Exercise 3.3 – Landscape, foreground to background

Find a good viewpoint, perhaps fairly high up (an upstairs window might do) where you can see a wide view or panorama. Start by looking at the things closest to you in the foreground. Then pay attention to the details in the middle distance and, finally, the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole landscape together, from the foreground to horizon (you can move your eyes). Include the sky in your observation and try to see the whole visual field together, all in movement (there is always some movement). When you’ve got it, raise your camera and take a picture. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.

The exercise brief describes the process that a landscape photographer would go through instinctively. However, it can occasionally be useful to break down a process and think about it step-by-step.

The scene I have chosen is one of the iconic views of Kent, Aylesford village with its medieval bridge, as seen from the nearby road bridge. Normally, I would take this from mid-span, which shows more of the old bridge, and crop tighter into the bridge which excludes much of the foreground. For the purpose of this exercise, I have moved to the left and included the river bank as foreground. Unfortunately, this includes a lot of ’empty’ water but at least, today, a fresh breeze has thrown up an interesting ripple texture.

The visual interest is in the middle-ground (bridge and houses) and background (church and distant trees), and I build up the scene forward and backward from there. As noted above, I have used the undergrowth of the left-hand bank as foreground interest and a lead-in line to the bridge. The threatening sky (threat fulfilled five minutes later) gives us our backcloth. I have used the two trees at the left and right edges as ‘eye-stoppers’ to prevent the viewer’s eye wandering out of the sides of the image.

Finally, the image was made with a Canon G1X in aperture-priority mode, ISO100, 1/100s at f/8 and subjected to a bit of tweaking in Lightroom

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Mark Littlejohn

I attended a lecture by Mark Littlejohn, a landscape photographer living near Ullswater. The event was organised by ‘SNAPS’, a grouping of local camera clubs.

Littlejohn was the overall winner of the 2014 Landscape Photographer of the Year and has an impressive total of judge’s commendations for this competition. He came late to photography, having retired as a senior police officer and taken up a camera and fellwalking to de-stress. With no formal training and no strict adherence to the ‘rules of composition’ he presents a refreshingly different view on landscape to the traditional camera-club format.

Many of the images were shot on standard or medium-telephoto lenses, typically 85-180mm, and in portrait format which is, probably, appropriate for mountains and trees that have a vertical emphasis. He uses a minimum of cropping (he says never more than one edge) and a minimum of post-processing, preferring to spend time with the camera to the computer. A lot of the mountain images are more about the light and the weather than the mountains themselves.

A set of images in the second half were of trees or groups of trees with empathic titles such as “The Mob”, “The Dancer” or “The Extrovert”. The titles fit the shape an overall feeling of the image.

Littlejohn works on the Ullswater Steamers, and presented a set of environmental portraits of his colleagues. The steamers also allow him a viewpoint of the landscape surrounding the lake.

An important final message was not to get hung up on others’ opinions of ones photography, but to do your own thing and enjoy it.