Monday, June 13, 2011

P1: the horizon line

Philosophical questions of what is or is not Landscape photography must at some stage be put aside in favor of actually getting out there and taking some photographs.  Today in Munich was a public holiday so a great excuse to get on my bike and start with the first project.  When I completed TAOP I did not put much effort or even thought into this activity, more thought is needed and a better understanding of how this line impacts a photograph.

I headed out to the North East of the city and then into the countryside adjacent to Munich.  In all I spent around 3 hours cycling from place to place exploring the area and trying to understand how the topography works.  This is an area in which the farm land comes up close to industrial and residential areas of the city.  Unlike a UK city where suburbs spread out as great estates of individual houses, the edge of Munich is quite clearly delineated.  This is partly due to very strict zoning, but also the fact that most people do not aspire to owning an individual home and are very happy living in apartment blocks. Thus the edge of the city terminates quite abruptly, presenting an interesting opportunity for juxtaposition between urban and countryside.

As I work through the project element of the course I plan to use each as an opportunity to explore different areas or aspects of my local landscape.  In each blog entry I will record my experience both in the context of the project, but also detailing what it was that I discovered and how I interpreted it photographically.

Today I decided to leave my Canon 5D2 and heavy lenses at home, carrying with me a lightweight Samsung NX100 mirrorless compact camera.  I paired it with 20mm and 30mm pancake prime lenses, equating to a 30mm and 45mm FF equivalent, so a moderately wide and normal lens.  The great thing about this camera is its small size, meaning that I can wear it around my neck whilst cycling and quickly evaluate and take photographs.  On the other hand it has a 14MP APS-C sensor very similar to what can be found in a modern SLR and so is more than capable of delivering excellent results.  Although the notes suggest tripods and long exposures, there is something to be said for traveling light and shooting from the hip, even in landscape photography.

My first stop was a housing estate built in the shadow of a large power station on one side and a container storage area on the other.  I undertook a brief study of this area and will blog my thoughts in Project 2.  Heading back south I passed through a large area of wide open fields with clear horizon lines.  Having done the majority of my OCA work in the city it was quite a novelty to be presented with a clearly visible horizon.  I stopped in a number of places and each time took a sequence of 5-8 photographs placing the horizon in alternating positions in the frame.  I have selected 3 of the sequences, in each case there is strong linear symmetry and something on the horizon separating the foreground from the sky

I framed the sequences to go from no horizon to almost no foreground. In each case I find that I gravitate towards the images in which the horizon is either not present or at the very top or bottom of the frame.  Rule of thirds has a very specific suggestion for how to frame such shots, for me this does not work.  The lack of a horizon compresses the image and asks questions about why there is not sky.  Those photos in which the horizon is either very low or very high look a little unbalanced and this adds tension to the images.

In addition to these systematic studies I also shot a number of frames of other subjects that captured my attention, experimenting as I did so with a dramatic placement of the horizon.  In my first 4 examples below I have pushed the horizon to the very top of the frame, leaving just enough sky to enable the distant power station to be included without cutting off the chimneys:

These are two pairs of images, with landscape and portrait framing.  I am very much drawn to portrait framing in my photography, very much preferring this to horizontal, but understand that this is not so effective for Landscape studies.  4:3, 5:4, or square might be a better choice for me, I really am not a fan of the panoramic 3:2 delivered by modern SLR's. (Thinking ahead to the next Project).

I also considered placing the horizon very low in the images, emphasizing the sky.  In the following two images I have treated the sky very differently, in both cases it was quite similar.  I think I prefer the washed out sky of the first image, there is less information, but that suits this composition.

I also considered the 2nd shot with a very high horizon, it did not work...

I also tried a couple of images in which I completely removed the horizon.  In the first shot the dark layer of green trees acts as the sky. I am drawn to strongly horizontal linear symmetry, this is an extreme example.

With this project, I have started my journey, and also discovered an interesting location for developing my ideas about landscape photography.  The power station below is visible across a quarter of the city and can be seen from the surrounding farmland.  This offers the potential for edge of the city type shots and perhaps some social commentary.  I plan to develop these themes during this course.

Before closing I have learned today that the horizon is a powerful element in any landscape shot, but it need not be placed according to golden ratios, rules of thirds or whatever.  Tension can be introduced into an image by either eliminating the horizon or by placing it very close to the frame edge.  This is a stylistic choice and perhaps something that can be overdone.  I need to explore this more.

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