The Creative Trinity
The next part is about the creative trinity and I look at it in the same way as I mentioned the technical trinity so I try to bring the two together, but they're so different. I wanna isolate each one for you so that you understand why I call it a trinity. I think these are actually in order of importance. I think that the subject, in the end, is by far the most important thing that's going to bring somebody to your picture and keep them there. The composition and light can be interchanged and I'm gonna talk about that, show you examples of that. It does help me quite often to separate these three things out, especially in the landscape because we don't always have the same subject matter in the landscape that we're used to seeing in other pictures and by that I mean fashion photographers, architectural photographers. We do bond with other pictures of people and portraits faster than we do a landscape so unfortunately, you guys all picked the wrong genre of photography or at least the ...
hardest one. You think it's easiest because it's landscape, but in the end, to make that landscape be as powerful a picture as a portrait, it takes a little more work and so isolating the subject is key. I'm breaking this down, like I said, to show you a couple options that you can think about, especially in sand dunes. We go out and we love sand dunes because they're sculpted beautifully and when the light gets low, you get these beautiful shadows, but to some degree, because you know now what I'd like to photograph, I think it's kind of subjectless. It's about the light and the composition maybe and so in my mind I wanna add the subject. So in this case it's a person walking up the dunes over there and that bonds the two elements together of the composition and the light, and gives us a subject matter to look at. So again, that's really what I enjoy doing is connecting the landscape with a person. So subject first. It's a little bit more of a journalistic approach. Then composition and light come second. So when you're looking at this in that sense, you might not even care about the other two, composition and light, and there are many pictures in history that are great illustrations of just that, where you take what you can get in composition and light, but it's all about the subject. So here's Tanzania. This was a scouting trip actually and we were driving along this riverbed, and this couple had set up a camp there. It was really cool, beautiful place and they ended up having quite a surprise. We went out to photograph and about a half hour, 40 minutes went by and we came back, and these lions had killed a baby giraffe, and it was right in front of their camp. So basically, at that point, I'm just capturing this scene and it's kind of funny because they're sittin' over there with their binoculars and she kind of looks like, "Oh my god, now I can't enjoy this camp anymore." It's really quite funny and they've got the old tent and everything set up to enjoy this, and they probably didn't realize all of this drama would happen right in front of them. The guy that was with us told us that it's just beginning. Once the lions leave, then the hyenas will come in and the vultures will start taking over. They're going to be up all night listening to this whole ruckus goin' on. So really this picture's not about the composition. I wanted to show the lions and the subject. So composition first, light second. It's just another way to look at the landscape and in this case, we don't hear always that you should photograph in the middle of the day because the light's no good and it's true. It's not colorful light, it's not gonna be as dramatic, sun's not as low on the horizon to give us that nice color, but if you study composition, then you can find these things any time of day. So this is a field of flowers in Colorado. Couple of pine trees, but it's really just about the composition and that's what caught my eye was this snaking river. All right, light first. Well there are times when, you know the phrase, "It's all about the light." I'll let you finish the sentence. Essentially it's more abstract, I think. We don't always have to compose with a subject because in scenarios where the light is literally so dramatic, again, you're just getting a shot of that light. A scenario like that would be.. Again, this was taken up in that same hike in Alaska and the light was coming up the valley so I'm looking down a ridge and over this little hill, and there's a deep, deep valley right beyond this rim here, and the sun came out under the fog, and lit up just a tiny bit of the fog and it was colorful. So in that scenario, I ran around to find a pool with it, but essentially, it was all about the light. I just wanted to make sure I captured that light that was striking the fog. So to go into in a little more detail, the subject. I think most of us can connect with the fact that when we look at landscape, the Grand Teton or when you go to the Grand Canyon, that's your subject and so we try to frame it that way. This is the Eureka Dunes, which is a sand dune up in the northern region of Death Valley National Park. Just a typical example of taking that subject and photographing it in the landscape. You've got the early morning light striking in and then, of course, some beautiful clouds behind it to compliment it, but in the end, it's all about those dunes, that's our subject. And then composition. Just to talk about it briefly, introduce it. Composition is about so many other things than the rule of thirds and especially in situations like this where you have these incredible lines and they're not just leading lines, but I'll talk about it later. They're design lines and in addition to that, you have to understand composition is about arrangement. So I'm going to talk later about the proportions of what we're looking at here and the arrangement of the foreground or one part of the picture to another part of the picture. In this case, a real good example that's real simple to practice is using the foreground. This is one of those mountains out in the valley and it's a beautiful mountain, some nice warm light on it, but there's this big kind of moonscape in front, and there's nothing there but a couple footprints from people who have walked by. I don't have a foot fetish, but I do have a fetish for footprints in the landscape. It drives me nuts. I don't want to see someone's footprints walking through the scene and so I always go out of my way to get to a place where there are no footprints. Just something that I enjoy not in my pictures. I didn't like the composition so you walk around until you find something of interest. In this case, it's that nice spiral or swirl in the creek and it just adds a whole bunch to a picture, and it's not hard to do this if you walk around and look down for a foreground. Light. Light is just one of those great things that I think all of us connect with. We can see it right away. We understand when the light's good. We don't always know what creates that great light, especially in studio photography, that's a great mystery. But the good thing is we don't really have to create this light, we're just visualizing it and we're capturing it on the camera. In this case, I think the best tip I can give you is that when it's all about the light, then you have to frame something and get something in the composition. But really, when you see light streaming through clouds and casting shadows in the sky, just take a picture of it and you'll learn, eventually, to add some other elements to it to make it more interesting. This is horrible shot of great light. This has the potential to be something, but it's way far away from it right now. This is taken out in the eastern edge of the San Juan Mountains, up near Telluride. Basically, this big storm was coming in and the sun was going down, and it was kind of a race between the storm enveloping the sun and the sun going down to light up that storm underneath because really that's a scenario that creates some of the most dramatic light is when the sun gets low and lights up these clouds from below. So here I was standing there, looking at this potential and walkin' around, finding compositions that just weren't working and this happens. I mean we all get in that position where you, you know, you cannot find something that comes together as much as we move around and as much experience as you might have. I literally did not take this picture to show you how bad composition can be, I took it because I was in a cycle of trying to find the composition. So one of the things I'll do, often, is a photographic yoga. I will go through all of the steps multiple times even though I know I have to delete the picture or I know I won't potentially use it, I just need to go through those steps of getting the shutter speed, exposure, all of that done, and setting up the camera, taking the pictures, and then realizing, sometimes, even on the back of the camera that this just isn't workin'. So it helps me to go through those steps. I did get a little lucky and the sun did not get enveloped by the clouds and so fortunately, I could turn around and the sun hit these aspens, and now it was more about the light. I wasn't really disappointed in that row of trees. It was something that was quite beautiful because some of 'em are turning Autumn and there's a nice glow on 'em, but essentially without the light, this picture wouldn't have the elements or the dynamic components of what I would consider a really good landscape photograph. So I was chasing the light and found a composition.
Good landscape photography begins with a passion for the great outdoors. Let Marc Muench show you how to capture the beauty of the scenery you love – in a photograph.
Marc is a third-generation photographer with a deep understanding of the magic and technical complexity of landscape photography. In Landscape Photography, he’ll teach you the skills and insights essential to memorable photographs of the natural world. Marc will help you:
- Develop your eye by connecting with your subject
- Execute great images in the field
- Improve your post-production process through Lightroom
Marc will teach his approach to, what he calls, the Creative Trinity of Photography: composition, subject, and light. You’ll also learn how to improve the quality of your shots through Technical Trinity of Photography: ISO, aperture, and shutter.
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