To continue my recap of Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s Photo Weekend in Seattle (well, Bellevue), I’ll share some highlights from Sunday’s sessions as well as the anonymous critique.
Session I: Composition
When shooting a photo, Tim Cooper encouraged attendees to go beyond aesthetics. Why are you taking this picture? What is it that you are attracted to in the scene? Put words to it. Your photo should convey a feeling, theme, or idea, and not need explaining.
To help compose a photo, keep these “distractions and attractions” in mind or use them to your advantage: bright areas, high contrast, color contrast, sharpness, and leading lines. Tim also talked about what each kind of line conveys: horizontal lines are calm, vertical lines are stable, diagonal lines are energizing, and curved lines are graceful and elegant.
Subject placement and lens choice were the two other major areas Tim focused on. He covered the rule of thirds, golden mean, proper balance, framing, symmetry, and the decisive moment. He stressed that lens choice—wide angle, normal, or long—is extremely important, and showed us examples of the same scene shot with three different lenses. It’s amazing the difference your focal length can make!
Some tips and tricks: watch your corners and borders to avoid including anything distracting or unnecessary. Avoid “tight merges” or overlapping elements. Move your tripod to explore many different positions and angles. And always go deeper than “I’m taking this picture because it’s pretty.” You’re shooting a feeling or an idea, just be clear what it is before you shoot; it will improve your work.
Session II: Landscape Photography
I took the most notes in this class, probably because it tied everything together nicely. Tim talked equipment, camera settings, composition, and light.
When it comes to lenses, there are seemingly endless options. Just keep in mind primes, or fixed focal length lenses, are sharper than long lenses. If you prefer a long lens, choose one with a shorter range (e.g., 70–200 instead of 70–300). It may seem counterintuitive, but it will be sharper.
For settings, choose as low an ISO as possible. Shoot in RAW. Use the correct white balance. Stop down your lens to get as much of the image in focus as possible, and focus one-third or one-half the way into the picture to achieve sharpness in both background and foreground.
Other equipment Tim covered: tripod legs and heads, carrying cases and backpacks, circular polarizing filters, and split neutral density filters. Circular polarizing filters cut through haze, reduce reflection and glare, darken blue sky, and increase saturation, so Tim deemed them the most useful filter for landscape photography.
For landscape photography, you must work with the light available. Bright sun may be nice, but in photography it produces broad, flat scenes that lack drama and depth. Cloudy skies provide the best lighting but the least appealing sky, so omit the sky in your shots on a cloudy day. Finally, there’s “magic light” or the golden hour, sunrise and sunset, which produces a lovely warm light.
Session III: Critique
Attendees had the option to submit a photo to be critiqued anonymously in this session. There were about 40 images submitted for this conference, so Tim and Doug were able to get through all of them in less than two hours. I submitted a photo I snapped back in February at Chambers Bay.
I liked this photo okay, but there was something off about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on—that’s why I chose it to be critiqued. Doug and Tim took turns critiquing images, and Tim wound up with mine. He liked the light in the photo, and the placement of the sun’s reflection on the water, but suggested a tighter crop to remove the distracting silhouetted tree on the right, and some of the shadow area at the bottom. I’m really happy with the crop:
The critique was beneficial for my own work, but it was also interesting to hear what the instructors thought about other images, and what they suggested changing. Ultimately, Tim said, there’s no right or wrong way to compose a photo, but rather it’s about what you want out of a scene, what you want to show.
Thanks, RMSP, for a great photo weekend!