Its always useful to have one or more photographic searches going on as you shoot. For a landscape photographer this is often in the form of the perfect light or the perfect clouds for a given shot. In the case of the image below, it was the search for the perfect olive tree. Olive trees have a gnarly, bonsai quality about them that make them an ideal subject for shots that could almost be thought of as portraits. However, they travel in packs, and it can be quite difficult to isolate your picturesque olive against a clean background, instead of a snarl of other olive branches.
After a few years of searching for just the right subject, the olive tree below finally presented itself, within sight of the hotel often used during the search. The first image below is the envisioned shot. Full sun, full color, high detail, right down to the individual olives, most suited for a print about two meters high.
However, its always a good idea to study your subject from all angles. The shot below is the same tree, from the opposite side. It offers a different perspective of the tree, a different feel to the image, and a vignette of the hills, valley, and village of Pienza in the distance, rather like the background in the Mona Lisa. While it is not the intended image, it may well be more salable than the full color shot above.
No matter how well planned your shoot, no matter how well organized your equipment, the moment comes when the unexpected presents itself. It may come in the form of unexpected weather, conditions far hotter or cooler then anticipated, or photo subjects that were not planned. In landscape photography a large number of the better photos are serendipitous, with cloud patterns or lighting that could not possibly be anticipated, but can be captured if the timing and equipment is right. In the photo below, serendipity occurred in the form of wine barrels that had been moved outside from the cantina on their way to recycling, but which, while they were there, provided a wonderful photo op.
The shots below are both taken from the same vantage point, several months apart. The first is a typical sunset shot, which gains most of its interest from the Cypress trees silhouetted in the foreground. A few wisps of cloud help add a bit of character to the sky. Satisfying, but very simple.
The second shot below shows the same grove of trees, but with a very different mood, from the cloud cover. There is still a sense of sunset from the salmon tones near the horizon, but much more drama from the summer storm clouds moving down the valley. So don’t skip the sunset photo shoot on days with clouds or threatening weather, the results may be even more useful than sunset shots from blue-sky days.
Vineyards offer an excellent opportunity to think abstractly about the organic forms of the landscape, and the geometric forms of the vine rows layered on top of that landscape. The patterns that result from this contract can produce very satisfying photographs. The first image below uses the organic landscape forms as big, powerful curves at the skyline. Below them the geometry of the vines takes over, creating patterns within patterns form the rows and the individual vine locations. Free-standing California Zinfindel vines are excellent for this type of image, as they do not have the heavy hardware involved in trellising most vines in America.
The following image includes more factors, making the organic/geometric relationship less obvious. Here there is the symmetry of the hill behind, and the tree trees just in front of it. Yet the straight lines of the rows of vines and the pattens the tiller has left in the open ground still add relationships and texture to the overall image. The less hardware-intensive methods used to trellis vines in Tuscany make this image cleaner and less distracted than a similar image would be in California.
Death has been an artistic theme for millennia. A stroll through an old cemetery will produce a number of death-related themes, including that odd mix of a skull and angel wings called a death head, weeping willow trees, more symbolic of mourning than death itself, and the occasional “cut down in his prime” gravestone carved in the form of a tree stump with its branches cut off.
While such themes are not appropriate for condolence cards, they do have a powerful psychological value that makes such images useful for illustrating death-related themes and articles. The orchard of white stumps in the image below can have a ghastly effect on some viewers, with its references to death and even to the battlefield. But it also has notes of life in the yellow mustard blooming between the rows, and the shoots attempting to grow on the stumps.
The next image, below, is a less ambiguous image of death. The less-majestic-than-usual Tuscan field adds a lyric backdrop without detracting from the main theme, and even the colors are less dramatic then typically seen in Tuscany.
But perhaps its possible to take the image theme a level further. Below is the same image converted to black and white. No brilliant blue sky, no greens below. While this version reduces the impact of the tree’s actual shades of gray, it does create an even more sober result. You decide which mood you prefer: death amidst color, or death in black and white.
Tidal pools are a wonderful source of material for shooting macro photos. They offer life, texture, color, and mystery. Such shots can occur above, or below, the waterline. Often it is possible to shoot underwater images without an underwater camera or housing in tide pools, since they are very shallow, with a smooth surface. In other cases, the distortions of the water movement can add interesting effects to the images. The first image below is all about detail and color, with the amazing pearl-strand-like details on the purple and orange starfish. The second image has a smoother, dreamier quality, created by the surface of the water, which is relatively flat above the anemone, but more distorted in other areas of the image.
Photography is often used to tell the story of the past, through the documentation of artifacts. Often, the objects involved are known to the viewer, so searching for other facets to make a more vital link through time is important. Tool marks, in this sense meaning the handcrafted textures left on wood, stone, and metal as it is crafted, can be such a link. Here, the fronts of these ancient grave markers are not shown, to instead tell the story of the making of these markers, including the very unique saw and chisel marks on the roughhewn back of one of the stones. The flags, the maple tree, the late summer flowers, and the deep summer sky all add to the story, but the texture of the stones is the unique detail that makes the image memorable.