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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vertical or horizontal, wide-angle or telephoto?

In yesterday's post, and in quite a few posts I've made over the last year, I've talked about having an image in your head before you take the shot, and then choosing the lens and the composition before you take the photograph.

I realise that that's not always possible, or desirable, in every situation. It's a technique most often used in fast moving situations where you have no control over the elements - such as documentary street photography.

But when it comes to landscape photography that all goes out the window. Sure you'll have an idea of the way in which you want to portray something but once you look through the viewfinder you might find that it isn't quite what you had in mind. Or if you pack up after one shot you might not get the best composition. And sometimes more than one way can work. That's when I'd encourage you to work the subject.

Take the shot above. The foreground is a sand dune that I am sitting halfway up. The top of the frame is the desert floor and in between the two is an old, dead tree. I first spotted this scenario from where I was sitting and used the wide-angle lens.

Just a quick tip about photographing on sand, or snow, or anything else that records footprints - never walk anywhere you think might be in your photograph afterwards! Sure it's easy enough to Photoshop out afterwards but it's a lot easier if you don't have to. :)

Anyway I did this one with the wide-angle lens but I didn't feel that I had covered everything I could so I stuck a longer lens on for a closer look.

What I saw when I looked through the viewfinder is that, unlike the wide-angle shot, it didn't so much emphasise the wide expanse of the desert and sand dune.

What it did do, however, was show the beautiful patterns in the sand at the base of the sand dune. So it became more of an abstract sand pattern shot. The dune is hardly noticeable in the bottom of the frame but still forms a differentiation point between the textures of the two surfaces.

As soon as I'd done that, and was quite happy with the effect and what the photograph was saying, I turned the camera vertically. You often find that many photographers tend to shoot everything in a horizontal format - it's easier to handhold the camera that way and the hand just falls to that position naturally.

So it can often be a good idea to deliberately turn the camera on its side to see what a vertical composition would look like. In this case I was able to get in more of the dune at the bottom of the frame, giving it more emphasis in the composition. It also opened up more of the unusual patterns of the desert floor at the top of the frame.

Which one works best? All 3 have their merits and emphasise slightly different things. There's no particular right or wrong in this case. Which do you like best? I probably still like the first one but if I hadn't shot the other two I wouldn't know. Ask me tomorrow and I'll choose a different picture anyway.

By working the subject and really capturing it from a few different angles with different lenses you have a choice of favourites.

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