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Photographing America's National Parks

Lesson 23 of 37

The Iconic Elements of Composition

Ian Shive

Photographing America's National Parks

Ian Shive

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Lesson Info

23. The Iconic Elements of Composition

Lesson Info

The Iconic Elements of Composition

Anything I can get and there's again images we've seen previously but I'm looking at him through a different lens in the sense of, you know, finding the light this is a good example of how I would use directional white I mentioned shooting directly into the sun or directional light I might find a way to block it and use it as sort of highlighting element there has been a huge movement industrywide I I think that has embraced a lot of midday photography, especially in journalism when looking at stories and features about towns and cafes and travel and stuff like that I tend to see a lot more of them are very clean bright area you're not seeing as many of the evening warm uh, sunset a type images in those sorts of features and so it's actually kind of a nice thing I think that it really gives photographers and opportunity tio make use of light that they haven't typically used, you know normally for me like this is this is really beautiful light it's still low light but it's it's signific...

antly brighter than any of the other shots that you've seen in there. But this image ended up becoming inadvertently iconic in a sense of that ended up becoming one of the most published images I've ever taken um in again, you know you're not checking with a person's face or expression you're connecting with it feeling you know, the breeze and the hair in the back you know, the the airport cowboy hat and the you know, the fact that you got a river and it leads into the distance and it just again it's just strikes that imagination of becoming a cover of numerous not profit the annual reports and spreads and so on and this is taken also big bend uh national park not intentional that this would happen certainly and actually quite quite spontaneous that this image occurred as well just one passing frame it's the only frame uh that exists in that sense certainly when photographing the icons like yellowstone national park I looked for those classic big sky here you think you're a big sky country well conveys a big sky better than clouds and lines in a place like a katya national mark? You know, I'm looking at the symmetry and the lines and again, you know, this is a great example of why you shouldn't edit yourself. You know? I actually only really liked the image on the right believe it or not, and when I was publishing my book I had that image and I had two others just like the one on the left I was like, well, I really like this one because if you've noticed, like in the wild flower stuff that I shot kind of like that bunch of trees, almost a castle in the fog well, I kind of like that look and I like when you're high gets drawn into something with that point in the shape in the center and this really had that for me and also felt very like holiday ish, you know, like a christmas tree with the red and the green and everything like that, so, you know, I kind of liked it again, I kind of apply my own mentality to every image helps me photograph basically, but I didn't know I didn't edit, certainly in the field, but I also didn't edit when I sent all of these photos to my book publisher, and when they got them, they said, wow, this would be great is a trip dick and ended up running all of them, I thought they'd pick one because I couldn't figure out what you want to run, and they said, well, this is great and you know what? Again one of my favorite spreads, it was cool because it showed you a little piece of each place in a way that was really, really special. Thie everglades, you know, you see everybody's you'ii think of alligators, which I love, I think they're cool it's a lot of bird photography as well, but I got really ambitious and it's nice to really you know, push past the norm and this is one of those examples that I really encouraged me to want to teach slow shutter speeds and using reflective light in the lake because everyone thinks that shot is photoshopped we think it's faked and actually there is almost nothing going on in this. They use the neutral density filter upon the top portion of it a soft one because I had a lot of objects taking your place up into the area that was being filtered out but I used the saw filter just to bring down the brightness a little bit and waited until it was just dark enough you notice how the blues or a common theme with low light photography that's just what happens when you wait long enough just like this picture on the wall of the waterfall staying at nine thirty at night in yosemite blues in general just emerge it's just a long exposure it's one hundred percent natural. The only thing I touched on this was the immense amount of dust that was on my sensor and on my filters. Um photo having icons zion national park sentinel peek at sunrise uh, how do you do this? Well, you have already seen me get into the water with, uh you know, in the cold water will this was knee high as well this is actually bear from it and I just got it and it was hot hot sun was rising and I was panicked I couldn't figure out a spot to go I don't know how to do it so how do I bring the energy of this place in and just like I think of the tree reaching up, I think of how to bring in the energy of the water and just get as low as I can it's actually like a ripple I mean, this looks like I'm in a raging white water I mean, the thing there's probably a bigger current and my cup over here right now is it literally just getting really, really low using old nice wide angle lens, maximum depth of field and ah, neutral density filter and it just all really came together is the light struck the side of sentinel peak and just illuminated it? You're looking like he had a question now you're looking like a question may be questioning me e I certainly always have questions you by seventeen let me have rolling through it. You let me ask you go ahead when you say maximum depth of field, what aperture you're talking about almost always twenty two the pay and how close to the subject I am or whatever somebody mentioned I don't remember if it was an online commoner in the audience that diffraction question or diffraction which is, you know, when you lose the theory of or not theory is probably proven theory, actually, but I haven't really seen it in the sense of losing resolution on your image is because you have such a it's, a fizzy something. We're very small, opening like gets split different ways, and you lose the resolution. So it's, a combination of you lose some resolution, your images in exchange for death field. For me, it has to all be sharp on the landscape, photographers, the foreground in the back and have to be sharp. I'm not going to sacrifice that field. I'll sooner sacrifice composition. Then I will depth the field because I'm looking for an image that I can literally go and walk up to a wall and say, yeah, that sharp all the way through, you know, that's, the stuff I'm looking for and and so for me, almost always it's, twenty two, and I've done tests plenty of tests I still do because I've read these things online and I start to question myself on my channel sixteen, sixteen and I tried different things but the depth of field has has been too big of a sacrifice for me and and I've never seen any real problems in any of my images in the sense of loss of resolution by doing that so for me it's maxing it out as I did say I think I'm going to start to play around till shifts and see what sort of results I get from that the very expensive lenses on dh so you know I am really looking forward to trying it out I think it'll be it'll be nice this was I should add I was still working my day job and I took the shot this was a weekend trip his eye on day job obviously have a day job as well I was working my desk job working my desk job and uh and only had a weekend a chute design and they're becoming the cover of popular photography for me and it was my first big national cover which is pretty cool and so you know it's just uh it just worked out really well for me you have a question for you this came from sarah beth on her question is do you have nature and landscape photographers who inspire you but I kind of more so than that do have photographers that inspire sort of this iconic style of images in general is a great question um or where do you look for inspiration where do I look for inspiration it's all around it really is inspirations all around in different ways is that skip actually to another and the next image real quick just because I think it helps kind of illustrate that answer you know I really admired other all forms of art and when we talked about music yesterday you know this always always this is a shot with four hundred million four hundred millimeter set up there's a two hundred of the two x on it this year it was out there in point reyes national seashore northern california and it was foggy and they've been getting that happened on that long lands with a two point eight you no depth of field when I got back and I looked was the only friend I got on that trip but when I got back and looked it reminded me of like, an old japanese artwork that you would see or something like that the same with that shot and white sands I spoke about yesterday I felt very inspired by the work of georgia kiefer colors for palate her shifts the subtle shifts and shape and things like that and I think you know, working towards the abstract as far as how painters go but photographically it's something that's very appealing to me, so I've drawn a lot of inspiration from that photographically I mean, I've been inspired by all kinds of people I mean it's filed by inspired by studio photographers by my colleagues today who I shoot side by side with, you know, I mean there's just so much inspirational over there's not really one a place I could really narrow down, you know, certainly you know, the benefit of the classics the ansel adams of the world certainly galen rowell you know, I know that you have frans lanting and art wolfe who also I think I have previously been here and will be here in the future I've all been inspiration to me as my career is developed, so it comes from a lot of different places as it comes back to inspiration is all around you curious with with these iconic ones as to where you seek inspiration? I think in terms of looking at painting and all of that yeah it's great and you know, the great thing about painters I think the hardest part is now I have pain, of course, but I think that most the easy and then that's it easy department most exciting part of being a painter's you don't have to wait for the clouds to come in and get the light just right I've always been jealous of that fact like that I wish I could just paint the scene just the way I want course I've tried my hand at painting and that's why I'm here teaching photography that didn't go so well so anyway, this images I think is a good representative of sort of that idea this is this image is really also another one of did you place the branch there? I'm gonna answer that question for the chat forum right now knew I did not this is apostle islands national seashore and this is along the great lake there like so period and it was just ah very was actually pretty quiet afternoon in a storm was blowing through it was not raining and the entire beach is littered with these kinds of branches so anybody has been out there we'll see I mean literally there were branches on the right wrench is on the left or pieces of branches everywhere I found this one and this was a happy accident I was waiting for the storm to come through lightning was bouncing on the horizon all the way to the left I didn't want to shoot across the branch I wanted to get some good symmetry and always looking for that design in nature and symmetry. I had this branch that ironically just kind of looked like the lightning in the distance and I love the juxtaposition and the evenness of this branch that looked like a bolt of lightning and then I got lucky about one frame I thought the whiting would be bigger and bolder and more wicked and I think really quiet huddle and onda way I actually captured this and why you see such a long exposure and the waves look so frosty and frothy and smoothies I was pretty so pretty early in the day it was like a four five o'clock on a summer day this is a little squall going through along this horizon the distance and my exposure times were like, you know, half a second or something like that they were really even with a polarizing filter on and neutral density filter they were very fast too fast to time it toe lightning and there are devices that you can get actually they attach to your camera that when lightning strikes and I don't know what the distances of when lightning strikes the electric charge in the atmosphere triggers the shutter which is pretty cool I don't have one of those so I ended up just stacking the neutral density filters nine nine nine on the lens so that I could hit the shutter and do like thirty second exposures twenty second exposures and wait for the frightful lightning so a lot of it was really me just trying to capture the lightning and everything else sort of fell into place that was pretty kind of a happy accident sense of that and there was the sun was always just kind of coming out a little bit behind to say it was pretty pretty neat way to capture that image and again just sort of strategically, think about how the lightning would go and, you know, I want to point out one thing about the national parks we've been talking about the parks, eggs, ion and yellowstone, and, um and you know all the big all the big places mount rainier and these are also national parks that are not as well known. There are so many other places besides parks, national wildlife reference use national party units like point reyes national seashores managed by the national parks like the sea apostle islands, which is also part of the national park. So there are always an abundance of really great photographic opportunities out there everywhere, the idea of repeating in a place and I shared this yesterday again, you're going back to the same place more than once, like in smoky mountains national park and then seeing how it changes when you go back again in the summer. But the icons are always the ones that are the most difficult. Teo really, really capture arches national park. I had a conversation with a colleague last week really talented photographer, we're talking about how hard it is to photograph delicate arch because they show so many people all. On dh you can't get it without people practically almost at this point, I think he said he waited two hours for trying a shot without people in it or something like that, there's just so many people there, and so the icons have also inherited a whole lot of other challenges, which are the parks were really crowded campgrounds air filled up very hard to get a campground, those are problems. I'm happy to hear about the love that people are getting outdoors and really experiencing these places, but this a particular shot was I didn't want to do the classic angle of a classic location, so I want to try and find a unusual angle on a classic spot and that's another a technique that I tried to use with photographing iconic locations is how do you reverse your position in a way? Sort of like with all faithful it's again surrounded by people? But if you go to the back side of old faithful where there are no benches and you go in the summer, the sun sets where the benches are. You actually shoot directly in old faithful make it a silhouette with all of the steam and the clouds and everything, and you can't see anyone it's like it's, you and old faithful and no one else, those air, the tricks and tips and in this case you really can't access this point from where the normal trail is. You have to hike all the way around to get into this basin to photograph delicate arch. I've now roomed it because everyone knows that. But it's just kidding. Just kidding. But that's that's in general and this isn't the only spots like there's. One way to do everything there's, many different ways to do it. And then obviously the you know, the boiling river and the guys were based on over in yellowstone. How do you photograph a national park? That's eso iconic will photograph the lesser known places and find ways to really, um, you know, really bring them toe life. I want to show this picture with you, especially because this is the whole rain forest. And we are going to see a whole section on that tomorrow in completely different situation. Late daylight. This was the foggy, cold, wet whole rainforest that I think a lot of people really go to photograph. But we want to show you this. Keep this in your mind when you watch the segment tomorrow. I think that you really get an idea of how you can take different situations in these iconic places and really make them work for you.

Class Description

Outdoor photography celebrates the varied and stunning landscapes of the natural world – in this unique course you will learn composition and shooting techniques for getting beautiful outdoor shots.

Shooting and teaching from two of the world’s most pristine parks, Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park, award-winning photographer Ian Shive will teach you new ways to create outdoor photographs that are powerful, captivating and fresh. You'll explore key elements of great outdoor photography including: composition, working a scene, selecting exposure, using filters to manage natural light, and scouting a great location. Then you'll learn how to put it all together to tell a story in a single image or series. After spending time in the field, Ian will move into the studio and present on the equally important tasks of managing and editing your work from the field.

Ian will show you how to capture images that are both technically and emotionally engaging. Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to learn how to document the beauty of the great outdoors, in camera.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Field Guide to Photographing the American Wilderness

Icons of Nature Keynote

National Park Photography Intro and Setup

Photo Editing Keynote

10 Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images

Business of Photography Keynote

Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I have taken quite a few courses with createlive and this was by far one of the best. Ian is a fantastic teacher and remarkable at describing what he is doing and his thought process clearly. There is so much good information in this course, I definitely plan on buying this class. Not only is Ian a great teacher, but he also seems to genuinely want to help other photographers and see them succeed. You can tell he cares more about seeing good pictures of nature than anything else. I cannot recommend this course enough. Whether you are a beginner who shoots landscape photography as a hobby or a professional who already specializes in landscape photography, this class has something to offer and will expand your skill set. Can't thank Ian enough and I hope he does another course soon.


Ian is a great teacher and it is great when some one who "can do", can also explain how he does it. Clearly, his experience and commitment are why he is good at what he does. There is a lot more to a great photo than getting the camera settings and filters right. Ian did his best to help us understand what to look for when "working the scene" and finding a good composition without distractions. A great course. Thank you, Creative Live and Ian Shive.


Amazing course. Ian Shive is a wonderful teacher, as well as photographer, and it all comes across. I was glued to my computer for the entire 3 days when the class was live, and just had to purchase it so I don't lose any of it. The bonus materials alone are worth the purchase price. I've got a trip coming up soon and will have the opportunity to put some of what Ian said into practice; and love that I can have it with me on my portable devices so I can refresh my memory and reinforce it all. Great to have on a long plane ride. If you are on the fence, get off that fence and go purchase this great course!!! You won't be sorry. My thanks to CreativeLive, and Ian Shive for giving us this wonderful opportunity to not only learn, but to actually be in the field with Ian.