We often encounter cluttered / muddled environment especially in the tropics and at times in temperate ecosystems. Making a good landscape image, isolating the elements in such a scenario is not an easy task. Things get harder if it is your first trip to such a place. I encountered one such scenario recently during one of my trips to the Western Ghats.
As landscape photographers, what we often intend to portray is THE essence of the subject or a place. With experience, we tend to add/eliminate elements into or out of the frame to have a composition that brings the best out of us as well as the place. Arrangement of elements is key to good compositions. While we are involved in experiencing the scene and arranging the elements onto our 3:2 sensor, we would also like to portray another important aspect in Landscape Photography – capturing the sense of place.
During this trip, I decided to make a small visit to a river close by. While driving along this road, I had just noticed a series of dead trees lined and they had grown out of the river bed. The angle from which we had seen was totally different and I had imagined few compositions as I continued my journey not stopping by. I happened to meet another friend of mine who is equally interested in Photography talking about the same place and we sketched out a plan to make a visitation that evening. Late afternoon we got clear skies (absolutely no clouds!) and instantly I realised that the light would be gorgeous when the sun starts to dip down towards the western horizon.
We absolutely had no ‘sense of place‘ as to what can be expected from it. We reached the place late afternoon to scout for some time and check out what was in store for us. It had rained heavily the previous night and I had heard from the locals that it also had rained very heavily at a near by town 100 KM away. There is also a small check dam across this river and is fed by the rain waters. We took a chance and decided to explore the place along the banks of the river.
As I walked along the banks, I was flabbergasted by the chaos of the place. What I saw from a distance was totally different from what it was when we got closer. This is true in majority of the situations when it comes to Nature Photography. Dead trees emerging out of the river bed had twisted branches and fallen wood. Some had even the twisted barks, I presume the twists were because of the force exerted by the water during monsoon rains.
It seemed extremely difficult for me to make good / decent landscape images here. But my previous learning and experience had taught me one thing and that is to feel the place first, make a mental map of ‘possible‘ compositions. I gave myself 30 minutes to walk around the bank and at times along the dried river bed looking for various compositions and possible foreground opportunities. It helped to organise the chaos, anchor the composition and also helped me compose frames that would enable me to give a sense of place to the viewer of these images. At times it really helps looking through the viewfinder. Live view is extremely handy in Landscape Photography except that if overused would drain your batteries. Hence caution has to be exercised while using the live view feature of your camera.
Talking about this technique of how I overcame the shocks of chaotic/clutter environments, I would like to leave you with the images strewn across this blog post to help you visualise and get the ‘sense of place’ that I managed to extract from this unique place with twists and turns. Fortunately mother nature rolled in some cumulus and cirrus clouds which helped me get stronger images composition wise. This also means that we do not know what is in store for us, until we are out on the field wanting to make images. Situation might change in your favor and hence we got to be prepared to make some minor adjustments or take chances of making a trip.
Last but not the least, you can get closer with longer focal lengths and make some intimate images of the place too
Nature has its own way of challenging us Photographers. Along the way, it would help us to be equipped and better experienced to handle more of such situations in future. These challenges teaches us humility and to respect nature the way it is and work around the challenges it poses. That is the art of Nature Photography, especially, Landscape Photography.