Photographic Super Course: The Art of Seeing Page 4

I like the way poison oak has both green leaves and red leaves much of the year (I once kidded an obnoxious greenhorn hiking companion that it was a Christmas plant, and he should pick some and take it home for the holidays). I positioned the oak-wrapped tree stump at the bottom right (there was very unphotogenic stuff just out of frame to the right), and used the tree trunk at the top left to balance it. This photo has a kinda-of fantasy feel, calling to mind some of the children's stories my mom used to read to us kids before bedtime. This was shot with my point-and-shoot 4-megapixel hiking digicam (a Pentax Optio 430).

Including a person in a trail shot gives the viewer a sense of scale and a short telephoto emphasizes the steepness.

They say diagonal lines are more dynamic than horizontal ones. Well, they sure are if you're trying to climb them! This digicam shot documents the incline of a Steep Firebreak Trail (in fact, that's its official name) in the Verdugo Mountains near Los Angeles. Early-morning lighting on the distant city contrasts with the shaded trail surface.

For just about all outdoor photography, the light is most attractive first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon. It's warmer in color then, and the long shadows created by the low-angle sun add drama to even the most mundane scene.

A bad trail shot—the lighting is dull, and you can't tell where the trail is (of course, that's part of the challenge of a forest hike!). One key to getting good photos is to pick good subjects—if a subject isn't photogenic due to lighting, viewpoint or other factors, go ahead and shoot it "for the record," but try to find a better example to shoot.

A better trail shot—the lighting is interesting, and you can see the trail. The composition takes advantage of the wider H format of my APS hiking camera (an original Canon Elph, since replaced by the digicam).

When the air is thick with haze, all is not lost photographically. Late-afternoon sun rays become visible, and you can use them to enhance a photo. Like all the photos on this page except the trail shot above, this was made with the Optio 430 digicam.
Fun in the Field
If you like to hike, you should always take a camera. I generally carry a cigarette-pack-size digital point-and-shoot on a bolo-type strap around my neck. I hardly know it's there, but can easily and quickly grab it anytime a shot materializes. These photos were all shot with either the digital point-and-shoot (a Pentax Optio 430) or an equally teeny original Canon Elph Advanced Photo System point-and-shoot. Such cameras do limit you compared to what you could do with an SLR, but none of these shots would exist if I hadn't had these cameras.

Rule Number One for hiking photographers: Never shoot while you are walking! I've nearly stepped off cliffs and on snakes, and slipped while trying that. When you're walking, walk, and look. When you want to shoot, or read your trail map, or take a drink of water, stop in a safe place and do so.