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Every type of location presents its own photographic challenges. For the stark wilderness of Death Valley National Park, these can include harsh desert light, stark landscapes, and a vastness that can be daunting to capture in a single frame. In this course, travel along with author, teacher, and photographer Ben Long to Death Valley to learn about the challenges and techniques behind capturing the exotic beauty and surprising details of the desert.
We're on the lake bed. We got here just in time. The light is just coming up over there. It's fun because you can actually see the line of the shadow just crossing across me. So I had kind of hoped to shoot some before the light examples for you but it's, the sun's coming up earlier today. Still, this is great. We're just starting to see the contrast come out. Shadows are starting to appear and get really long, textures starting to appear on the ground. We're getting this beautiful warmth, I mean warmth of light, so I think we're in for a good morning of shooting here.
So, out here and the lights great. But, boy, I've got a lot of landscape, where do I start? So, this is a dry lake bed. It's the flattest naturally occurring phenomenon in the world. It's interesting, there's this hard packed mud stuff underneath, that can have cool textures on it. The area we're in right now is covered with sand. I've got these bushes and sticks and rocks around. So, plus I got this big broad vista.
The moon is still up, which is really nice. It's fun out here, we're getting to see the moon rise at night, and getting to watch it set first thing in the morning. Tire tracks. That wasn't really what I was hoping to find. So, at the moment I'm thinking small. I'm, I'm not going for the big view so much. It's hazy. I'll work on that a little bit later. What's feeling unique to me out here are these textures that I'm seeing on the ground. So it's really about just a lot of really formal composition kind of things, just finding elements to compose with to build up a good foreground background relationship.
So I'm looking for a combination of interesting things on the ground but I'm finding that I need to have them in an environment that's Kind of simple. I don't want too much clutter in the background. So I'm finding, I'm trying to find the right combination of things. And it's a bit of a just a needle in a haystack thing. The first tip I would give is you can walk around like this and look and think you're seeing stuff, but as soon as you bring the camera up to your eye and get that frame in to consideration, everything changes. That's when you really start seeing, oh there's a relationship between this thing and that thing that I didn't recognize before.
So don't just walk around, you have got to walk around and look through the camera. Now, there might be something that catches your eye. There's this one bush with no leaves on it amidst all these others. Maybe that's an interesting relationship of some kind. Or maybe not. So, I'll keep going. There's a stick out there that's brightly lit up. That could be interesting. I'm looking for, interesting light. And by interesting light, I mean, plays of lights and shadow. Plays of texture and detail. I'm looking for interesting interplay of geometric things. And to try and help me see them, I'm kind of just constantly picking up my camera and looking through it to see what the frame reveals to me about relationships. Okay.
So this catches my eye. I've got the bush right in the middle of this wash here. And so I've got potentially some interesting geometrical stuff that's right in the center and the edges of the wash make for nice receding parallel lines that kind of curve away, in the distance I've got a mountain and cloud. That's just what I notice as I'm walking around. That's a place where I might stop and go, oh, maybe there's potential here. The thing is when you've got just all of this stuff around you, you're looking for Anything that you can try to hang a shot on.
otherwise you have to walk around doing this all the time. So, I'm, I'm looking for these moments but then I stop and frame up a shot. And okay, as far as a wide vista shot, that's at least got some geometric elements in it. That help control the viewers eye. Don't forget to try different things so there was a landscape shot here's a portrait shot maybe not so interesting I'm shooting the deep depth of field here I'm just staying on F11. Because I'm figuring that on these shots, I'm going to want everything to be in focus.
This bush is a lot of little fine detail, up against a really rocky background, that right now has tremendous texture, because of this great light that we've got. So the bush is getting lost a little bit. I'm not sure that it is a really strong. Anchoring compositional element. Still, as far as trying to shoot some wide stuff, I do like just having this stuff in the foreground to hold the viewer's eye and lead them out there to the mountains. So this is a chance where, instead. Oh look, there's the moon up there.
this is a chance where, instead of. Building a nice little still-life out of stuff nearby. I'm building a big shot, which I said I was going to do later, now I've just stumbled in to one. I'm building a wider vista, but by using the elements on the ground to help keep the composition under control. I'm going to go check out this branch over here. So I've got this piece of burned wood here. It's, it's small but it's really picking up the light nice. It's got some nice texture on it. I have no idea if there's anything to be done with it. The other thing that I've got working for me here is now I've got the island in the background.
Which, really works for me as a shape because it is so symmetrical and it has this beautiful cone right in the middle of it. so, just a very simple composition of sticking that branch in the foreground (SOUND) and the island thing in the background gives me this. Which is kind of nice. I am focusing actually on the ground cause its critical that the branch be in focus. There's a good chance that the island is not going to be in focus.
But it's so far in the background, there's not a lot of fine detail on it to be seen away at the size that it's going to be in the final image. So I don't think that I have to worry about it too much. I'm also thinking that I don't need my entire frame here. Take a look at this. (SOUND) Now I framed it like this because, I like the top of the frame composed that way. I like where is the branch is. I don't need all of that stuff at the bottom of the frame, so I'm just expecting that I'll crop that out. I could also do something more like this (SOUND), and crop the top and the bottom, which might be a better idea, because the center of the lens probably has better sharpness than the edges of the lens so trying to compose within the center might be a better idea. So I'm just going to sit here and for a moment and see what else I can do with this branch.
Set this other lens down so that I can move a little better. So I can think about the branch in relationship to other things in the landscape. Oh, wow, when I get down here I get the branch as kind of big landscape feature and the island as big landscape feature. Now I know there is no way that I've got enough depth of field for that. But it's a completely still day today. Nothing is blowing around. So I'm going to try bracketing my focus a little bit with the idea that I can merge these images later.
To get deeper depth of field. So the way that works is, I'm going to frame my shot a little bit wider than I need. I'm going to focus on the branch. All right. There we go. Focus on the branch and take a shot. Now holding my camera in the same place, I'm going to manually, refocus, out to the middle of the image and take a shot. And then I'm going to manually focus on the island, and take another shot. In my Image Editor, I can combine these into a single image with really deep focus.
This is something called focus stacking. It's normally what you do to get deeper depth of field in a macro shot. It's a difficult technique to employ in landscape shooting because the landscape can change between those shots particularly if it's a windy day. We don't have that much out here to blow around, and we don't have any wind so I can actually do some very simple focus stacking out here to get myself deeper depth of field. That's looking pretty good, I think I've done everything I can with the burned out branch here. It is some nice texture, if I had a macro lens with me. I might want to do some macro shots.
but I'd rather use this kind of light for landscape shooting. Because that kind of macro work is something you can do anywhere. I could always get some burned wood at home, and set it out, and do macro shots at home. So I'm going to keep moving.
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