Stalking the elusive good landscape photo
A while back, I left a comment to Kerry’s Lightscapes Nature Photography blog to the effect that he must stalk the exact position to shoot his magnificent landscape photos from, just as a hunter stalks his prey. I’ll have to start this by saying that I’m nowhere near as good as what he is, but I’m learning, you do have to stalk a great landscape, or at least that’s the way I have to approach that genre of photography. That’s how I got some of the photos from the last short post, including this one.
The story on that image is that I had finished birding for the day, and was driving towards Duck Lake to shoot the sunset if a good one materialized. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the red leaves of the maple trees through a small gap in the trees, and knew that I had to investigate the scene to see if I could get a good photo. I turned around, found a place nearby to park, then grabbed the camera with the 15-85 mm lens on it, along with my tripod. The lens already had the polarizing filter on it, I’m finding that it does wonders for the fall colors as it cuts down on the glare and reflections coming off from the leaves.
Anyway, as I walked along, I began setting up my tripod in at least half a dozen spots, until I chose this one.
Not bad, but I knew that I could do better. I zoomed in a little, lowered the tripod, and shot this one.
Better, but then you can’t see much of the beautiful blue-green water of Lake Michigan, which I thought was a big part of the scene, at least to me.
So, I moved down to the beach, looking for something to put in the foreground of the photo to give the photo some depth, and found a piece of driftwood in the sand. That led to the photo that I began this post with, but I still could have done better. I should have moved a little closer to the piece of driftwood, and lowered my tripod a lot more, to make the driftwood more prominent in the frame. Darn, why didn’t I think of that then?
Even the photo that pleased me the most is a chamber of commerce, picture postcard style of photo, sorry about that. 😉 However, we’re supposed to photograph what we love, and there are few things that I love more than warm sunny fall day as you see in the photos so far, so I don’t care what the experts say. I only missed the golden hour of sunset by a little bit, as you can tell from the long shadow cast by the driftwood in the first image. Oh, that reminds me, I did consider moving closer and lower to make the piece of driftwood more prominent at the time, but I was worried that the shadow would also become much more prominent as well as the driftwood. I suppose that I should have hung around a little longer for perfect light. But, I was off to shoot the sunset at Duck Lake.
Two posts ago, I said that I could get a much better photo of the Duck Lake channel leading to Lake Michigan, yes and no. My composition was much better this time….
…but I missed the exposure or something. The color saturation is way too high as the image came out of Photomatix, but when I tried to reduce it, the photo looked bad, really bad, so you get to see the over-saturated version, sorry. Not only can I get the color better, but I believe that there’s still a better position to shoot from. However, I was running late for the sunset, as I got distracted by the antics of a pileated woodpecker on my way to the beach.
And when the woodpecker started snacking on grapes, well, you know me, I just had to shoot away.
I think that I should have cropped those for my blog, I’m getting so used to seeing the large display on my computer that I forget how small the images and subjects in the images appear here.
As it was, I made it to the beach just as the sun was going down.
Wouldn’t you know, there was a gap in the clouds right in the direction that really wanted to shoot towards, so I had to make do with those.
An interesting side note, you may have noticed that the channel had been blocked by sand, it had been very windy that day and the day before. The wind was actually blowing the water draining from Duck Lake back into the lake itself, and the drifting sand took advantage of that to create a temporary dam, blocking the channel completely. That causes the water level in Duck Lake to rise, but eventually, it will break through the sand dam and drain into Lake Michigan again, until the next very windy period comes along. This happens over and over again to the smaller streams that empty into Lake Michigan. Each time the stream gets blocked, it cuts a new path to the big lake, so the scene is often very different from the last time you saw it.
Anyway, I stuck around until it was almost dark to shoot the image that you saw in the last post…
…as well as this one.
Because of the very long shutter openings needed to get enough light to the camera sensor, the clouds moved during the times that the shutter was open while shooting the three images I used to create those HDR images. I kind of like that effect, and I don’t think that I overdid it the way some people do. I wish that the wind had wiped out the footprints in the sand that people had left behind though, in this photo as well as the earlier one from the beach, but you can’t have everything. At least not in Michigan, where you’ll find people walking the beach no matter what the weather is, any time of the year.
Gee, I started at the end of the first day of this past weekend, a bad place to start, so I may as well throw in the photos that I shot with the 300 mm lens while at Duck Lake now.
In that last shot, I forgot to extend the lens hood after having adjusted the polarizing filter, so I got some lens flare in that one. Oh well, there’ll be other chances in the future.
In my quest for good landscape photos featuring the fall colors around here, this is the typical view of the fall colors that we have in southern lower Michigan.
While the colors may be great, the photo is the pits. The farm field in the foreground is boring, even a bit ugly, and there’s nothing there to add interest or depth to that image. The area is flat, and if there isn’t water or the hand of man to break up the woods, then this is what you see.
There are no steep hills, rock outcroppings, or anything else to prevent vegetation from growing, so that’s what you see in the woods. These next two will show that as well, they were shot on the trail to Lost Lake.
I really wanted to set-up my tripod and do that one right, but I got run over by a mountain biker on that trail earlier this year. The trail is very narrow, with the planks laid down to prevent you from sinking into the mud, as the ground is very wet there. But, I think that you can see how the vegetation grows so thick around here that it’s hard to find an opening to shoot photographs through. The rest of the trail is even more enclosed by the vegetation…
…it isn’t until you get to Lost Lake itself that you can see through the trees.
By picking one of the few larger openings, you can get a photo like this one.
It’s not that I’m complaining about how well things grow around here, but you can see that across the lake, the vegetation grows dense around here, and even in the parking lot for the trail, I had to shoot tight shots of the trees.
So, I’ve been looking for bodies of water to break up the woods, but most of the time, that’s only substituting an uninteresting body of water for a farm field in the foreground.
If there had been less wind, and I could have gotten reflections of those colors off from the water, then that would have been much better, but the story here this fall has been the wind. You can see that by the flag in this next photo.
By the way, you’re looking across Muskegon Lake at the city of Muskegon itself in that last photo, and what do you see, trees and one or two large buildings. That’s Michigan, where not only can’t you see the forests for the trees, but you can’t see the cities either. 😉
So, when you see a scene like this…
…you know that there are more trees nearby.
It’s true, great weather makes for boring skies, but I’ll take a day like that every once in a while. 😉 I should also note that I wanted to isolate the brightly colored tree in the first photo, and easily could have if I had moved to my right so that the colored tree would have blocked your view of the green one as I did in the second photo. However, you may have noticed that the brightly colored tree looks brighter in the first photo than it does in the second. I’m finding that moving a few feet one way or the other can make a big difference in how the colors of fall look in my photos. If it’s sunny and I can, I prefer to shoot from a spot where I get a combination of side lighting and back lighting where the sun really lights up the leaves of the trees as in this photo.
However, that’s a difficult direction to shoot, so it requires making a HDR image to kill the shadows that I get on sunny days, and we’ve had a lot of them the past two weeks as you can see.
You can also see that those last 4 are rather plain snapshots, even though I was able to get some great color. Color alone doesn’t make a great photo, you need to seek out a good scene, then stalk it to get the light just right. Remember to clean the front of the filter before you start shooting though. 😉
Luckily, I shot a few more photos of that scene from different angles after cleaning the filter, along with a couple from Creekside Park.
I do believe that I’m starting to get the hang of getting a sense of depth to my photos, when the scene allows it. When I get it right, it looks as though you could walk right into them, when I really get it right, they look as though you’d want to walk into the scene.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!