Photographer's Block

SOMETIMES, AS CREATIVE PEOPLE, WE FIND THAT THE APPROACHES AND TECHNIQUES THAT ONCE GAVE US EXCITING RESULTS AND INSPIRED US, HAVE BECAME HABITS THAT NOW LIMIT US.

ABOVE: Shot with a 10-20mm wide angle, this image shows the dramatic effect of capturing the very close and the distance together. Here, dramatic foreground detail catches the viewer’s attention, then the stream, a strong leading line, leads the eye on a meandering path to the mountains and sun rays in the background.

When I first settled near Queenstown in the South Island, surrounded by mountains, rivers, lakes and ever-changing skies, I found the standard picture format too restricting. I didn’t want to have to compose elements within the standard frame. It was the vastness I wanted to capture, so I started making panoramas. I shot landscapes as a series of adjacent images which I stitched together in post processing. This technique helped me create images that expansive and immersive, rendering scenes more like we see them. It was also a way of capturing greater detail and bringing together some of the compression that comes from longer focal lengths, with the expanse of a wide angle.

Over time this has become a default technique and almost a habit. So much so that for a while now I have lost the urgency I once had, to go out and create. It has become too easy to not really look at a scene and really work out what the elements are that inspire me.I end up snapping a whole lot of of adjacent images, really just collecting all the visual information so it can be assembled in Photoshop or Lightroom to be cropped and composed later. I had become lazy about making the creative decisions and composing images in camera. Creating these big panoramic images was taking so much time and lots of extra disk space for results that were no longer inspiring.

ABOVE: This wide angle view captures the expanse of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains behind, but it’s the jetty in the foreground that captures the eye and leads you into the distance. To simplify this composition a 20 second exposure was used to blur the movement of the water.

On a recent trip west along Lake Wakatipu toward Glenorchy, I decided to to challenge myself and limit myself to one lens, shooting finished compositions in black and white. The hope was that imposing these restrictions would force me out of my habits and maybe, give me new direction. The lens I chose for the day was my beautiful Sigma 10-20mm 1:4-5.6. This very wide angle lens would dictate my compositions for the day. Using this lens would force me to work to get the elements of a good design into the picture. Simplicity would be key.

With such a wide angle view you need a dramatic foreground, as well as a really strong direction to lead the eye through the image to the background. I had to get really close to those foreground elements. This often meant bringing the camera down to ground level.

ABOVE LEFT: Wide angle lenses are great in the confined spaces of a waterfall. They bring the surrounding rocks and trees into the image. They allow you to capture so much, from the micro drama of water cascading over foreground rocks, right through the scene to the macro scale of the cascading stream in the background.
ABOVE RIGHT: This rusting car wreck on the way to Kinloch is forlorn on it’s own, but I added an element of a possible past by getting into an old leather coat, sitting in the seat and spinning the steering wheel fast with the camera on a slow shutter to blur the movement. The image was blended in Photoshop with another of the empty cab, then the figure ghosted by partially masking parts of him out.

As much as I love photographing the landscapes of New Zealand and the Southern Lakes, it also important to me that I say something. Adding a human element brings a hint of story and meaning to the image. To this end I always go out prepared with a range of props, coats and hats so I can be a character in my images.

ABOVE: These ragged looking willows in Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy are such a popular photographic subject they are becoming icons. I wanted to try something different so by getting into the water and raising my arms I joined the trees in their reach to the sky. I also wanted the figure to be blurred and ghostly as a contrast to the strong linear character of the trees so I shot the image on a slow shutter speed and moved around lot during the exposure.

If you are looking for a creative challenge, identify your photography habits and break out of them. Get out of your comfort zone. Use a lens you usually ignore, climb over that fence and get in close or choose a subject you’re not “good” at. You could be surprised and delighted with the results.

If you are in Queenstown or the Southern Lakes, come with me on a Remarkable Imagery Photo Tour. I’ll can take you to iconic locations like the trees at Glenorchy and places you only a local would know. Together, we’ll work to bring the magic and wonder of this part of New Zealand into your photos.




Martin Kohn
Martin Kohn

Author