Storytelling: Why Great Landscape Photographers Love Light Lines and Colors
Shooting Inspired Photography is more than just raw talent and a decent camera, though those things certainly help. The first step in good storytelling is engage the eye. That is the goal above all. That first unconcious extra millisecond or two is when the viewer decides to linger for your story, or move on. That is a very small window of opportunity!
My previous posts on storytelling have focused on finding the inspiration to shoot from your heart to share our own stories. If you want to review those posts, just click the Blog link on the menu above. I keep my blogs short so you’ll be up to speed in no time! In short though, a storytelling photo is one that elicits emotion and engagement on the part of the viewer. And also reveals something about the photographer in the process.
Today, we will look at just two photos, both with a different mood and story, and find out just how is the viewer engaged.
There is a nuts and bolts side to storytelling. Rules, compositional techniques, equipment etc all play a part. But your foundation to your composition are your choices of light, lines and color. Check out this dune photo.
A glorious and engaging sight. I feel uplifted and joyful when I see this. The light and color are unusual and compelling. Here was my thought process when I composed this frame. But before we analyze this composition, let me describe the back story that led me to take this photo.
I was alone in the middle of Glamis Dunes Recreational area in Imperial County California. It was off-season for the dirt bikes and dune buggies, so I had the entire place to myself. About 50 square miles of pristine dunes were completely deserted with no distractions or tire tracks! I had arrived the evening before and had taken some nice star shots over the dunes. Then I settled down sometime after midnight in the back of my truck, lulled to sleep by a stiff wind and the sound of sand pattering against the fenders. Waking up just as light was beginning to show in the sky, I set off across the dunes camera and tripod in hand. That stiff and cold wind was still blowing and I was soon chilled to full wakefulness.
Then came my favorite photographic moment of any day. The moment when the sun just breaks the horizon and light skips across the landscape. That first, horizontal light only lasts for a minute or so, but I was in the right place with the right dune before me to catch this golden moment. Now, that was what my landscaper dreams are made of!
As you can see, just getting in place to take a compelling shot can be a bit of work. People have told me that I am lucky to find such shots. And I agree. But really, the secret is putting yourself in position to become lucky. That takes a bit of vision, self knowledge, and a willingness for adventure. All this is before you take the shot. Now back to the photo…
Great light is the first thing a photographer should look for. Then when framing a new composition is the lines. Color is a close third. Our brains are wired to detect and linger on patterns and lines. And color is a huge sight trigger. So here is the work flow:
After identifying a compelling scene, make some decisions about how you want to stop the viewer’s eye. There is nothing better than great light and color to grab attention. Then figure out how you want to lead the eye as it travels across the scene before you. This will connect the viewer into your shot. The photo above has excellent lines and color. The viewer’s eye is immediately engaged. Here’s the photo again, a bit smaller.
The first thing that stops the viewer is the glowing gold colors of the sunrise reflected on the dune face. The colors almost shout for attention. Then a close look begins to lead the eye to…
Check out how the blue ridges to the left of the frame lead up and to the right. The same direction we read words on a page. The lines at the bottom right lead straight up. Both left and right lines lead to the knife edge of the dune face. From there the eye will follow that edge up to the left and into the glowing line of blowing sand on top of the dune. Then the dune top curves around to the right until the golden glow of blowing sand above the dune face fluffs up and across the frame to exit the eye into the upper right and out of the frame. And notice that along the way out there are echoes of the same effect off the next dune face over, then repeated in the far distance. I don’t even need to draw lines and quadrants on the photo for you see the way your eye will travel. The composition, and story, are that strong.
But there are other ways to engage the viewers eye, mind and imagination to tell your story. Sometimes missing pieces speak just a loudly.
This was taken just a few days ago at the Salton Sea in Southern California. A desolate, dying and sad kind of place. The composition here fits the mood of my moment. There is no color, just shades of gray, the composition almost minimalist in nature.
But that’s not at all bad! Things left out of photos, such as color and complex lines can also stop the viewer. The voids in the composition leave room to engage the imagination as the viewer fills in the blanks with his own experience.
Here the subject and emotion cannot be missed. The strong horizontal line of the horizon hems the eye downward into the frame, and the rocks to the left center frame point inexorably toward the focus of the photo, which is of course the lonely, solitary Egret. I found that adding a bit of post process texturing over the photo also added to the mood. Now this piece has moved beyond simple photography storytelling and into the Fine Art realm.
More on post processing decisions and other tips and tricks in future posts, but for now let me leave you with this bit of wisdom from a photographer you may have heard of.
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams
Oh, and just to let you know, Lightfinder Photography is offering 20% off on any purchase from our galleries here for the months of October and November. We are celebrating the opening of this site. Follow the menu at the top of this page to get into the Featured or Collections galleries. Click on the photo you like for a price list. Then use coupon code Intro20 at checkout. Christmas is coming!