Natural Perspectives: Capturing the majesty of nature

November 03, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Cottonwood leaf.
Cottonwood leaf. (Lou Murray, HB Independent )

Some of us members of the Photographic Society of Orange County traveled to the Eastern Sierra last week to photograph fall foliage. Vic stayed home to take care of the chickens and to teach his college classes. That work thing of his really interferes with his ability to accompany me on my various forays into nature.

Taking Diana LoSchiavo's watercolor class at the Huntington Beach Art Center is affecting my photography in positive ways because I now pay more attention to colors and shadows. I also take pictures of things that I would like to paint later.

Nature is a great subject for photographers and painters alike. I look at rocks, trees, grass, streams, lakes, sky and clouds as elements in my photographs. I search for groupings of those elements with good composition. I look for S curves, diagonal lines and groupings of three or five to make pleasing pictures.


I try to divide a scene into thirds from top to bottom, and in thirds from side to side. The center of attention should go into where the imaginary lines intersect. If the subject is clouds, then the horizon should be in the lower third of the picture. If the subject is terrestrial, then the skyline goes at the bottom of the top third of the picture. These aren't hard and fast rules, but understanding the elements of good composition can make the difference between a snapshot and a good photograph.

On this trip, I found myself looking down as well as to the horizon. I found compositions at my feet in swirls of golden aspen leaves lying over pine needles. A tiny pinecone frozen in newly formed ice made an interesting close-up. Swooshes of golden grass backlit by the morning sun created a fine photo.

Sometimes the images lay readymade in serendipitous perfection. But I wasn't above moving some frost-encrusted aspen leaves onto a gnarled branch of weathered sagebrush wood to get a better composition. Sometimes an errant blade of grass needed to be moved aside to improve a photo. Mostly, it was me that moved. If a composition wasn't right from one angle, I moved left, right, up or down. Low-angle shots provide a unique perspective, especially if using a wide-angle lens.

Most of the photo club members carpooled on the long drive up to Lee Vining, where we all stayed at Murphey's Motel. I carpooled with Mark Singer, whose wife Marlene also had to teach. We're looking forward to a time when our spouses retire and will be able to join us on these photographic outings.

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