Take a nice subject, awesome conditions, build up a pleasing composition, and you will get a great photograph. But there is still something important missing for getting it to world class. Therefore, we have to go even one step further.
In my latest YouTube video about going one step further to bring your photography to art, I took my audience with me to a photo spot in the Austrian Alps, where I planned an epic photograph five or six years ago. I have visited that place already multiple times in the past to think about my options and to build up a composition for getting a masterpiece. The only thing I was waiting for was the right weather and light conditions.
Merging Composition and Light
Getting a world-class image is not done by choosing a nice composition and placing your subject according to the golden ratio and hoping for a tranquil light situation. Our photograph needs to say something. The composition as well as the light should support the story. And this can only work when they fit together. But to be able to do that, we need to get clear about the story first. There are lots of ways how to find a story. For the photograph in the above-mentioned video, I engaged deeply with the history behind my photo spot, which is often a quite good approach. In the 18th century, there was a horrendous accident with a horse carriage. It got hit by a rock from the mountain beside the road and dipped over into the water, and all people inside drowned. This is why they have set two crosses on the rock, as a remembrance of the tragic accident.
So, my photo spot was nothing where I would want to try to find a tranquil light situation for a happy photograph. Emotions are quite important here, and to express them, we need to bring the right mood into our image. I decided for red sky, as it conveys a mysterious and even ominous mood. Red sky is easy to predict:, you just need the right clouds at the right position, with the sunlight shining at them. But you also need to get the sun setting or rising exactly where you want to have the red sky at the end. And for this particular spot, there are just two times in the year where it sets at a position to get the reds exactly between the mountain on the left side and the rock with the crosses. I waited quite a long time for these weather conditions.
Telling the Entire Story
One of the most important things in fine art photography is to get connected to the scene you want to photograph. Therefore, I visited that place multiple times, not for photography only, just to understand it. As my children were getting their driving licenses some years ago, I practiced a lot with them, as is common here in Austria. And guess where we drove most of the time. I got obsessed with that place, and I was so sure about the story I wanted my image to tell: a story of a tragic accident where people died. Therefore, the red sky was the right weather scenario in my eyes.
Ultimately, I was so happy that I got the conditions I was hoping for after waiting for years. And in the end, I managed to get my photograph exactly how I had planned it.
After the sun has set, the sky turned into dramatic red. The agitated sky and the movement in the water supported the tragic story. The water deformed the cross reflection mirror, so that it built a contrast to the real cross up fantastic on the rock. I saw the story of life and death. It told a story. It was already a piece of art. But there was still something missing. In the beginning, I was not sure what it was.
Bringing It to a Masterpiece
The photo spot was close to a highly frequented road with a parking lot, and as it was Friday evening, lots of youths met there with loud music and they let their motors rev. It was so loud, and as I was focused on the accident from back then and the poor souls, I thought: how should they ever find peace here?
As I engaged with my composition, I suddenly realized that the reeds right beside the rock got more and more illuminated by the sky’s reflection. And suddenly, I saw the missing part of my story: I got the drama into my image, but the poor souls needed relief.
I decided to change from a portrait to landscape orientation and get more from the reeds right beside the rock into the frame. The illuminated area didn’t only balance the red sky on the left side from the point of view of visual weight. It also balanced the story. The shutter speed was quite important here as well. For the first shot in portrait orientation, I decided on a shorter shutter speed to emphasize the drama. For my final image, I exposed much longer to emphasize the peace in the image, which was also supported by bringing the rock to the center of my frame. The sky brought enough drama into the image. It was all about bringing a bittersweet mood into the scene.
Ultimately, I just went one step further in my photograph. I got my image to tell the entire story. It is not important that the viewer understands the entire story exactly the way I do. Much more important from the point of view of art is what a viewer feels when they see the photograph.
Leave me a comment below about what you feel when you look at the final photo. And to experience the whole photography adventure, watch the above-mentioned video, where I reveal many more tips about landscape photography, how to bring art to photography, and how to master red sky photography.