A Diffuse Light

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

those thunderclouds over Bilby Ranch. At first the sky was clear, but when he saw ominous clouds rolling in, he headed his car for a vantage point. An unstable weather pattern and the quality of light can make the photograph, he says, "but you have to have your antennae up for those conditions."

Composition and light:

Excitement about a particular place doesn't guarantee a fabulous photo. "If you're excited about the subject itself, be kind of wary," says Gurche. "If you're excited about the composition and light, those are much more valuable factors in getting a good picture."

The adjustable horizon:

A landscape is often a combination of an earthscape and a skyscape. "Where you place the horizon in framing your shot has more to do with what you're trying to convey than any rule," says Jim Mueller. Right across the center may communicate boredom--or tranquility. More sky than earth can express openness or spirituality, but if the idea of the photo is the pattern of Ozark hills, not much sky is needed.

He suggests photographing the same scene three times, placing the horizon low in the photograph, high in the photograph and then centered. Looking at the finished photos, you'll get a different feeling from each. On your next shoot, a mood or sense of place may tell you where to position the horizon line.

On the prairie:

Mark Pelton shares a strategy for photographing Missouri's prairies. "It's tricky," he says. "You just about need to know what was done to the land the previous year." A prairie that was mowed will encourage paintbrush and certain other wildflowers. Burning stimulates a different group of plants; even the burn date has varying influence. If the prairie wasn't mowed or burned, the wildflower display won't be as extensive. Check with prairie managers to learn what to expect.

Oberle says, "Prairies are like a 10-act play. Every two weeks they go through a different visual scene, color, complexion and texture." So be persistent and flexible, ready to photograph the unexpected. It's worth the effort. "The prairies around Lamar are the best in the whole 13 states of tallgrass prairie biome," he says.

Do your homework:

Scouting and researching locations gives you a head start. "Few great landscape photographs are made serendipitously," says Grace. "Usually the photographer has scouted out the scene in advance and knows when the light will be good or a particular species of plant will be in bloom."

Gurche keeps

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