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The Icons of Nature

Lesson 21 from: Photographing America's National Parks

Ian Shive

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Lesson Info

21. The Icons of Nature

Lesson Info

The Icons of Nature

What I want to cover I'm calling it the icons of nature and when you start a zoo I mentioned yesterday and for those of us just joining us I I got into the national park genre because I didn't have a lot of time I had a day job you know that kept me in office from you know, nine am toe ungodly hours sometimes but at least seven p m on dh it was monday through friday and I had saturday and sunday and those the only two days I could photograph and so I learned to go out and find the best places I could in a forty eight hour period, often leaving on a friday night back at my desk and on monday morning tired, exhausted, worn out but invigorated by the places that I was able to go in those places where the national parks I knew that in two days I had a good at the best places I could find the places that everyone already knows they're ninety eight years old we celebrated the birthday actually that with creative live in rainier, which is pretty cool burt they're the national parts, but I tri...

ed tio I tried teo envision these places in a different way and and through this process, you know, I've developed a style of storytelling of composition, and what I wanted to do in this segment was takes take all of the assignments that I have done and projects and things over the last year, and even some photos from the last couple years, but really give you an insight into the story behind the stories and meaning every photo really ultimately tells two stories, and those stories are this story, of course, that you're their photograph. We've already talked about how to capture that on her own, but the story that I lived through as a photographer is usually very different than then what you normally would see for me most recently, we had this this cover, I have this covered sierra club, the wilderness act. It was fifty years of wilderness, and there was a whole process, and as I mentioned in using gps and finding the locations, and I decided to try and find the most wild, otherworldly looking places to truly represent wilderness. And the reason that I select this as a topic and I wanted to go through these images, is because when you think of icons of nature, you have to think, how am I going to compose these? What am I going after? And so I really want to break down and analyze my process of composition when everything goes absolutely right and and that's a rare thing, and so this is exactly that, and through careful planning and strategy ah, lot. And I mean it a lot of immense amount of research and research, by the way, I want to say it is not only just about looking at weather gear, but also looking at what to expect other people's photos, whether you consider the good photos or maybe not great photos. But, you know, I look at everything so I can see what to expect so my imagination can start to run wild, and then I can find a way to capture that on on my camera. And so this is the best I deena's and wilderness up in northern new mexico, south of the town of farmington, it's very close to chako canyon on its national park neighbor chako canyon national historic site. The coolest part about this is it's. Also, chako is considered a dark place it's an actual designation. That's given teo only so many places in the world. I think it's like a half dozen or maybe a dozen or so, and dark places are truly the darkest places you khun b in the world. They're usually place israel find telescopes, of course, and things like that it's a very, very cool place, and because of that, the first thing I'm thinking and chako is actually the designated place, but this is on as the crow flies not that far away on ly I think maybe ten or fifteen miles on dh. No lights, no, no trails, no pathways, nothing but a little muddy parking lot on offense. Where you well, you have to then just find your own way through it on dh that's where the research is so important and thinking of the dark place I knew. I really wanted to include low light and evening photography on dh trying include the stars and the landscape is completely different. This stuff is all all of this entire environment in here, all of the little crevices you see, this whole thing, this is probably about as tall as I am it's. Not really that big it's a complete and total optical illusion. These areas in the foreground that you think you're huge probably only about a foot high or so it's actually this little miniature world that using a wide angle lens and getting really low, I could barely see what I made this composition. I had maybe actually shot about five different frames. It was so much darker than you think that there was this ambient blue light that after doing a and you can tell we've talked about with astro photography, you can see the star streaking and knowing at a sixteen millimeter lens knowing our rules that we established in thirty seconds we know that this is probably at least a minute or a couple minutes on so I kept doing a couple different combinations of shots and eventually realigning and having to actually use the camera to get a good horizon line they used the exposure's after two minutes to get my horizon line right so I'd actually look at the composition on lee after exposing that's how dark it was yet you wouldn't know and that low low light almost like a flicker of a candle light is what gave these areas that were normally white and that blue and pink in that past a look andi it was just one of my favorite photos and so magical to be able to see something like that out there then I finally is I told you found the egg garden and the sierra club ended up choosing this as the cover of the magazine not this particular image but the egg garden as a cover of the magazine but remember when I was talking to you about a variety of compositions in creating opera options for photo editors that's what I was thinking of so you remember seeing the cover image this was another one I thought of I would never normally and I'm not opposed to the big blue sky and I would have liked some clouds to give a little texture up there but I would not normally leave that much room in the sky, private. Alter the composition a little bit more on dso in this next shot. You see, this was another image that I chose, and I was very busy up on the top on dh. Then finally, the image that ended up making it as the cover which was ultimately cropped a little bit way. Actually, I actually had another version yet. Ah, for the version of it, which was the cover, and that had just a little bit more sky. And then, ultimately, a little bit of the image got sacrificed just because of layout. You can never really perfectly figure out exactly how an image is going to fit in a layout, and you never know now this was shot specifically on assignment for them. So at least I know what magazine it is, but if you're just shooting for yourself, you're never gonna plan or think about every single little detail and even when you are and you do know it's never going to be absolutely perfect, but nonetheless that low light. And this is what I'm gonna talk about. Technique wise, there is no sun up. When I took all of these pictures you've just seen the sun had set at least twenty minutes before I took this one. It's that paul about thirty to forty minutes after this one and about the same amount time thirty or forty minutes after this one and what I'm doing and you'll see a a theme throughout all of my compositions which is something that I've always loved I don't use it in everything and I'm going to show you some variety of things but that wide angle with a very strong, compelling foreground elements it's something that pulls you in and you'll notice that I'm using shapes and lines and I think I used it more than ever before in all of these photographs on the shoot and it's again why I wanted to share the shoot with you is because I feel like this was me really just honing in on this process of of landscape and shape in line the sense of having a dominant object in the beginning of each frame and then having elements that draw your eye through and makes you wonder through it makes you forces you to wander through the landscape photograph and that's something that has been really important come to me but one element about all of this is it was a story about wilderness and I wanted it to feel truly wild and I'm thinking how do I go after something that feels truly wild and that's how I like I was very fortunate and that I've got to pick all the places to go that's very rare but I feel grateful because they seem to really like everything which is great on dh photo editors. They're amazing the editors and create sierra and we had a great cloud relationship many years now and I was thinking about wild in this place was the ultimate in wild dark place remote far away but also in the county offices wilderness in oregon not too far from from us here several hours for the south you know, this was the epitome of what I felt was wild. I had this image in my head the entire time and it was lush and rich and, you know, I was picturing like dinosaurs running through I'm thinking, you know, like just absolutely just almost impenetrable forest and wilderness that was the idea because this was this is a celebration of the fifty years of wilderness in this country, and that was the core theme that kept driving me was, you know, howto express, you know, remoteness, how do you what does it mean to even be wild in today's society? And trying to figure out what that is has been was such a challenge in such a unique experience for me is a photographer because I had to convey that, and I feel like by finding and identifying all these different landscape, the other thing you'll notice is that each landscape as I go through it it is a different color so I was also thinking about this approach and how I'm going to combine these and even if you're not a professional photographer let's say you're interested in doing wall are for a gallery or doing an exhibit someplace locally I think about how all of the images I have are going to look when they're finally side by side so when I think about a story about wilderness I didn't want each one to be in a desert that looked the same as the first place the best I wilderness I don't want everything to look like this lush forest here in oregon I I had to find varieties palate colors just simply changing the power it's also changing the different ecosystem is trying to find different environments and sometimes they were just accidental in this particular case I happen to be driving on another assignment for national parks magazine driving through the desert in southern california and I had no idea that there was an entire world I think it's I could be wrong but it's something like thirty forty fifty square miles um sand dunes nothing but sand dunes four hour from los angeles and this is what it looks like as faras the eye can see sand dunes and remember driving by it and seeing in the distance and seeing these pink dunes and I'm like wow that's pretty wild I gotta check that turns out the wilderness area I made a mental note of it I wrote it down, I researched it looked access points there were some parts that were wilderness, some parts that were not figured out where those were and I literally went out barefoot I spent any pretty much the whole day by myself roaming these dunes, which you obviously I told people they know where I was going, but I also wanted to say that dunes can be highly confusing places, so you want to make a very good note of where you parked your car and how you're going to get back and don't make mental notes along the way that's a pro tip right there have a gps, a watch or whatever thankfully actually a phone signal being southern california and only four hours from l a and not to think about two hours from palm springs you know, I was actually able t stay in touch and and but, you know again still very, very good fusing in dunes are very exhausting to cover, and so I had a very heavy camera bag was actually filming. I've really gotten into video as well, so it was documenting all of this not only as a still photographer but also doing a short little video clip for sierra as well, so anyway, this was another thing that really struck me andi again, the composition in this case each of these compositions has been different, you know? You have the big foreground elements of the of the this die and the wide angle you've got the wide angle without a clear foreground element, but obviously a strong line going up the water but really it's about the density, the lushness of it, and then I've got a telephoto, a landscape that shows all of the different texture and once again using shape in line, using nature as a design element using the natural elements of nature as a design you've seen the shot already in this course. This is a shot of glacier national park in montana, and I you know, the one thing I like people that really realizing I'm gonna I'm gonna change the way you think of this, I'm gonna re shape the way you think of this image because we talk about big landscape photographs, but take the person out of the shop, you know, hold your finger up to the screen and look at what the shot would be like without this person now would be cool. It would be great, but it probably wouldn't be the best landscape photo I've ever taken still really pretty lake is still really gorgeous, but it's not the most extraordinary moment in the most extraordinary places I always like to say about my photography it's simply that having someone in there we feel a connection to the photo, could you? That human connection and that human element and not only does it do that, but it gives you a sense of scale and it gives you a sense of how big is this really play? How big is this place? How can you take it in? And because it's a silhouette it's not something that we necessarily say, oh, I know I know whose person is what they're like when it's simply you're able to picture yourself in that moment as well and that's ultimately what I'm going after in my composition like I said, these everything's going really right things were really wrong quite often as well and then as they do on these trips, but when things all really come together that's what happens, you'll see the forests and how we photograph the forest in the middle of the day tomorrow in the course, but you know, this is a very similar to a sort of environment, as we have here and in washington and again, this is a fog in a moment, a light in a tree that happened for mere seconds I just happen to have the right set up going on I was able to get a tripod open wanted to film it and get video as well, and within literally, within moments the fog was gone the rays of light work on. But to me, it was again the epitome of wilderness and what I was trying to convey. And it wasn't just thie idea of being wild and all those things, but also a celebration into me. These these, these rays of light, they just felt like they were just, like, almost like a firework in the image. And so I centred them dead center in the middle of the frame. In my composition. No rule of thirds, no clear subject matter. No human it's, even kind of a mass is ours. The composition goes in the sense of trees and leaves and branches, and their bare and fern's, everything else but that's. What I love about it, it's. The chaos of nature, an extraordinary moment with light that happened to be passing through. And, for me, really epitomized the idea of nature.

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


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.

Student Work