Order And Chaos

They key to capturing intimate landscapes is being to make order out of chaos. It’s knowing what to exclude from a composition, not include. I photographed this particular composition above the Roaring River this fall in RMNP. The colors of the aspens along with the forest floor was striking. Finding a way to make a compelling composition that was not too busy was more difficult. Technical Details: Nikon Z7, Nikkor 24-70mm F4 S lens

Making order out of chaos. That’s one of our primary jobs as landscape photographers. I preach to students on my photography tours that photography is not about what to include in a particular scene, but what not to include. Landscape photography is more about exclusion of objects and landmarks than it is about inclusion.

What I often see from clients out on a photography tour with me in Rocky Mountain National Park is a desire to capture what are large expansive vistas. They are beautiful to behold and frankly can be overwhelming to many photographers who are not accustomed to Rocky Mountain National Park high peaks and ridgelines.

Students first instincts are to pull out their wide angle lens, rack it back to 11,14 or 16mm and make an attempt to get all the landscape they can into the frame. The problem with this approach is that the beauty of the subject they are trying to convey quickly gets lost in the vast sweeping landscape. While a wide angle lens helps to include all the scenery and landscape they are photographing into the frame, the subject is lost as is the intent of photographer.

If I’m photographing the same scene alongside my students, they are often surprised to find me photographing with my vanilla 24-70mm lens or 70-200mm lens. Often they want to know how ‘I’m fitting all that in’ with telephoto lens. I’ll show students what I’m photographing, how I’m isolating the subject, removing distracting elements from the edges of the frame and attempting to convey my subject through the use of exclusion and isolation. For many clients this is an epiphany, they quickly go to their camera bag and grab one of their plain vanilla lenses that they use ‘back home’ and begin to craft a composition as opposed to relying on the physics of a wide angle lens to create an effect.

This image posted above and photographed this fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is a good example of making order out of chaos in a landscape. I was out with clients photographing one of the well visited waterfalls in the park. We had spent a good amount of time making beautiful images of this location and were about to move on.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied some beautiful red and orange color on the floor of the forest. There were golden aspen trees above and I climbed a ridge to get a better look at this scene. I spent quite a bit of time with my client working on compositions and discussing the importance of making order out of chaos with this scene. The colors, the trees, this small piece of real estate in the vast expanse of Rocky Mountain National Park was calling out to be photographed, it was just a matter of figuring out how.

I tell my clients all the time that scenes like these speak to me much more than a grand landscape does. They are much more personal and cerebral. It’s very unlikely that another photographer will duplicate this scene and frankly it may be years before the undergrowth and tree canopy look like this again.

I could walk by this particular scene a million times and never find a composition. This time there was just enough order amongst the chaos to make it work.