New Zealand has some of the most visually spectacular and stunningly eye catching natural countryside in the world. How many times do you hear Kiwis, that have done their ‘O.E’ seeing and experiencing first hand other countries’ natural landscapes, say that New Zealand still has the best ! Even more appealing to me (and probably the majority of Kiwi outdoor enthusiasts) is the remoteness of our back country. With just a little bit of physical effort we have the ability to do a multi day trip among the world’s most beautiful countryside and not see, let alone meet, another human soul. In fact, that is often the very reason why many people visit the back country …. Great isn’t it?! How very lucky we are indeed.
I think as hunters we change and ‘mature’ as time goes on. Reasons, goals (goalposts), attitudes, morals and values all transform over time. Some negligibly while others drastically. It’s these adjustments that, at the end of the day, alter the levels of enjoyment, satisfaction, reward or even the amount of just plain old fun we get from our trips. For me, an appreciation of our wonderful natural landscapes is one area that now rates very highly in the overall scheme of my trips. Fifteen or twenty years ago it was certainly different. I seemed to place more emphasis on the hunting and the killing back then. As such, the countryside (although still a joy to be in) was just a very secondary feature of each trip.
The ‘Hunter Philosopher’, Greig Caigou, mentions it often in his writings and musings … the immersion of yourself in the natural environment, being part of the landscape as much as is possible and gaining inspiration and motivation from being amongst and getting physically involved with the ‘land’. It’s these types of things that I’ve found myself being more aware of and thinking about when out hunting in recent years. Maybe it’s just that I’ve slowed down a tad, ‘seeing’ more because of that or perhaps it’s more of a conscious effort to value and appreciate what, perhaps, I may have taken for granted a bit in the past. I think I’m starting to philosophize a bit now ….. I should leave that to Greig.
Any which way you look at it the natural landscapes that we place ourselves in while out hunting make superb photographic subjects. After all, everyone loves the classic New Zealand natural, green countryside ‘postcard’ type shot don’t they ?! Even the non hunting fraternity surely can’t gripe about a nicely captured image of good old N.Z. As is usual with photography, there are always things we can do to improve our images ….
Depth of Field (DOF)
The usual practice in landscape photography is to have as much of your scene in focus as possible. Unless you’re going for something creative or artistic, then any out of focus parts of a landscape image will be ignored by the fact that, naturally, your eye will be drawn to the in focus part. The simplest and easiest way to ensure complete focus from the foreground of a photograph to the background, is to employ a small aperture (a large number on the aperture dial).
Now, with a small aperture comes the inherent problem of less light hitting the camera’s sensor. Remember back in the first article when discussing the interaction of ‘the big three’ ? Well, now that you have selected a small aperture (and depending on available light) you’ll have to compensate by either increasing the iso or lengthening the shutter speed. On occasion, both.
Use of Tripod
These slow shutter speeds bring us to a very important piece of equipment – a tripod. Even if you’re able to attain fast shutter speeds the practice of using a good tripod will be very beneficial. Notice too, I said a ‘good’ tripod. A tripod is one of those pieces of kit that you shouldn’t skimp on. The cheap and seemingly great buys on Trademe for example just don’t cut it I’m afraid. Trust me … I’ve learned the hard way.
Practically, however, we don’t always have a tripod in the field with us due to the weight concern. In these situations the camera may be placed on a rock, wood chopping block, river bed log and so on. Getting the camera in just the right position for framing and composition is a little more difficult of course but with a little patience the desired ‘view’ can be achieved.
One more valuable little piece of gadgetry is a cable or wireless remote shutter release for just that little more camera stillness. Even the pressing of the shutter by hand, however careful you attempt to be, will cause a tiny bit of movement to the set up. A remote shutter release will negate this as well as being very small and light weight – a very worthwhile investment.
Image showing the ‘receiver’ half (of the two piece wireless shutter release) mounted on the external flash port on the top of the camera. ( 1/30 @ f/2.8, iso 800 )
The other half of the wireless shutter release …. the transmitter. ( 1/200 @ f/2.8, iso 800 )
Photographs need focal points. Landscape images are no different than any other photographs - without them they end up looking empty and the viewer’s eye will roam about the image with nothing definite to settle on. Images like that tend not to be looked at for long either. So, attempt to make a conscious decision to include a main subject or two as the focal points instead of just up and quickly snapping off a shot.
Further to this, a bit of thought as to where in the image those subjects or focal points are placed will give even more added pleasure and balance to a shot. The ‘rule of thirds’ comes into its own here. Basically an image can be divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Four points of intersection will be created. It’s one of these points that main subjects should be placed.
With the frame now divided into thirds you also have defined areas to position horizon lines. (And those horizon lines ?? Always have them absolutely straight and dead horizontal !!) A good example is an image with land, sea and sky in the shot. Ideally each should take up one third of the photograph. Should an image only contain say two of these components then still make good use of the rule of thirds and position the feature which has the most interest so it takes up two thirds.
A beautiful (and almost unheard of) superb day on the Kahurangi Coast. ( 1/200 @ f/10, iso 100 )
This image displays good use of the rule of thirds and placement of focal points. The land is taking up the bottom third of the image while the sky (which has far more impact than the flat grey sand at the front of the shot) has been given pride of place taking two thirds. The main focal point is the huge rock buttress on the left so therefore has been put at one of the four intersecting points (or thereabouts) created by the thirds division. In this case, the top left.
Here is the same shot taken badly. - No main focal point. Any possible main subject has been cut off by the edge of the frame.(The rocks in the centre could be a possible focal point but is too small and not all that interesting to be a main feature). - A very crooked horizon line. Note the sea in the background. - No use of the rule of thirds producing a very unbalanced image.
Foregrounds and Leading Lines
Foregrounds can set apart your landscape shots from others. By also placing points of interest in the foreground you are giving the viewer a way into the image as well as creating a sense of depth. Again, if the eye roams randomly around a shot that has nothing to hold its interest it won’t be too long before it goes elsewhere.
So, once in the image (hopefully attracted by the stunning foreground you’ve placed there intentionally) the viewer now needs to be ‘lead’ around the shot rather than being allowed to wander aimlessly. Utilising leading lines now come into play. Leading lines in effect are just arrows (or pathways) for the eye to follow often taking the viewer’s gaze to another feature or point of interest in the shot.
Image of Kahurangi Coast illustrating leading lines. ( 1/125 @ f/16, iso 200 )
There are two main focal points in this shot which have been placed at two opposing intersecting points to produce very good balance to the image. The eye is initially drawn into the photograph by the beautiful old, gnarled and weathered root system of the log which is the first main feature. The trunk of the log then leads the eye to the back of the image to the second main feature of the bush covered hill. Naturally it’s kind of a dead end back there so your gaze then comes back along the log to end up in the foreground once again to admire the lovely grain and texture of the first feature. (Note the rule of thirds regarding horizon lines has been broken).
Really nice blue-sky, sunny days do make for great postcard type shots. However an overcast day with perhaps a threatening storm approaching or even a time when it’s raining heavily, might present opportunities for some great images with some real moody and ominous overtones. Be on the lookout for weather features such as mist, dramatic clouds, sun (rays) shining through dark clouds, rainbows, sunsets, sunrises and so on. The weather is so varied and constantly changing which in turn has an effect on our landscapes altering them quite dramatically, sometimes in the space of only minutes. Next time instead of waiting for that picture-perfect sunny photographic day, work with the variations of our climate and weather to produce some really dramatic images.
The Golden Hour
Many of you will have heard of this term. It refers to the very early morning (layman’s term “sparrow’s fart”) and the very late evening. The first hour or two of the rising sun and the last hour or two of the evening’s setting sun creates some very warm and soft lighting …. absolutely fantastic for photography but more so for landscape work. This golden, warm glowing light transforms some landscapes from what is a drab, boring scene during the middle of the day to beautiful almost dream-world type wonderlands. An ‘airy-fairy’ description you think ?? Take time out one evening or early morning to just sit and watch how the golden hour changes your surroundings. You’ll see that my description is very apt.
Approaching southerly front – Marlborough. ( 1/125 @ f/5.6, iso 400 )
The landscape in this image had already lost the day’s sun 10-15 minutes before the shot was taken. The southerly front however became lit up beautifully by the last couple of minutes of the setting sun. This image illustrates both dramatic weather conditions (as opposed to ‘postcard’ days) and the wonderful effect of golden hour lighting.
There are many popular spots around the country that get photographed hundreds if not thousands of times. The first one that sprung to mind is the very famous Milford Sound/Mitre Peak shot taken from two steps out in front of the café. Classic and iconic image right there. Don’t get me wrong (it’s a beautiful place alright) but the image is very ho-hum now don’t you think ? How about going for a walk and gaining a completely different perspective of the same scene ?
The same can probably be said for our hunting trips. For example, having just climbed to a ridge or mountain top a new and superb view stretches out beneath us. What the majority of us do is reach into the pack, grab the camera and snap off a pic right from where we happen to be standing at the time. Think about different angles and perspectives that might enhance the final image. Perhaps walk back down off the ridge a little so you have some interesting foreground in the shot, change the direction you’re looking to enable a leading line of a ridge to be used or move to your left so you can incorporate two main focal points into the image instead of just the one. Even think about getting down on your belly for a much more radical viewpoint.
Typical scene on any South Island high country road. ( 1/160 @ f/10, iso 200 )
The very moody storm clouds were already in place for this image. By driving further along until the road altered, I was able to mirror the direction of the road with the clouds. The dead rabbit was one of dozens on the road that evening and to me typified the South Island high country. To create the perspective I was after I had to lie completely flat on my belly in between bouts of 100 km/h state highway traffic. Got the shot though !!
I’ve offered quite a few ideas and tips along with suggesting a few different ways of looking and thinking about your landscape shots in this article. If it seems as though there is too much to try and remember simply take one or two of the ideas/suggestions and concentrate on those for a few outings. After a while they will become second nature and you’ll find yourself incorporating them in your shots without even thinking. Slowly add a couple more and sooner or later they will all be instinctive.