Here’s a fun secret: Most of the photos on this blog, as well as the one on our Instagram & Twitter accounts, are taken by Andre. He’s a much better photographer than I am; a fact I am not afraid to admit. While I know a lot about f stops and proper exposure, I’m a bit too quick on the shutter button to have the necessary composition it takes to make a great photograph. Fortunately for me, I have an amazingly talented coworker named Jackie who offered to take me out for some photography lessons. Some of the things she taught me were relatively simple concepts I just never stopped to think about before, while others blew my mind. I hadn’t planned on writing this post before I went on the photography hike with Jackie, but as I looked through my photos I realized how quickly I was able to improve using her lessons, and I want to share some of her tips with you. So in no particular order, here we go.
LESSON #1: LOTS OF SKY vs LITTLE BITS OF SKY
You’re about to take a photo of a beautiful landscape. You know all about the rule of 3rds. But wait– take a look at the sky. Is it filled with beautiful puffy white clouds or interesting shades of gray indicating an impending storm? Or is it just… blue? While plain blue sky makes for a gorgeous day for hiking, it’s not that interesting to have large quantities of it in your photograph. In that case, you’ll want to make your sky take up about 1/4 of the top of the frame instead of a full 1/3, rendering the land part of the landscape as the subject. But if the clouds are indeed present in medium-quantity, go ahead and fill up more than 1/3 of your frame with their awesomeness.
LESSON #2: ADD DEPTH WITH FOREGROUND, MIDDLE GROUND AND BACKGROUND
The three photos in this slideshow were all taken within the same 10 square feet, but they look vastly different from each other. The first image has some trees near the bottom, then the lake, then mountain, then sky. It’s not bad. In the 2nd image I crouched down a bit and included some rocks at the bottom of the frame, which gives some distance perspective on the lake and mountain beyond. It also kind of makes you feel a bit like you’re standing in the image. In the third photo, I turned a bit to the left and included Jackie taking her shots. This adds a human element, which mentally helps draw the viewer in as well. 3 shutter clicks in the same spot give us 3 very different photos, just by changing what’s in the foreground.
Here’s another series of shots where I made sure to include something in the foreground, either using a colorful object (like the neon green lichen on a rock she pointed out to me,) or the human element yet again.
LESSON #3: DON’T LET YOUR SUBJECT FADE INTO THE SCENE
Along the trail we ran into a super nice woman with three dogs, and I couldn’t help but snap her photo:
Look at how those bright colors really pop out from the landscape. In a state where muted natural fashion tones are in, this purple haired dog owner made for an amazing subject without even turning toward the camera.
At one point Jackie went to take a photo of me sitting on a large rock, but the rock happened to be the same color as my shirt. She handed me her red jacket and said “put this on”, so that the viewer’s eye would be drawn to the subject, me, instead of having to search the frame. I don’t have the photo of me to show you, but here’s basically the same idea with Jackie in the shot.
LESSON #4: HIDE STUFF YOU DON’T LIKE WITH STUFF YOU DO LIKE
Ok this is one of those tips that may seem super obvious to everyone else, but blew my mind. Below is an image of a ravine with a little brook running through it. I thought it was pretty, stood in the middle, and quickly took my shot. Then Jackie pointed out the ugly left side of the ravine, with it’s rocky erosion that generally doesn’t add anything to the shot. So… should I just not have taken the photo? Heck no, says Jackie. Use the bush to hide it. Ummm…. what?
See that bush to the left of the frame? By moving two feet to my left and lowering the camera slightly, I was able to perfectly hide the mini rock-slide AND add something into my foreground. BOOM.
Again, 2 shots that were taken in virtually the same spot, but they look completely different from one another. Jackie is magic.
LESSON #5: ADJUSTING THE F STOP CHANGES THE DEPTH OF FIELD
Yeah yeah yeah, you might be using a digital camera on “landscape” mode and throwing on a “tilt shift” instagram filter to get the same effect, but playing with your f stop can be a really fun way to manually adjust your depth of field. I took the two photos below with the same lens and almost the same settings, except I lowering the f stop and compensated for the exposure change by adjusting the shutter speed. The photo on the left was taken at f/16 and the photo on the right was taken at f/3.2.
The higher the f stop number, the smaller the opening is to let in light. The lower the f stop number, the more light is allowed in. Somehow this means your depth of field changes– that’s the distance you have of what appears in focus. For example, in the photo on the left, everything is in focus from the leaves to the mountains, so you would say there is a “wide depth of field”. In the photo on the right, the leaves are out of focus and so is some of the water, but the mountains are sharp. This is a “shallow depth of field” because less at a time is in focus. Play with this. It’s fun! (And for those of you confused by some of these terms, don’t worry, your smartphone can probably do this for you automatically.)
LESSON #6: LOOK FOR THINGS OTHER PEOPLE WOULD WALK PAST
Having been diagnosed with ADHD, I’m well aware that I may sometimes possibly lack attention to detail. If Jackie hadn’t pointed out these beautiful plants I would have walked right by them. It’s fall. Most plants are dying and aren’t that visually stimulating to my eye, which is normally drawn to bright colors, shiny objects, and the occasional squirrel. But the light was right and boy am I glad Jackie pointed these intricate “patterns in nature” out to me, because they made for some great shots. So take some time and look at the ground, or a dead/dying plant, or how a bright color is being juxtaposed against a contrasting color and texture theme. You’ll be glad you did (even though your hiking partner will be highly annoyed at how slow you are.)
LESSON #7: PAY ATTENTION TO THE LIGHT
It’s safe to say that I’m a fairly impatient person (see above). I see something I want to take a photo of and SNAP I’m done. Was it good? I dunno. I’ll find out later. One of the most important lessons Jackie taught me was to stop and wait for good lighting on the subject. In the case below, the subject was this badass plant-weed thing. Again, I almost walked right past it. But Jackie saw the light shining through the trees right onto this little guy, and how if we crouched down we could juxtapose the brightly lit plant against the shadowy background for a great shot.
After I took this photo I turned my camera to preview mode to show Jackie. By the time we looked up, the light was gone and the plant was re-consumed in shadow. So if you see something awesome like this, it’s go-time! When I brought this photo into Lightroom to color correct it, everything I tried made it worse. Finally I went back to the original, and that is what you see here. The better your natural lighting, the less you’ll find you have to work your photo afterwards.
LESSON #8: ONE SUBJECT CAN BE TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PHOTOS
When we found this tree, Jackie wasn’t certain how we’d photograph it. Following the rule of 3rds, I quickly snapped the shot on the left. Then Jackie walked up to examine the tree and found this really dope knot. She noticed that a close up of the tree would reveal a wide variety of colors, shapes and patterns, which turned out to be pretty cool. The coolest thing to me, however, is how the light changes from the top of the image to the bottom. There is so much to look at in this photo, from swirls to burn marks to the light you can almost see moving. So take your photos from far away, but don’t be afraid to get up close and personal because you’ll probably find something completely different that is equally, if not more compelling.
LESSON #9: SHOOTING THE TRAIL SIGN
Super easy quick one here: Sign goes off to the side via rule of 3rds, get some of the trail in the shot, and try to juxtapose the sign against something different– like a green pine tree.
LESSON #10: LOOK FOR INTERESTING SHAPES
Most of this mountain lake shore is a smooth, rounded edge. However, Jackie found this angle where there’s a bit of interesting shape given as some rocks just out from one side. If you’re going to take a photo of something that’s usually somewhat plain, like a uniform lake shore, make it interesting. Note how the bush adds texture in the foreground that leads right to the jaggedy edge of the shoreline. There is so much to look at in this photo, I love that Jackie pointed it out to me.
LESSON #11: WHEN IN DOUBT, PUT SOMETHING ADORABLE IN YOUR PHOTO
LESSON #12: DON’T BE SELFISH WITH YOUR SELFIES
Obviously you gotta take a selfie or ten on the trail. Selfies aren’t just for millennials anymore, everyone is doing it! So here’s a tip on that subject: Besides your mom and dad, no one wants to see just your face. Seriously. I’m sure your face is great and all, but if you’re gonna make me look at it at least put in some context behind you. Taking the picture from a high angle not only makes you look like Beyonce, but allows for some scenery to creep it’s way into your shot. When framing up the selfie, don’t just gaze into your own eyes and check your teeth for trail mix– look at the background too! Make some bitches jealous by showing them how awesome the view is. And for the love of God, crop out your dang arm.
And that concludes today’s photography lesson! If you made it this far, you deserve to know where all these photos were taken. Well here’s your reward: Click here for directions to the trailhead.
Have tips to add? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
– C. Egli