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Nature and Landscape Photography

Lesson 21 of 27

The Photographic Process

John Greengo

Nature and Landscape Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

21. The Photographic Process

Lesson Info

The Photographic Process

so we're going to jump to a very different section here and still struggling with the title of this but I'm gonna I'm calling it the photographic process and this is kind of the thought process and the steps that you take as you're going out you're looking for subjects it's not particularly on how to shoot any particular thing but it's maybe a little bit about my preparation and how I shoot a little bit this is a lot of this is very personal in the way that I like to do things and one of the things I mentioned earlier on in the class was that I have kind of a competitive running background and so I'm have a tradition of preparing for a big event and when I'm going to go out and shoot I want to make sure that when the time comes when the sun is rising and I'm in the right place that everything has been taken care of and I'm ready to shoot pictures I'm not concerned with anything I'm not checking my phone one of the things when I I love music when I'm in my car I'm always listening to so...

mething and I love my music but when I get into a national park and I get into the scouting mode I'm starting to look for stuff I turn off everything I want to be totally engulf what are the sounds of those birds is that a river nearby I want to be able to hear what's going on I try to get rid of all those distractions so that I am fully engulfed in that moment I am taking care of all those things that need to be taken care of getting sleep getting the right food that I need it and having done a lot of adventures I have an unusual bit of a piece of advice and that is is that you need your sleep and you need your nutrition and every once in a while one of those suffers and whatever one is suffering whatever you do don't let the other one suffer as well so if you're not sleeping well at the very least eat really well and very healthy and get everything and you don't want to shortchange yourself on both of those if you can keep one of them very well going you're not getting enough food and then you're gonna have to sleep a lot generally the one that photographers deal with is not getting enough sleep that's were up late shooting star trails and star shots and then we're up early for sunrise make sure you got the food you don't want to be out there hungry because one I'm out there and I'm not feeling good I don't feel like shooting photographs when I was working on my mount rainier project me and my buddy had decided to climb the mountain several times and photograph the whole process over several times and kind of compress it into one and the first time we climbed them out in the first time I climbed mount rainier I got to the top we shot some pictures we climb back down it's a very very difficult experience it was it was the equivalent of how I felt at the end of a marathon that was just exhausted when I got back and we developed the films we lay them all out on the light table and I was like are we missing something here because I took four pictures at the top of mount rainier when I climbed it I was just so tired I was not concerned about photography and you're if you're concerned about other things you're not going to be shooting good pictures so you need to take care of all of those things so that you are stress free and totally in the moment the photo five step these are the steps that I kind of go through as I'm out in the field it's kind of the order that I go through these get mixed up a little bit the first thing is subject identification what is your subject obviously you're not just going oh this is a pretty environment I'm going to take a picture of it and this is where we go back to kind of those goals that we had earlier on increasing your observational skills understanding what's out there and what's going to make a good picture and honing your ability to recognize what is going to be a good picture by studying others other photographs knowing more about that location the next thing is figuring out point of view and this is one that this is this is my gripe ist I can't always get what I want to be there are either limitations like I'm at the top of a mountain and I can't go thirty feet over there because there is no land to stand on and this is where I would love to fly and I can't do that and then there's the other situations where there's a pathway it drives me nuts in yellowstone for instance there's a boardwalk and you have to stay on the boardwalk you can't step off and trample through all the hot springs to set up your tripod and I understand that's for a good reason but it frustrates me on a certain photographic level once I've got my subject figured out and I figured out about where I want to be I gotta figure out what am I going to do what's my photographic treatment for this dough I want lots of depth of field do I want shallow depth of field and that's actually a very easy quick process from there I'm going to be figuring out my focus where my focusing on my doing hyper focal focusing on my focusing on one subject going to dial that in and then after that it's going to be those subtle little adjustments in composition now in some cases the last three of these five steps get mixed up and I'm setting up my composition first because I know exactly what it's going to be and then I'll be dialling my shutter speeds and apertures and adjusting my focus and so these are the steps that you take there not necessarily in order they do get kind of mixed up with different situations but it almost always starts with determining what your subject is going to be and figuring out where you could be to shoot that so let's just kind of go through and talk about these a little bit more in particular the first thing is subject identification what are you really trying to shoot and photography is very challenging there is inherent deficiency because your viewers don't know what else is going on around your subject they only get to see the one little frame that you are sharing with them and so you have to figure out what is the story and what is the statement within this frame and is it telling the complete and enough of a story and I think probably the best objective that you can think about is the objective is not to capture one big photo of everything you see the object is to find a frame that tells a clear story it's more important to tell a clear story than a big story and this is where I think a lot of amateurs get kind of mixed up because they pull out the wide angle lens and they try to shoot everything around them and it's too much to take in in one photograph when you're out looking for your photographs what are the things that you were looking for what are you thinking about well you should have an expectation of what you are likely to find out there what would you like to find what would be your perfect world have have some goals as faras what you would like to have I would love to find some red flowers right next to iraq and then you can kind of start queuing in because once you have that in your mind you'll start picking those things out you know when you're looking for blue car suddenly you notice blue cars everywhere and it's just putting that thought process into your brain thinking about what is the most unusual what is the most dramatic element of this environment that I'm in and this is one of the things that photographers are very good at doing is point out the most remarkable element that can be found there what is the most interesting thing another common mistake that a lot of people make is they fall in love at first sight they're walking along the trail and there's a little flower it's the first flower of the type that they see like all this is great we've got a photograph this there could be a whole dream of them down here that are much better than the first one that you saw and so that's a good way of triggering your attention ok now there's this element here what else do we have to work with and so one of the things that I've done in workshops is tell people leave your camera bag here go find your shot I'll give you five minutes then you can come back and get your camera back and so don't be too quick to pull that camera out and shoot it if it's not changing scout around see what is actually the best option around and so looking for something better as a photographer you are a bit of a talent scout you are looking for good subjects and part of your judgment is going to be how good is this subject that I'm photographing but it's also what can I do with this subject there was a story that I heard about and it was it was it was a couple of scouts and they were scouting for football players and they were working for the same team in the young scout the elderly scout was taken the young scout to the training camp to kind of show him how you scout and look for athletes and they're watching these athletes and they're doing sprints and they're running you know about halfway down the field and their time in all these athletes and writing down their times and this one guy gets up there and he's just super ripped totally fit and the guy set the fastest time of the day and the young scout says that's my pick that's our guy that's who we want to get on our team and after him comes up another athlete that doesn't look nearly as fit as the first athlete and this athlete takes off and doesn't have the smoothest form in the world not let a little clunky and he finishes with a time that's slower than the fast guy but not by much not by much and the elder scout says that's our pick that's the kind of the young guys like what are you talking about this other guy's way faster it's like that fast guy that's as good as he gets he's as fit izzy's good going to get he's got perfect form he's got no room for improvement I could take that other guy I can get him to drop five pounds I could get him in shape I know how to fix that form I could make him great and so what can you do with your subject what lenses do you have what what elements do you have in your camera that you could do that could do tricks that help pull out that subject how can you frame it what can you do with that subject to make it look good and so when you are evaluating your subject clearly identify what it is that's important to you what elements do you like what is your subject what is your story is that the best subject is this really the right time to be shooting that subject should you kind of log it is a potential subject and come back when the light is better what is it exactly about your subject can you define it and put it in words if you had to write it down can you define what is important to you do you like the texture do you like the light on it do you like the color is there anything in the frame that doesn't work what's not important is there an element that is bothering you that distracts you from your story or your statement or your subject what do your challenges is this going to be a light issue that you need to deal with is this going to be a focusing issue is it's a point of view that's going to be really tough to get with these air all the types of questions that you should be asking yourself to be figuring out the answers on what works for me in a photograph the elements that I really like is I like the vibrant colors I like the distinctive patterns and I like a sense of order in a photograph that in words probably has succinctly as I can summarize is what I'm looking for in an image now there's another way of breaking up the type of images that you shoot into three different types of images the first would be the grand landscapes this is kind of the traditional great landscape photography and this is where well we'll go into descriptions of each of these but this is the big shot this is getting the fully iconic location there is the intimate landscapes which for me is kind of an intermediate size area that shows little elements that's a little bit tighter environment and then going in even closer are the details and this is the way writers work when they tell stories they start with the big c here's where we are and this is what we're doing going in and telling more details about the story so you're exploring a location on different levels and so the grand landscape that's kind of you know the great one that's the one that everyone wants to get and here is where we're often including foreground elements background including the sky as well a lot of white angle lenses in this case we have multiple elements that are all kind of working together in harmony in the photograph were most likely going to be using a wide angle lands were going to be using a sixteen twenty for maybe a thirty five millimeter lands and we're going to be shooting at f sixteen eleven f twenty two getting great depth of field and these were often going to be the spectacular and iconic locations these are the ones that are really going to be very hard to come up with someplace new because the as I said before everything's been shot and all of the grand landscapes seemed to have been shot they're gonna be very very hard to pull out something new that someone has never seen and in these you almost always really need to have a great light and great weather if it's not right this is one of those things that you need toe log as a scouting trip and you need to come back when the light is right and in many cases I will be at these locations three or four times over a number of days before I get the light the best it could be and I just jump in and give some shadows for folks in the chat room who were asking john do you chase the light or wait for it it's a combination combination because if you wait for the light you don't know if it's going to turn into what you want unless you can really see what's going on with the weather I will sometimes say what I d'oh d'oh it's in various it's it's not always one thing or the other a lot of times I'm shooting with hopes that that's going to be the great shop but then I'll come back again and again and there was one location that I've been to have showed a number of photos of it and I hiked up that night and it was just really good and I'm like I don't know what it's gonna look like in the sunshine but I'm coming back in the morning because it was so good and it ended up being very good in the morning as well and so if you want to get the best shots you should probably give yourself a number of opportunities and that number of being greater than one I don't I plan on being at one location where we've got to be here at one day and that's our only time ever shoot this particular place and so one of my plans the way that I shoot a lot of things is luckily I live in a great part of the world but there's a ton of stuff to shoot in a driveable distance and so what I will often dio is I will drive to a location in the afternoon I will shoot it in the evening where I could easily see what's around this is here that's their this is how long it takes to get here I could take all day to get here I'll shoot it in the evening and then I'll go back and I'll camp someplace and then I'll get back up in the morning and I'll go back to the same location and I'll know exactly where I was and I know there's some great flowers over here there's a great look over here look over here and I'll know exactly where to go and I get two shots at it and so if you could give yourself two shots of the great landscapes you're going to get very different lighting and you're going to see the light in a different way so that's kind of a minimum I mean granted there's tons of places I've only shot once but if you really want to get something really done well plan to be there at least twice the more times you plan to be there the better light better opportunities you will have all right as we go in a little bit closer the intimate landscape small to medium sized areas in this case we're gonna be looking at just a few elements in the frame so it's a little bit more focused of a story now these can be shot with white angle lenses they could be shot with a telephoto it all depends on the composition that you have so this is kind of almost anything that that works for that situation in general these intimate landscapes I don't have the sky involved it's generally just the sky involved with those kind of grand landscapes and so this is something that you will often be shooting on cloudy days and I will I've often found myself shooting in intimate landscapes when I found myself in less than epic locations you know there are these grand iconic locations and they're great but sometimes you get there's like thiss you know it's not that great but you get down and you find you know what this is a nice little area it's kind of like finding a beautiful little chapel it's not the gigantic cathedral but it has a beautiful little elegance in its small nature and then as we dive in even further we go into details and we're getting out the macro lands were using a two hundred millimeter lens with an extension tube or maybe we're just using a two or three hundred millimeter lens focused as closest get and here we're looking at fairly small areas less than a meter in square foot in size sometimes inches in size and so this is where we're going to need a narrower angle of you we don't want to be shooting these with white angles because then we're going to be seeing the sky and it's going to distort the subject which we don't want to dio these air most definitely going to take place in even light and so my perfect day is where there is a break on the horizon so the sun can illuminate the grand landscape and then as it gets up but I don't know twenty degrees in the sky then it goes behind clouds and I have clouds where I can work on intimate landscape and details all during the day and at the end of the day the sun breaks through another little break in the clouds and illuminates the grand landscape that's that's the perfect day and days that are all cloudy or all sonny I can get bits and pieces of one or the other but it's hard to do both in there when you're out shooting you're gonna have to deal with time management we don't have endless amounts of time and howto work things and you know one of the toughest things is is going for the nature walk you go to this location and there's a number of places that are kind of good spots for photography apparently and it's going to take you a certain amount of time tow walk around the path and so in a situation like this if you've never been there if you don't know what you're getting into how long should you spend at station number one before you go to station I do because you don't know what set number two and this is always a tough call it's the should I stay or should I go dilemma and it's I know how good it is here but I don't know how good it is over there and by the time I get over there I don't know what's going on over here because there might be a bird over here that I could photograph and when it comes to this here is my tips if you can plan and research and know what you're getting into if you know that that's location number four there's an awesome overlook and you know it's good lighting right now you just walk right past stations one two and three and go right up to station number four because you know that you have the right light and you have the right positioning for getting good shots next you need to have the curiosity of a kid you have a kid walks down a path well first of all do you know how an adult walks down a path this is how most adults walk down a path all right now photographer might actually be looking around but how does a little ten year old kid walk around down here but you know what's over here look at this and you want to be that ten year old kid you want to be looking at everything here you want to be examining everything and so I'm whenever I'm walking down the path I'm often turning around looking at what's behind me because the direction that I see things I can't see what's going on back here and so I'm constantly looking around what's going on over here and I take my time you can't be in a hurry if you say you've got twenty minutes to shoot no good luck that's where you need your time you need to build him to have that time in there when it's good it's good if you're shooting you're like is awesome awesome you don't go well is it better down there mel if if you're getting good shots and you're happy with it stay right there and keep on shooting don't try to think that it that much better it's when it's on lee so so good and when it's so so good when you got it move on all right so if you're trying to shoot a little bark on some tree and you play around for a few minutes and you're thinking well I could spend another twenty minutes here trying to refine this shot but if I got a pretty good shot and I'm only going to improve it by one or two percent that is the time to move on and so it is a tough call whether you sit there for the next half hour refining a shot or move on it depends on what your agenda and what you're trying to accomplish but you know once you feel like you've done a pretty good job say I've got it and move on and try to get something else as far as finding your subjects scouting locations we're really not going to get into weird ago I've been trying to mention where I've shot a lot of these pictures so that if you like them you can go there and you can check them out yourself but you know obviously the countries have set aside national parks and this is where we're going to have places of great natural area with a minimum of human impact where you're going to let the world just do its own thing and that's where you're going to get a lot of the best nature shots but working with your state and city parks are also very good you're not going to be able to get as many of those grand landscapes at your state in your city parks I know that I worked for about a year and a half just on the park's here in seattle going around photographing them and for the most part I was shooting intimate landscapes and close up shots the detail shots we just don't have you know majestic mountains right in the city and so there are great ways of honing your skills the unesco world heritage sites is another great area you can check him up online there's a whole list of great sites that you can go to and I think wherever you are there's going to be something unique to where you live and taking advantage of that I think is an important thing the next element is dealing with the point of view where you're going to be and essentially choosing your angle of view because in many cases you're able to move closer and use a wide angle lens or move further away and using the telephone and that's just kind of depends on if you want that compression look and you're trying to compress several subjects together or if you want that wide angle look where you're trying to really show a larger environment and it's really a matter of personal taste and composition is too what you want to choose there next up is your element of choosing the photographic treatment most often we're going with that maximum depth of field to get everything in focus and we just remember on that one you're not just setting f twenty two on the lands you're setting as much depth of field this you need without going further into it than that we're not doing too much freezing action but occasionally we do that choosing that element is actually rather very easy and setting exposures should be at this point very simple for most of you I use manual exposure ninety nine point nine percent of the time and that maybe underestimating things I really like to set it there because once I get the shots lined up and I do subtle adjustments and composition I don't want my exposure changing dealing with focus is a bit of a challenge but if you watch the focus section that we did earlier that should cover you in that category will be covering composition a little bit more later on but amusing several different compositions taking verticals taking horizontal sze shooting it in many different ways and then you get to finally take your shot and what you should do at that point is check your shot and when I say check your shot you want to make sure that you got the right exposure that should be dialed in and how are you gonna check that look at your history gram that's going to be the most detailed and truthful way of judging if you have the right exposure you want to check your focus is done right and you can use the magnify on your playback to check that and then check your composition for overall content check your border check your horizon line to make sure it's a cz level as it can be and then doing border patrol where you go around the edges of the frame looking for anything that might be intruding or popping its head in from the side now if you've lined up and done everything as I've said and you've taken the perfect picture should you take another picture should you take a second shot why would you take a second shot if you took a perfect picture well it's a little hard to judge things out in the field and if you think that there may be an exposure problem this might be a good time to take a second picture slightly under exposed or slightly overexposed so that you have something more to work with when you get back into the computer and this is very easy you just simply give a little bit more shutter speed or a little bit less center speed another good reason to take a second shot is for depth of field reasons adjusting the aperture in some cases I am shooting and I'm thinking to myself f sixteen should do the job and I'll shoot it f sixteen but then I'll say now what if I'm wrong I'll set it to f twenty two as well I would like to say that I am so confident in my knowledge of what's going on that this is the absolute number but the fact of the matter is is that f sixteen is sharper than f twenty two f twenty two has more depth of field and I'm going to sort it out later I'll have one of each and in many cases I I shoot the f sixteen and I realized I actually needed f twenty two so I'm glad to have that second shot and in some cases I shot it at twenty two but I don't really need to be there so I'm glad to have that shot of f sixteen because it was just a little bit sharper and then I'm gonna adjust composition I'm going to do something different I'm going to move it around a little bit one way or the other and one of the things that most people make the mistake at the beginning is they shoot too wide they don't get close enough to your subjects so you start learning this lesson at a certain point in and you're like okay I'm gonna get closer closer closer I'm really tight end now and sometimes you get a little too tight and you need to back off a little bit and I'm gonna talk more about this in the composition section where we're choosing different aspect ratio ships and so if you want to choose a second shot it might be good just tow widen up that zoom just a little extra space because you don't know maybe you want to pull a slightly different crop out of it that you weren't expecting and so I will often shoot a second picture a little bit wider now I don't do second shots with all these combinations I don't know that would end up being dozens of shots with all the combination so it depends on the shot but I will shoot several shots but I try never to shoot the exact same shot twice so if I go click and nothing changes I don't go click again there's no reason for it they're going to be duplicate files and I can duplicate files on my computer all day long so there's no reason to do it unless you think something went wrong with the first shot like click did that tripod just move I better take another one that would be a good reason for taking a second shot it's a very chaotic medicis and I just want to remind you at best we're in fifty percent control of what's going on and so if it feels like it's hard to do everything yeah that's the case it's a very challenging a way of getting shots because we don't have control of the light we don't have control of actually what our subjects is other than what we choose to be in the subjects themselves and so those are the photo five steps and you can kind of compartmentalize and think about those different steps and hopefully practice and work on

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Beautiful landscapes are all around us – they are a joy to experience, but a challenge to capture in a single photo. In Nature and Landscape Photography, you’ll learn the essential tools and techniques for taking photographs that reflect the splendor of landscapes and the captivating details of nature.

In this class, award-winning photographer John Greengo will use illustrations, animations, and photographs of destinations from around the world to teach you the thought process behind great nature photography. You’ll learn which gear is suited to the environment you want to shoot and how to plan for ideal light and composition. John will help you master exposure and focus so you get a better shot in camera and improve your edits by taking you through hands-on photo critiques.

From complicated cameras to challenging environments, several obstacles stand in the way of you taking a photograph that reflects the landscape as you see it. This class will help you take nature and landscape photographs that reflect your unique perspective.

This course is part of the landscape tutorials series. 

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Composition Keynote

Equipment Keynote

Exposure Keynote

Focus Keynote

Light Keynote

Subject Keynote

Timing Keynote

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Thomas Hamlin

Most of nature's beauty has been photographed by lots of people over the years. However, nothing compares to actually visiting famous places, buildings, mountains, etc. and taking your own photographs. John Greengo provides the necessary equipment information, photographic principles, and techniques in a manner which inspires you to put in the extra effort to take the best nature photographs that you can with the gear that you have. His unique illustrations, actual real life photographs, and easily understood explanations are top notch. I highly recommend this outstanding course. I have several of John Greengo's photography courses, and I highly recommend them all. His vast experience with film and digital photography, gained through traveling and working with some well known photographers, gives his courses a unique perspective.

a Creativelive Student

I love this course, John. It is one of my all time favorites. First of all I loved your effort scale. I knew as soon as you went through the scale that you are a guy that I want to listen to. To me, the effort part IS the fun part of photography. When you asked the question about one wish ... the first thing that came to my mind was that I wish I had more time for photography. I like the technology, but I do not wish for any special powers. To me, that would take the challenge away. Photography is wonderful because every subject challenges the photographer to get the angle right, the light right, the settings right ... I love that challenge. I think you do too, John, and that is why this course is so special. The attention you pay to every detail comes from the drive you have to meet the challenges with every thing you've got. That is why your class is so special. Your work ethic is exceptional. SandraNightski

a Creativelive Student

While delving more thoroughly into Nature and Landscape photography in a smaller format, John Greengo provides us with an amazing companion to his outstanding courses Fundamentals Of Digital Photography and Travel Photography. Here he gives us another necessary treatise to study before packing our gear and heading out in a car, a plane, a boat (or just for a long hike), and it’s as entertaining as the others. Thank you again John Greengo and Creative Live for these expert and brilliantly illustrated programs. I just hope you keep finding more subjects to photograph and provide the instructions for.