Intimate landscapes…revisited

So…it’s spring again, and I’ll try to make time to be a little more active here on the blog. My apologies for lack of posting throughout the winter.

Green tranquility

The magic place

 

I have previously written about my love for intimate landscapes. I love a grand vista as much as everyone, and more or less plan my trips around viewpoints and with a more or less grand landscape in mind. But as I previously have stated, throughout the years I have drifted more and more towards photographing more intimate scenes. Not only do that type of landscapes open up for an infinitely larger variation of scenes and are more forgiving wiht respect to light, but I also find it more challenging and rewarding to work around a specific composition. Trying to figure out a small scene is pretty much like solving a puzzle or crossword. I particularly like to work with forest-scenes and although it can be extremely challenging to come up with a composition that conveys the mood or pass on a message of some kind, it is also very rewarding when I feel I achieve that.

I have a few inspirational sources, or favourite photographers if you will, when it comes to this genre. Besides the obvious Eliot Porter who probably first came up with the term “intimate landscape” with respect to photography (major exhibiton at Metropolitan museum of art and printed publication titled “Intimate landscapes” in 1979 – google it!) there are also more contemporary masters of the craft. I could name numerous, but photographers like Serkan Gunes, Hans Strand, G Dan Mitchell and Christioher Burkett stand out, in my opinion.

Misty spring

Misty autumn

Having worked dedicated on intimate landscapes for only a few years, I’m definitely a novice in the genre. But I will continue to focus on the small scenes as I find it extremely rewarding and great fun.

Monochrome trees

B0000460-Edit

Evolution and improvement always originate in altered given conditions or challenges. As creative beings we need inspiration, but we also need to get out of our comfort-zones (cliché alarm!!) and try new things from time to time to avoid stagnation. I find great inspiration in studying other photographers and I have a fair share of people whose work I follow regularly, both on-line, in photography-competitions and on exhibitions. Many of these photographers have a style totally apart from my regular modus operandi, but I find it extremely stimulating to analyze their work, maybe just because it is so different from my regular style (A series about my favourite photographers is on its way here!)

I continuously scrutinize my own work and try to challenge myself to improve. I embark on different projects and set myself clear goals. Most often, I decide to try new things which involve a different approach to the subject matter, the photographic process and the postprocessing I have become accustomed to. This way, I force myself to see the world with new eyes. Although the results may be so-and-so, I always learn something about technical details, composition and my vision.

By the end of last year I decided to commit myself (for a period, at least) to work more with intimate landscapes, monochrome, forests and trees. This was partly due to inspiration from other photographers but mostly because I wanted to expand my vision, improve my compositional skills and learn to apply new methods in capturing and postprocessing. More about this process later, but for now I just wanted to share some of the results so far. Hope you like them. Have a splendid week!

Dag Ole

B0000459-Edit

B0000451-Edit

Exposure blending

Christmas crescent

Christmas crescent

 

 

This image was captured on last christmas eve while visiting friends and family in North Norway. Long story short: On our way to christmas dinner, the light was wonderful, the moon emerged and the icy cold temperatures froze the shores and gave a dense fog over the sea. I couldn’t help myself. I changed outfit and ran down to the shore and worked there all the way into pitch darkness and well into christmas dinner. My very kind and understanding wife actually approved this stunt, but I got a suspicion that not everybody else was very happy… But at least I got a few nice images! 🙂

When I started to photograph, it was rather dark but the disappearing aurora of the sun lit up the scene in a wonderful red-pinkish hue. As it got darker and darker, the aurora weakened and stars started to appear. At the same time, the foreground was becoming very very dark (I could hardly see my hands..), and the moon very bright compared to the landscape. I knew that even the very high dynamic range sensor in my d800 would not be able to capture both landscape, moon, stars and the color of the disappearing sun in one single exposure. So, I composed this image with the camera on my tripod and took numerous exposures at different iso’s and exposure times to capture all the elements in the scene as I saw it. The next day, I sat down and inspected all the different files. The aurora and the moon matched perfectly in  some of the exposures, and to my surprise, earthshine lit up the shadowed part of the moon perfectly. The foreground however, was too dark on these exposures and the sky too bright to show any stars. My original plan was to follow my regular HDR workflow and blend the exposures in HDR efex pro but the result was far from satisfying. It lacked the contrast and crispness I wanted. I tried to increase clarity and contrast but by then things started to look really weird. Since I had three exposures from three different regions of the scene I decided to blend them manually. I used the image where the moon and the sunglow was perfect as my base. I then took one exposure of the starry sky and blended it into the top of the first image using the masking bug in the layers module of the wonderful OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 9. In exactly the same manner, I blended a lighter foreground exposure into the lower part of the image. The resulting image was then imported back into Lightroom and after slight adjustment of temperature, color, clarity and sharpness, the image came out very close to how I experienced the scene. The masking bug has a gradient which give soft and natural transitions and I found it amazing how naturally the different exposures blended with a broad gradient.

Hope you like my image, have a splendid weekend!

Dag Ole

 

2015 – more forests and B&W!

EAB_9800-Edit-2

Beams. Yosemite Valley, june 2014.

Now, I’m not really a guy for making new-years resolutions. However, every now and then I scrutinize my own images and adjust my direction somewhat to have the right all-over balance in my work. I have decided that I will try to work a little bit more with forests and trees and more in black and white this year. Ok, now I’ve said it. Hope I can live up to that. I will start with preferring forest-destinations when I have no specific other plans, and also plan to submit a few more images to dedicated B&W competitions.

This image is from Yosemite Valley an early morning in june 2014. I was driving into the valley and saw some light mist covering El Capitan Meadow. I stopped my car there and walked into the forest of giant trees by the foot of El Capitan. A truly magical morning! Hope you like it, have a super weekend!

Dag Ole

Landscapephotography with the “nifty-fifty”

EAC_4523-Edit-Edit

Evening light, Riessersee. An example of my “straight” style. Shot from eye-level at a “normal-range” focal length.

As I described in my last posting, I tend to compose most of my images “straight” without a deep dominant foreground or other striking perspectives. When I am at a location, I like to use long time to study the subject and investigate different angles and views, as well as light and other elements, but I most often find myself composing the image straight forward without any awkward perspective. Furthermore, I have turned more and more towards shooting in the “normal range” of focal lengths, from 35-ish to about 70mm.

The lens I use most for my landscape-work is the Nikkor 24-70 f.2.8. Big and heavy, yes, but very solid. It is also very sharp compared to most other normal-zooms. However, when I sometimes have photographed the same subject with one of my other favorite lenses, either the Nikkor 14-24 or the Nikkor 70-200, I just can’t help myself in thinking that these two latter lenses give an image that is just a tad crisper. At least when pixel-peeping. Now – for most pictures this is not a problem, but since 80 % of my work is done with the 24-70, I started to look for an alternative that was even sharper. I used to have some primes that were nice and crisp, but as the hikes got longer and longer, I  switched to zooms some time ago to minimize the gear. Primes does however almost always have an advantage over zooms when it comes to resolution, so I decided to investigate some primes further. For my shooting style a 50mm would be ideal. There are lots of primes in the marked in this range, mostly lightweight and good, but most have a flaw in some feature. When the first rumors about the Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4 started about a year ago, I thought that I had found my holy grail. I was about to pull the trigger on the Otus this spring when I first heard about the new Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art. As the reviews of the Sigma 35mm Art had been fantastic, especially for resolution, I decided to wait and see what the reviews said about the 50mm Art. It turned out that most reviews were extremely positive, and of course at less than one-third of the price of the Otus ($950 vs $3000), this was a lens to seriously consider. After all, one can have a lot of fun for the $2000 difference…. Also, the Sigma has autofocus, the Otus doesn’t. Maybe not very important for landscape-work, but nice to have.

I bought the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art a couple of months ago and have used it a lot. The first thing that struck me was how solid it is built. It gives a real heavy-duty impression and is on par with my professional-grade nikkors. However, it is not weather-sealed, a definite disadvantage for me. Furthermore, it is very big and heavy, at least for a 50 mm prime, but it is a little smaller than the Zeiss Otus.  But the sharpness….wow. A photography buddy of mine stated that the images were so crisp that it almost hurt his eyes! And I will not argue. Even wide open, the sharpness, both centre and corner, is extremely good. From f4 it is amazing. I think this is the first lens I have had that really takes out the full potential of the 36mp sensor in my d800’s. Bokeh is smooth and nice for landscape work, vignetting and distortion negligible. Fringing is less of a problem than with my zooms, and is easily removed in postprocessing. I have not tried the Otus, but I doubt that I will look any further for a go-to normal prime. For landscape-work (at least in dry conditions, and if you like to shoot “straight”) this lens comes highly recommended from me! By the way, I have no affiliation with Sigma.

Thanks for visiting and reading, have a nice week!

Dag Ole

IMG_1206

At 8.5 x 10 cm and 815g the SIgma 50mm 1.4 Art is a real chunk of gear. But it gives amazingly crisp images!

Perspectives….

Receding storm and sunrise

Receding storm and sunrise. Trondheim, november 2014.

To many, landscape-photography is synonymous with a wide-angle, low perspective, a dominant dramatic foreground and an interesting backdrop. If you look at photography-sites like 1x.com, 500px and photo-forums on google+ you will probably find that a huge share of landscape-photos are made after this recipe. And in many cases the result is astonishing! But not always. Unfortunately, I believe that the concept to some extent has been subject to inflation. My own portfolios are no longer dominated by such images. It may be my 40 years old knees talking, but I find that as the years has gone by, I shoot more and more from normal, upright eye-level. And my mostly used focal lengths are in the range of 35-70mm. I even use my 70-200 a lot for landscape-work! This yields more “formal” or “straight” landscape-images, and I tend to like that more and more. If you look at the wonderful portfolios of amazing photographers like Charles Cramer, Guy Tal and G. Dan Mitchell, you will see what I mean. So – what am I trying to say? Well, I believe that the image should first and foremost be about the subject matter and how it affects the artist, not about the photographers position or choice of focal length. If I don’t get any connection or emotional response from the landscape, the image seldom gets any better if I lie down on my belly. In my opinion, choice of lens and perspective are merely integral parts of the composition and should not alone be the dominant feature of the image. The perspective alone doesn’t make a bad image good. However, if the foreground is an important part of what I am trying to convey, I have no problem with mounting my 14-24 and lie down on my belly. Like this morning, when the image above was captured. According to the forecast, sunrise was to coincide with a receding storm and a high tide. Wonderful, energetic waves, crashing against the rocky beach dominated the scene when I arrived this morning, and of course I had to enhance that! Hope you like it! Did I get wet? You bet…! And my knees still hurt…

You may consider this post about perspective, focal lengths and “formal eye-level shooting” as an introduction to my next post. I will discuss this a little more and as part of that discussion I will give some details about one of my new lenses, the Sigma 50mm f.1.4 Art. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

PS: this image will soon be released in my gallery at nordhaugphotography.com

Dag Ole

Approaching storm, Ammersee

Approaching storm, Ammersee

Bad weather is very often good photography-weather. My favorite time is the transitions, when good weather turns bad or the other way around. At such times, light can be really awesome with dramatic, dark clouds and divine sunbeams. This particular day started out grey and dull, and after a while the rain was pouring down from a low, heavy steal-grey sky. I drove to Ammersee in hope to catch the lake in this moody weather. After a while by the lake, the skies started to clear and I hoped for a dramatic transition. The wind was reduced to a slight breeze and the lake was colored in a beautiful emerald hue by the emerging sun. However, before the sun really managed to break through, a new system of clouds rolled in from the west and brought winds and new precipitation. I found this pier just in time before the storm approached. There were no dramatic transitions that day, but I noticed the contrasts between the tranquil sun-lit waters and the incoming clouds and tried to capture that. I always try to pre-visualize the finished product when I am in the field. This is one of techniques I use to help my vision to speak to me (hm, that came out much more new-age than I meant it to, but you get my point…) And then I try to use different techniques to make my image according to how I want the finished product to be. E.g. I used a 2 step ND grad to bring out the contrasts in the clouds, and have further accentuated this in postprocessing. Also, a low shooting-angle and wide-angle lens (18mm) underlined the length of the pier so that it seemingly stretched for the clouds. I used a small aperture of f. 20 to assure that the image was pin-sharp from near to far.  I hope the image conveys the feeling of an incoming storm by a moody lake. Hope you like it too!

This is a new release in my gallery: nordhaugphotography.com

Dag Ole

About vision, technique and gear…

What camera do you use? Is this photoshopped?

That is by far the two most common questions I get when people see my images. I guess any of you other photographers out there know everything about this. You make good images, ergo you must have a great camera and/or be very good at photoshopping. I can understand why people are interested in these things, but frankly, does it really matter? Well, to many it obviously does. When I visited Grand Canyon this summer I got several questions and comments regarding my gear. At one time (sunset at Mather Point, a very crowded experience!) a lady looking over my shoulder pointed me out to her husband and stated “ohh, if you only had purchased a camera like this guy has, I’m sure you could take some wonderful pictures!” Her husband, carrying a very good point-and-shoot, seemed to agree. I turned around and smiled at them and said “well, a camera have never made a picture by itself”. I don’t thing they understood that they actually insulted me, because they just stared somewhat offended back at me, turned around and left.

As G Dan Mitchell says: photography is about photographs, not about cameras and lenses. And to paraphrase one of Cole Thompsons favorite quotes: You should complement the chef for his/hers stove as much as you should complement the photographer for his equipment. Every single camera sold today has a great potential to capture fantastic images. But it doesn’t do it by itself. The photographer makes the image, not the camera.

When it comes to postprocessing (“photoshopping”), there seem to be an opinion in the public that this also makes good images all by itself. Often, “photoshopped” is said with a negative tone, as almost frowned upon. Painters start with a white canvas and make an image from scratch, and most people don’t have a problem with that. However, there seem to be a misconception that photography should equal documentation. Unaltered reality. What if a photographer should just alter an image? How can we document the world then?? What if a photographer could just change “reality” with software? What are we left with then???? …..well, art? A RAW-file needs processing. The eye is an amazing instrument with phenomenal dynamic range, resolution, angle of view and sharpness. No camera is even close to replicate human vision. Psychology is also a very important part of what one sees and how one see it. A personal experience can never be captured by any sensor. Regular straight out of the camera-files are often .jpg, and these files are already “photoshopped” in the camera software with increased saturation, sharpening etc. Straight out of the camera .jpgs are no more real than a “photoshopped” raw-file. The only difference is that when processing a raw-file, the photographer is behind the wheel, not a software programmer. So what can a photographer do? Well, we have to use postprocessing to make the image to look the way we want it to. According to our vision.

Oh, and there is that word. Vision. What is that? Well, in my mind, vision is how I interpret a scene. How I see the world. And that is of course very much influenced by me. The sum of all my memories, all my experiences, my mood and my feelings, always filters and influence how I understand a scene. And that is my vision. How I see the world. And then I have to use all my experience and technical knowledge to try to make an image of the scene according to my vision. Both when capturing at location and in postprocessing where I do the finishing touches.

Techniques and equipment are only tools a photographer use to express his or hers vision.

And therefore, techniques and equipment may be somewhat important, and I will discuss this thoroughly in future blog-posts. But it is far from being the most important factor in the creation of an image. Vision, on the other hand, is.

Have a nice weekend!

Dag Ole