One of the most common questions I am asked at workshops is where do I go to get my reference photos? Most people assume that I travel far and wide to get my shots. This is true I do travel as much as I can, but the bulk of my photo archive comes from places photographed within 100 km (60 miles) of my home. Good reference photos for your art are just outside your front door you just have to open your eyes and look…. really look!
The following article is a simple guide of how to look and see your surroundings and find their hidden beauty.
To achieve good photographs you obviously have to have a camera, but what camera do you need? My suggestion is a Digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera for several reasons. First, the lenses on SLR’s are interchangeable so you can achieve much more with a single camera. As your abilities increase you will want to purchase new lenses or better lenses then you started with. All-in-one cameras do not allow for any “upgrades” or interchanging of lenses.
An SLR camera will also allow you to attach longer focal length lenses like a 100-400mm telephoto lens. As for what brand to buy it all comes down to preference. Today most SLR Digital cameras are doing to take a great picture. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is how expandable is the make and model you are purchasing.
In my experience Canon (which I use), Nikon and Sony (which will fit all your old Minolta lenses) are the most reliable and expandable models on the market today. Start with a single SLR body like a Canon 50D or Nikon D90, a good short range lens like a 18-55mm and if money allows, a half decent telephoto lens like a 100-400 to get those far away shoots. If you are planning to photograph a lot of wildlife like I do, then a 100-400mm lens is a “most have”.
Traveling to Africa or Alaska is the obvious way to get great dramatic pictures, but very expensive. The drama in your backyard can be just as dramatic if you know where and what to look for. Lighting is everything. Learn to see light and position yourself to capture natural light in its most flattering state.
What do I mean by this? Most people stand with the natural light behind them so that they are photographing into a scene flooded with light. This light is great for a fast expose, but tends to “flatten” a scene because everything has the same intensity and lighting. If you positioned yourself so that you are shooting into the natural light you create a very dramatic “back-lighting” which has much more shape and form.
Try to set up the composition in your view finder so that lighted areas over lap shadowed areas. This will create a wonderful sense of depth in your photo. Overlapping will also create strong contrast in the composition and tends to help the sense of form in your picture. Taking the same shot with different exposure settings will also drastically change the quality of light in your photo. It is a good practice to take several different shots with under exposed and over exposed settings to make sure you will return to the studio with at least one shot perfectly exposed.
Look for things that can add character or drama to your photo. Directional lines help create a sense of movement in your photo. Position yourself to take pictures with strong visual lines that travel through your picture. This means that the line should enter from one side of your picture and leave the photo on one of the three other sides of the photo. Diagonal lines are the most productive for drawing the viewer into your picture and creating depth. Lines can also be made by changes in light (light to shadow), the edge of two objects meeting, tonal changes and warm to cool changes.
Learn to Capture Simple Things
Look past the obvious and see the wondrous in simple things. I have photographed hundreds of old barns and farm equipment over the years and some of those photos became the reference for many of my strongest art pieces. Objects that are old and aged create a sense of nostalgia in your photography. When ever I see an old barn the first thing I think of is ” what that old barn could tell us”. Sometimes it is what you are photographing that has is own character and charm. This character or charm then translates into “mood” or “presence” and creates life in your photo.
Barns are not the only thing with natural appeal to people, colorful skies, rolling green fields, waterfalls, babbling brooks all have a certain “character” to them that is natural and interesting. Ponds are a great location for not only settings, but wildlife. My pond offers a tapestry of color, form, directional lines, contrast and shapes. I have photographed almost every songbird indigenous to my area. The small waterfall is a favorite bathing spot for them. In addition to the birds are frogs, raccoons, fox, deer, squirrels, chipmunks and so on and so on.
The key to observation is to never stop looking. The same scene can look very different at different times of day. Lightning changes, climate changes, mood changes. Look beyond the “norm” and learn to see the basic beauty that is in everything around us. Humans really are the luckiest of all species because we have both the power to see and the power to appreciate!
About the Author
Derek C Wicks is an internationally acclaimed wildlife artist who’s work has been use to endorse many conservation efforts and charity’s. Derek’s Full biography can be viewed on his wildlife art website. Derek’s credits include 2007 Ducks Unlimited National Artist of the Year and he is named as one of the 60 Masters Of Wildlife Art by Portfolio Press, New York, NY.
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