Some photographs, à la Cartier-Bresson, embody the photographer’s instant analysis of a moment in time; once the moment is gone the photographer cannot get it back. Other photographs may be refined, whether in the studio where the photographer has complete control, or by returning to a location again if one’s first attempt is not successful. In two successive posts I’m going to discuss images that were the result of both processes of refinement, beginning with a landscape image that took three tries to get right.
I was at the park with my family on a September evening in 2010, and was taken with the purplish hues of the sunset. I then noticed the pleasing configuration of the landscape boulders down the path from the playground, and saw that adding a little extra light in the foreground would make a dramatic image. In great excitement I set up my camera and lights and shot away in the brief time I had before we had to take my son home for bed. When I got home, I was quite disappointed; all the shots were back-focused, like this one:
More than the bad focus can be said against this image: the composition is weak, the light is badly placed, and a second light filling from frame right would erase the patches of black shadow. I went back a few days later and tried again, on an evening when the sky did not have the same colors:
The light is better, and the patches of black shadow now make pleasing shapes that do not dominate large regions of the image, but the composition is still weak. I was also obsessed with getting the camera as low as possible and did not consider the advantages of a higher position.
I let the matter rest there until the middle of October, when I was able to go to the park without my family. The freedom to concentrate was immensely helpful, as I decided midway through to raise my tripod a bit. With a little work in post to tweak the sky colors, I produced this image:
The higher camera position clarified the most important aspect of the composition: the silhouette between sky and rocks. Down low it’s much too crowded; when the camera is higher, a sense of depth is created and a strong figure/ground relationship is established between the rocks and the trees/sky.
Not all landscape situations are amenable to this kind of repeated treatment; in this case, the configuration of the sky was simple enough that it could be reliably sought, and altered slightly in post if necessary. In my next post, we’ll see an image that I worked to recreate as precisely as possible in a controlled environment, with the help of a setup/overview shot from the original attempt.