Pictures with punch

Are you worried that your pictures are beginning to look a little like everyone else s? The secretout: professional outdoor photographers donhave special powers. If you have been on a photographic tour to shoot alongside your favourite professional, it wonhave escaped your notice that their pictures are hardly distinguishable from yours. In 1995, on Blue Iceberg’won the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, but it was a scene that was snapped by dozens of other photographers-recreational and professional-on the same boat in the Antarctic. Instances like this, and many after it, help to debunk the myth that professional photographers are in a separate league when it comes to making images of landscapes and wildlife. Instead, success is much more about knowing locations and displaying a willingness to get out of bed earlier and stay out later than most sane people would choose to. But in a tour group, ita given that everyonepictures are going to look pretty much the same, unless you are unfortunate enough to join a group whose leader goes off and shoots alone. It happens. Well, you know, it neednbe that way. If you are a photographer who settles for shooting whatin front of your eyes, who eschews interpretation, and values, above all else, accurate  Pictures with punch representation in a single photographic frame, then donexpect your pictures to stand out. Most of the outdoor photographers Iever worked alongside fall into this category and itno surprise that picture libraries and competitions are bursting with similar images as a result. If, instead, you reject cold objectivity and concentrate on the expressive quality of the picture, then it will take on a different appearance. This is about so much more than shooting with a long shutter speed or using differential focus-the usual defaults of the creative nature photographer. There is a much bigger, often underused vocabulary we can employ to say what we feel about an experience to the viewer-and to help them remember the pictures that we make. 1 Shoot wide It is very easy now to make seamless panoramas, even if you havenaligned the frames very well at the outset. But while the technique is applied routinely in landscape photography, it is rare to see wildlife shot this way. This is a great shame, not least because we get a very narrow view of the subjectworld. There are often interesting things happening out of frame, which could also be captured-just take a few seconds to move your attention away from the main subject and shoot either side of it. The resulting images can have much stronger narratives. 2 Strength in numbers Most photographers remain wedded to the idea that a photograph is a single image representing a singular moment. While that made sense when we shot film, ita redundant and limiting notion in the digital age. More images equate to a more complete story. Multiple images can resonate with each other where the content of one helps to make more sense of the other, or else they can give a more detailed account of a physical space or aspects of the subjectlife. One of my current projects involves photographing 1,000 individual jasper and quartz pebbles from a local beach, each against a white background so that the detail and colour of each pebble can be fully appreciated. 3 Shoot on white Since 2007, I have done most of my close-up work in a field studio, shooting wild subjects in the field against a pure white, backlit background. The look remains fresh and the pictures portray the subject with a degree of clarity that canbe matched in conventional macro photography. The picture is all about what the subject looks like. The technique is accessible and the equipment affordable. Although a growing number of photographers around the world have adopted the field studio to photograph plants, invertebrates, aquatic life and reptiles, very few pictures exist of wild birds and mammals shot on white. 4 Seeing the signs I typically do this with signs-based on familiar designs-that I have created in Photoshop, which are then printed and shot on location. The point of the exercise is to encourage the viewer to think about what they would feel if such signs actually started to appear in the countryside-and to prepare their response now. Shoot these in familiar locations to offer a fresh, personal perspective. 5 Weird is wonderful The way in which we process our Raw files can have a big impact on the feel of the final image. Most photographers go for accurate processing, trying to reproduce the colours and contrast held in their visual memory. Others are not averse to a little HDR work or a generous saturation boost. What is much less common, however, are nuances introduced by wholesale colour shifts (or even rendering in black & white), softening and contrast manipulation. The resulting pictures lack the bland literalism of normal photos, and are therefore more open to interpretation and can better reflect a photographersentiment. The Clarity tool in Adobe Lightroom is especially interesting in this respect, as when it is used on a minus setting it reduces contrast along edges, resulting in softer, more airy pictures that lack the claustrophobia of high contrast, high saturation, high fidelity ones. It is especially suited to high key situations, especially where contrast is low, such as when you are out taking photographs on a foggy day or where the subject is shot against a white sky.

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