“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind.
And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to
live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”
-Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra
Since the fires in Sonoma County, California are only ten miles away from me right now and this photo was made almost exactly three years ago during the first of the annual record-setting fires, it's fitting that I share this as the next ONE SHOT photo.
Patience is a funny thing. We're waiting out the coronavirus. Waiting out the fire storms. And waiting out seemingly all of 2020 and probably beyond. The one thing we can't wait out is climate cancer--the catalyst for all of this. We need the impatience to brazenly help our dying home, and at the same time, we need the patience to see that reality through for our family, friends, their future families and friends, and so on. Climate cancer is what caused this images to be what it is; a hauntingly beautiful telling of our rapidly decaying Earth.
It may look pretty normal, but take a look at the atmosphere. It's sunset, but there's no sun. What's actually there is a blanket of smoke made pinkish-purple and violet by the low-setting sun's penetration of the ozone layer.
Camera Settings and Technique
Nikon D7200, 12mm, 1/40th sec, f/13, ISO 100, WB 5,100k
Landscape photography requires a different kind of patience than wildlife photography. Rather than scouting out prime locations for wildlife, your might be scouting for the perfect scene that captures an essence of the ecosystem. Finding a great landscape more often than not takes days of scouting and testing different angles before a photographer lands on what they define as the best scene. I've returned to Salt Point State Park more times than I can count. At the park's crown is a place where lava boiled up over the sea level and froze into place as large bubbles with smaller, inverted bubbles inside. There are also rarely seen limestone tafoni; a maze of tiny formations--like ripples in rock that were formed under the ocean about 50 million years ago.
In the stillness of the rock formations is the indefinite presence of the swirling waves. While I thought the monochromatic scale and texture of the tafoni and sunset was interesting, what I really wanted to show was the juxtaposition between the seemingly unmovable and constant motion, and then also between my favorite contrasting colors of blues and yellows. The smoke from the fires came at a later date, which then produced the purplish atmosphere that complimented the blues. I love having contrasting colors in images, and if I can weave in some analogues colors into an image, even better. Those colors may be from either the hotter or cooler end of the spectrum, whatever nature gives in that moment.
You might already know that tripods are nearly 100% necessary for landscape photography. Utilizing one enables a photographer to lower ISOs that effectively increase dynamic range, show truer colors, and increase sharpness. The high a photographer's ISO goes, the more all of that gets degraded. And very importantly for this type of image where I want to show water in motion, the camera has to be completely stable so I can drop my shutter speed down to about half a second or longer. I typically find that .5 seconds to 2 seconds is a really nice shutter speed range to start with for rivers or oceans. I also love putting standing seaweeds into my seascapes because they remain still unless affected by the ocean's currents and waves, which means the ability to see details in a subject, as well as motion.
This looks like a bit of a mess, but we are going to break the composition down and talk about the refining process of finding golden ratios then incorporating other compositional elements for a more eye-pleasing image. Keep an open mind!
One could argue that not using the golden ratio compositional tool in most landscape shots is borderline psychotic. It's a spiral based on a natural geometry found in nature (two of them can be seen to the right in the image). It also happens to be the most eye-pleasing shape in visual art. The origin of the spiral is what I want to place on either my main or secondary subjects. I also want to position my lens so that the actual line of the spiral lands on different, interesting physical elements, which helps the eye flow through the image easier. The bottom golden ratio lands directly on my main subject, the big rock covered with standing seaweed. The top one lands on the big rock jutting out from the right of the frame, it's a secondary subject that point towards the sky, and also breaks the boring horizon line, so the eye follows the purplish colors back counter-clockwise and back down into the ocean. From there, the waves take over, flowing around the rocks and on top of them, drawing further attention to the seaweeds. When you go back to look at the original image, can you feel your eye circling around the image, perhaps drawing attention to smaller details along the way? Wherever your eye happens to start, there should be a flow to the way your eye follows the rest of this scene. I use the closest rock in the image, the one I'm actually standing on with my tripod, to create an arrow that points into the rest of the scene and as a way to add more depth and dimension. Additionally, the textures of the rock combined with the yellow lichen adds some more "feel" to the image. You might be able to actually imagine what it feels like to reach out and touch it.
Research and Conservation
Perhaps it's cliche by now, but the more time you spend getting to know an area, the better your odds at finding and creating an image that will make people stop to look. I spent a total of about two weeks spread out over a few months at Salt Point State Park. I made a lot of images and there was a lot of experimentation; flash, no flash? lava bubbles, no lava bubbles? Morning or evening? There was a lot of patience involved, but it's easy to be patient when the days spent outdoors are all just a bunch of fun. I surprised myself when I found that the best image was one that didn't really have tafoni or frozen lava bubbles in it. That's fun to say, lava bubbles.
Anyway, although this gorgeous ecosystem is already protected, it is photos of beautiful and interesting ecosystems that can directly protect an unprotected ecosystem. Organizations that devote their resources to protecting wild lands, like the West Marin Environmental Action Committee, use images of natural habitats and the wildlife within to convince lawmakers to protect the very things being photographed. Even when they are protected, they can come under threat again from, what I'm going to strongly call, terrorists of nature, by proposing destructive plans, like for oil drilling, pipelines, mines, and other leech-like outdated methods of procuring energy from our one and only home. This when we as photographers need to keep battling against those types of destructive forces. By selling, or perhaps donating, your images to organizations that need them, you can find one way to become a conservation photographer... if you're not already!