A Diffuse Light

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

notebooks on Missouri places and studies topographic maps to predict how terrain will admit or block light. He sketches ideas for shots but says, "It's kind of a balance you have to strike between ideas and having an eye to what is out there."

Oberle recommends taking advantage of a wealth of information at conservation nature centers or contacting the Conservation Department's natural history section with inquiries. "The Conservation Department is blessed with knowledgeable people," he says.

Be there:

Over and over, these professional photographers said, "Be there." That means photograph often, return, stay awhile, concentrate. Occasionally jumping out of a car to snap a fantastic sunset doesn't improve your skills or your eye.

"Be there, be open to what's going on," says Burt. "In a beautiful landscape, that's easy to do, especially if I'm by myself. It becomes somewhat of a meditation. At the same time I want to come out of that place with some images that are meaningful to me. That motivates me to keep thinking about technical things."

Oberle says, "The harder you work, the luckier you get."

In pursuit of landscapes

If you study the work of outdoor photographers, you'll find they don't all prefer the untouched wilds. The definition of a landscape depends on personal choice and sensitivity. You can find wonderful landscape subjects in parks, farm fields, urban settings with downtown buildings, suburban neighborhoods or your own backyard.

Maybe you're drawn to open areas, lonely trees or road signs alongside country roads. Maybe you feel like including the edge of a house or laundry on a clothesline in a landscape photo. Go with what's accessible to you and seek what you enjoy.

Even in natural environments, scenes are sometimes punctuated by power lines and cellular and microwave towers. Try working around--or with--whatever turns up in the viewfinder.

For kids who want to photograph, select a nearby place with lots of possibilities. "Get them to win at something first to inspire them," says Frank Oberle. "One of my favorite spots is the Missouri Arboretum in Gray Summit, 45 minutes from St. Louis. It's accessible and has prairies, woodlands and wetlands."

For information about more places to go, pick up a free "Discover Outdoor Missouri" map or purchase the 264-page "Missouri's Conservation Atlas" for $15, plus $5.93 tax and shipping from the Nature Shop, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180. You can save $5 postage by visiting a conservation nature center or Conservation Department office to make your purchase.


With point-and-shoot cameras, a wide angle to slight telephoto zoom lens with a close-up option is most versatile. Learn how the camera determines exposure. If the sky is brighter than the land, for example, the land may photograph too darkly. In this case, point the camera more toward the land, hold the shutter release button partway to set focus and exposure, reframe the view you want, then shoot.

Several of our consulting photographers rely on 35mm cameras with interchangeable lenses, and some use medium and large format cameras. "I'm not too big on razzle-dazzle equipment," says Frank Oberle. He shot most of the photos for the book "Tallgrass Prairie" with a 35 mm camera he bought used 20 years before, plus three lenses. He would rather carry more water than equipment, so he can wander a prairie for hours.

If you're shopping for a 35mm, choose one that allows you to close down the aperture and preview depth of field before shooting. If your camera has auto-exposure override, learn to use it to take control in unusual lighting situations.


Essential for the inevitable slow exposures. A cable release or built-in self-timer also keeps your hand off the camera.


Oberle carries two wide angles, 20mm and 28mm, plus a 100mm macro for closeups. Wide angle lenses provide broad views and good depth of field.

A telephoto lens (200mm or longer) compresses the distance for a poster effect. It's also good for shooting down into creek valleys.

Another choice for 35mm cameras is one or two zoom lenses that range from wide angle to telephoto.

For sharpness, buy good quality lenses. Sticking with one brand assures consistent color rendition.


Most useful are the polarizing filter, which enhances color saturation and eliminates reflections on water, and the ultraviolet filter, which cuts haze. The 81 filter series warms bluish light.


The finest grain film, which gives the best definition, is also the slowest, requiring longer exposure. For publication, the standard is high quality, slow speed transparency film.


Keep equipment simple, landscape photographers advise. Jim Grace says, "If you're there and in position when something nice comes together with the weather and the clouds and the landscape, you can make a photograph with any kind of camera. It's being there that makes the difference."

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