The Little Things

February 02, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

The devil is in the details. 

This is certainly true when it comes to photography. There are many details that can impact how successful the image will be. The more time you log with your camera, the more you'll notice them. 

What's going on around the edges of the frame? What potential distractions might there be in the background? Are there any issues with contrast? Is the composition cluttered? How do you want to lead the viewer's eye? 

The list goes on.

Haste isn't your friend when it comes to detail. That said, rapidly changing conditions don't necessarily allow for a careful and orderly approach to landscape photography. Dither and you might not capture anything. (Even when rushed, you must be aware of all the little things that can make or break a photo.) But when you're not under that kind of pressure, it's advisable to slow down. Take your time.

One of the most important factors to keep in mind is the relationship of objects to one another. That visual connection is something you can often control, especially if you're willing to move and/or have some patience.

Following are a few examples:

Clouds can be pivotal objects in photographs. One summer when I was back home in Illinois, the skies were phenomenal: beautiful blue and dotted with abundant fair-weather cumulus clouds as far as the eye could see. This persisted for a few days and was begging to be captured with the camera. Far northern Illinois being farm country, I went out in search of a good looking wheat crop to pair with the spectacle overhead. It took a while but eventually I found a field oriented correctly in relation to the light with silos standing tall in the distance. Now all I had to do was wait for the right combination of clouds to drift along. After shooting for maybe thirty minutes, I got what I was after. The cloud which dominates the upper left portion of the frame is the focal point of the image - in spite of the other clouds present - because there is empty blue sky to its left. That "primary cloud" balances the silo and trees diagonally opposite on the bottom right. The ratio of sky to ground emphasizes the show overhead. Amber Waves of GrainAmber Waves of GrainFar northern McHenry County, Illinois

To make the photograph below I changed position quite a bit - and also kept at it for a few hours. The fog was extremely animated on this early morning, so in that sense the conditions were quickly changeable. In circumstances like this, my advice is to have situational awareness (know what's going on everywhere, not just where your camera is looking at the moment), keep shooting, and be ready to move. I liked the fact that Mount Moran was only partially visible; this provides some context but keeps the Tetons in a secondary role. That middle band of fog began undulating while the fog closer to the ground rolled in and out. I waited until the trees in the background were obscured and then scrambled as needed in order to line up the repeating shapes of the foreground aspens and cresting fog.

SpectralSpectralAn overnight thunderstorm blankets the mountains with the season's first significant snow and leaves behind spectacular dense fog.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park is listed on the National Historic Register, and situated - appropriately - beneath the Cathedral Peaks. This photograph is an example of a seemingly very little thing that adds quite a bit to the final result. When it looked like I was going to be able to isolate three cumulus clouds in this shot (odd numbers being more visually appealing), I waited until the largest of the three moved directly above the cross before making the picture. This adds visual weight and further emphasizes the subject.

Chapel of the Transfiguration Grand Teton National ParkSay a PrayerThe Chapel of the Transfiguration is sited - appropriately - beneath the Cathedral Peaks. The log structure was built in the 1920s and placed on the national register of historic places in 1980.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

When photographing trees, it's important to take your time and think about spacing. Look carefully at the composition and adjust your position as many times as necessary in order to get it right. Here, many factors needed to be considered: the three pines in the foreground, the pines on the left and right sides of the frame, and the spacing of the red maple (its trunk is dead-centered between the two bigger trees). How far back I needed to stand was determined by the maple: it needed enough room to lean through the frame. 

Non-ConformistThe Magic ForestA few maple saplings dot the woods otherwise dominated by a dense stand of conifers - making their brilliant autumn colors even more striking.

Hiawatha National Forest
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
I made this next photograph while on assignment capturing thunderstorms rolling through the Teton Valley in early spring. The Big Hole mountains, still snow-covered, are visible in the distance on the other side of the storm. You'll see that the top of the fence lines up with the (field) horizon line in the distance. Getting those into alignment determined the height at which I was going to shoot. The single leaning post drove my decision about where to stand.  

Moral of the story: take the time to notice the details. It's these types of "little things" that make images stronger.

In Local News

It's been an active weather week here in Teton Country. A significant storm dumped more than a foot of snow into some of the valleys last weekend so you can imagine what that meant for the mountains. Then the cold moved in; Monday morning the air temperature was 31 below zero in Idaho Falls. (It was colder than that when factoring in the wind chill but I think you get the idea. Frigid!)

In the midst of all the wild conditions, the annual Pedigree Stage Stop Dog Race has been underway (they postponed one of the stages due to the extreme cold). Mushers from all over the United States - as well as some international participants - are competing for $165,000 in prize money. Starting in Jackson, Wyoming, the sleds race on public lands of the Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee, and Shoshone National Forests. The contest wraps up in Driggs, Idaho on Saturday.

Area ski resort season-to-date snow totals:

Grand Targhee - 292 inches
Jackson Hole - 351 inches
Snow King - 150 inches


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