light and shadow coming from the cloud formation.