Making Landscape Photos That Transport Us

Photographer Mike Shaw reveals how he makes landscapes that transport the viewer to his favourite places

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PHOTOGRILL: Why did you take the photo ‘This Land Of Mind’?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I spend a lot of my time in the Lake District in the North West of England, its a stunning location with sprawling lakes such as this with mountainous backdrops. I found Wastwater last year and I set out to photograph it this year. I found Wastwater more by chance after reading about it, I did not expect it to be as stunning as it was but I did not take all the equipment I needed with me such as grad filters. I returned this year to do the place some justice and it still blew me away even knowing what I would find. There is a single road that takes you to this location and you travel through forests before it suddenly opened up to reveal itself. I have seen people come here to photograph but simply stand there for a long while taking the place in. Then they remember why they came. There is no development here at all, no tourist cafes or anything apart from a pub at the every end of the road that has been there for over 150 years. The land is owned by the National Trust and is kept the way nature intended, its is lush, green and serene, one of my favourite places on the planet.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you make the image?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The foreground of the image is in fact the small river that feeds the lake, I wanted some scale between the small rocks in the water and the hills in the background, I split the image by the rule of thirds. Water at the bottom, mountains central and then the sky. The eye should be led up the image so the viewer got the same sense of scale of the place as me standing there. It’s immense, a land of folklore, I wanted to show movement in the clouds but stillness in the water to emphasise this.

For me every image needs to evoke a story for of the viewer. I try to convey how I felt at the time of taking the image, if its a straight portrait it needs a back-story so its more than just a face. If its a landscape they need to feel as though they are there with you taking the image.

PHOTOGRILL: What were the technical details?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The image was taken using a gripped Canon 7D with the Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle lens set at 10mm. It was on a tripod as its a long exposure at 100secs, I used a Lee Big Stopper to slow the shutter speed down with a Hitech 0.9 Soft ND Grad to keep the sky exposure level right. F-stop was at f/20 to keep the sharpness and the ISO was set at 100. Post editing included a conversion to HDR using Photomatix but with the strength tuned down, I only wanted to bring a little more of the detail out without killing the shot. It was then edited in both Lightroom and CS5 where I played with the colours to tweak them up a little.

PHOTOGRILL: What else happened?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I have other shots taken from the same place but I was stood in the river, no shoes, jeans rolled up and a firm grip on the camera. I have lost equipment to water before. When I first started out with photography I was shooting by the edge of a lake on a high bank, I wanted to change a lens and put my bag down, placed my camera in the bag and took the lens out I wanted to check it. I nudged the bag with my foot and it rolled down the bank and into the water! It had my motorbike keys in as well as all my equipment, I had no choice but to strip off and get in to get it back, it was the middle of autumn and freezing cold water, I went home after that and am now very careful around any water.

PHOTOGRILL: Tell us about your photography in general.

PHOTOGRAPHER: I tend to photograph within a local area but travel within England, I am hoping to expand my horizons in the future, I would love to travel more to the more remote areas. I have a general approach to photography, some are planned shots, others are opportunistic. I enjoy both landscape and street images. I am still an amateur with dreams of going pro but with the economic situation its not a good move just yet.

Sometimes my photography can be planned, most landscapes are, I tend to have a location in mind and go equipped, such as Wastwater, very beautiful location. My street portraits are entirely opportunistic, you never know what you will get until you hit the street, the only thing you are sure of is that you will be in a urban location.

PHOTOGRILL: What drives you to be in the elements making photos?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I have always had an artistic streak but no patience. Photography is ideal for me, I love being out with the camera and finding new places and people. I love coming home and finding what I have. I never delete any image, I have in total over 500 gig stored as stock images. I enjoy the golden hours of early morning sunrises or late night sunsets, the lighting is always so much better and you get to be alone with what you do.

PHOTOGRILL: Tell us about hardware & software?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I use Lightroom a lot as it allows me to play with individual colours, tones and luminosity, you can make such a difference to an image by playing with seperate colours, for me its one of the best post editing programs there is. Weight is not an issue but quality is, I consider lenses as the most important equipment and have just invested in the Canon 70-200mmL f2.8 IS II USM, expensive and heavy but the results speak for themselves. When I am asked about equipemt I always say byt the best you can affort, glass is important.

See more of Mike Shaw’s photography at Mike Shaw Photography and Mike on Deviant Art and Mike on G+

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