These pictorial features are designed to help you better appreciate how working photographers deal with subjects and situations, including some helpful tricks of the trade. In this issue, Camera editor Paul Burrows is getting off the tourist trail in Tuscany.
The villa at the end of this cypress-lined driveway is one of the most photographed subjects in rural southern Tuscany. Tourists continuously arrive at the entrance by coach or car, quickly snap the view down the driveway and leave.
Camera editor Paul Burrows has a particular affection for Italy and, in particular, Tuscany, where the challenge is to find different ways of photographing scenes and subjects that have been photographed many times before.
Nikon D3S with AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f4.0 ED VR zoom used at 70mm. A Cokin Neutral Grey G2 Soft graduated neutral density (ND8) filter was fitted to the lens. Sensitivity was set to ISO 200 with shutter-priority auto exposure control at 1/160 second with f5.0 and -0.7 EV exposure compensation. The camera was mounted on a lightweight travel tripod.
This image was all about finding a different angle from which to capture this popular location. This means putting in a bit more effort than simply parking the car and snapping away. Fortunately the villa is surrounding by fields – this is a major wheat growing area for pasta – which in early autumn were full of golden stubble waiting to be ploughed in for the winter planting. There was a fairly deep gully to negotiate, but then it was simply a case of walking up the field to find the best vantage point for a side-on view of cypresses. Finding great landscape shots inevitably involves a bit of a leg work as the easiest views are rarely the best ones.
How It Was Done
The idea was always to create a panorama, so the image was framed with the line of trees exactly in the centre of the image, allowing maximum scope for cropping later. Mother Nature obliged with the cloud formation, and the graduated ND filter helped boost the contrast, not just with the clouds, but also the wheat stubble which was brightly lit by direct sun. However, the grad was positioned a little higher than usual so that the darkest part of the sky was only at the very top of the frame. The lines in the stubble created by the harvester conveniently lead the eye right up the cypresses. At the last minute, I decided to leave the villa out of the shot, as it not only makes for a better balance compositionally, but also makes the image less obvious.
Tricks Of The Trade
The skill of landscape photo-
graphy is all in the camera work. Composition and framing are everything and, quite often, it can be as much about what is left out as what’s included in the frame. Look carefully and you’ll note that there’s a telegraph pole in among the cypresses. I’ve been asked numerous times why I didn’t clone it out of the picture. But why would I? It was there – so it’s a legitimate part of the scene – and viewers actually enjoy finding it so I think it adds to the image rather than detracting from it. Remember, no landscape is ever perfect.
Degree Of Difficulty (Out of 10)
I’d visited this location on many occasions, working out a way of doing something different. Both the season and the time of day were important. When the field is full of crops you obviously can’t walk across it, so that basically dictated the time of year, and late afternoon sun added just a nice touch of extra warmth. So this image is as much about the planning as it is about the execution. A classic Fiat 500 parked somewhere would have added a nice finishing touch, but otherwise achieving exactly the envisaged end result probably warrants a nine.
Can You Try This At Home?
Absolutely. Just start exploring different ways to photograph familiar subjects or scenes. Experiment with different lens focal lengths, camera angles, elevations and points of view. Also watch how things change with the seasons, the weather and the time of day. Photographing the same scene under different conditions is a simple but entertaining project that could yield an interesting portfolio of pictures… or just one great shot that you could have otherwise missed.