On 3rd March 2022 we joined Beeslack Penicuik Camera Club for a joint session by Zoom, which once again let us to connect with a photographer from further afield. This time we were joined by David Clapp, a successful travel and landscape photographer from Newton Abbot, England. David said he started photography in 2002/2003, at first capturing images on film before moving on to digital photography. He started as a guitar teacher but his interest in photography lead to a career as a full-time professional in 2009. He has contributed travel photographs to guide books and stock photos to Getty Images. David explained that he doesn’t like the “instant gratification” aspect of social media. He prefers people to take more time and enjoy photography as an artform. You can see and enjoy David’s images one his website or his teaching page:
David began by showing us a trick he uses to select the best compositions from a vista. If he finds himself looking at a panoramic landscape he takes a series of, say 7, overlapping shots in portrait mode and then blends them into a large panorama. He can then crop out smaller compositions from this large image. Shooting in portrait mode means you don’t lose resolution when extracting portrait-format subsets. David suggested that the best way to progress in photography is to take risks. Take photographs that mean something to you, rather than photographs designed to please your peers. David took a risk when he converted one of his cameras to infrared photography, but it paid off. He showed us some stunning images of gnarled trees photographed around Dartmoor. The shots looked like snow scenes, but were in fact taken on a misty summer day with the infrared-converted camera.
David explained the composition of his landscape images and illustrated each composition by drawing “force lines” which represented the leading lines which your eye tends to follow. The strongest compositions have “force lines” which come in from a corner and lead you to a focal point. He tries to place focal points either on a 1/3rd or in the middle. Lines which criss-cross the image give it more complexity. David also showed how a balanced image would look more pleasing to the eye. He arranges to have the same-sized gap on the left and right sides and at the top and bottom of each image. He finds the most pleasing compositions are made at moderate focal lengths, and finds a 35-70mm lens ideal for landscape photography. A few years ago everyone tried to capture the “rock in the foreground” shot, where a wide angle lens captures a huge vista stretching from a rock in the foreground, to some trees in the middle ground and then mountains in the distance. Such a shot can capture the attention at first, but your brain tends to lose interest because too much is included and the foreground objects dominate the shot. David prefers to take landscape shots of specific objects within their surroundings, such as the trees in Dartmoor, rock formations on the top of a hill, or farm buildings within a farm. He recommends avoiding focal lengths wider than 35mm.
David described the method he uses to capture the best landscape shots. He avoids using a tripod (unless deliberately making long exposures at night) and instead takes hand-held shots at a high ISO setting. A tripod tends to anchor you to one spot, and David likes to look through the viewfinder, identify the key components in a scene, then move the camera until he finds a spot where the key components are spaced in a pleasing way. Try to have evenly-spaced objects in the scene and try not to have overlaps between objects. Zoom in and out and rotate the camera to find a shot where lines are anchored at the corners. If there is a building in the scene, try to include the door, and don’t turn take the shot more than 45 degrees away from that door.
David warns of falling into the trap of using excessive processing in Photoshop. Adding a colour or contrast boost to your images might make them look punchier, but it can also make them look unnatural. This is another example of spoiling images to make them attention-grabbing. David showed us the histograms of some of his images. They rarely contain completely white or completely black areas because most natural scenes don’t look completely black or completely white to your eye. This gives the images a more pleasing, natural and artistic look. Revisiting the same scenes many times in different lighting conditions will help you capture the best images.
In the second half of his talk, David gave an introduction to architectural photography, using images of the high rise buildings in Bishops Gate in London as an example. He explained how he applies the same techniques for these images. Shots of small groups of buildings work better than large cityscapes. You can even capture abstract images by focusing on just one part of a building. Upward-facing shots can be used to capture a strong perspective, with the vanishing point placed on a 1/3rd or in the middle. Try to rotate the shot so the edges of the buildings pass through the corners. Photographs of window reflections work better when there are no clouds in the sky.
Unfortunately, Musselburgh members at the Fisherrow Centre missed the end of David’s talk because of the early closing time 😦 but I understand he went on to show more abstract images captured in London and show more infrared shots.
Thank you very much Beeslack for hosting this extremely fascinating and captivating talk, and thank you David for taking the time to engage with us.