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Harnessing Creativity in the Landscape: Four principles to utilize while out in the field

Harnessing Creativity in the Landscape:

Four principles to utilize while out in the field

Jennifer Renwick



            No matter where we are in our photography journey, we are always looking to learn and try new things to spice up our routine. It can be easy to get into ruts, and sometimes this can hinder our creativity. By exploring new techniques, we keep our creativity fresh, and it helps make us more well-rounded photographers. Below, I go over some fun and exciting practices that have helped me keep the creativity flowing in my own landscape photography.


Slow down your shutter!


            Playing with long exposure is not only an excellent way to learn the technicalities of using longer shutter speeds, but it also opens up the door to creativity by transforming common elements in a scene with unique and stunning results. By using a longer shutter speed, you are intentionally blurring subjects in your frame and creating a feeling of movement to the viewer. Elements such as running water in a stream, fast-moving clouds in the sky, grasses, and flowers can make great subjects for this activity. Keeping the shutter open longer creates a unique image of an ordinary subject. I'll run through a few examples below of how I used a slower shutter speed to highlight and exaggerate some of my landscape subjects.




Here, a longer shutter speed emphasizes the water movement and the reflected canyon light and blue sky in the water. With a faster exposure, I wouldn't have been able to capture the colors and dreamy movement of the water.

“Brushed” Virgin River, Utah


 Shiprock makes for a spectacular subject by itself, but the fast-moving clouds that were streaking across the night sky were equally as fascinating. I wanted to accentuate this movement by using a longer exposure.

“Shiprock Dreams”  New Mexico


Isolate subjects with a telephoto lens


            Using a telephoto allows you to isolate smaller subjects in a scene. Grand landscapes are beautiful, but they can often be overwhelming to the eye. This conflict can make it particularly hard to figure out what you want to photograph in the scene.  In these instances, I've found it helpful to get my telephoto lens out to focus on what interests me the most in these more significant scenes. A telephoto lens can help you focus on and draw attention to a particular subject. When you focus on a specific item in a scene, it allows you to tell a story about that subject. Telling stories can stir creativity, and instead of the subject blending in with its surroundings as they tend to do in the grand landscape, you are now giving it a chance to shine, and possibly tell a story. When photos tell a story, it enhances the viewer's experience. Below are some instances that had me reach for my telephoto lens.

The lower falls of Yellowstone are very grand and majestic. As I surveyed this large scene, a small tree on a rock outcrop caught my eye. I isolated this tree with my telephoto lens, making it the star subject. Since the tree was alone, it created visual interest.

“Forsaken” Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming



Here, an aspen forest was lit up on a hill with the last light before the sun dipped behind the mountain. I used my telephoto lens to isolate this section of aspen, as I enjoyed how the contrast between the lit aspens and dark background played out. By isolating these trees out, I'm emphasizing the dramatic light difference, creating an interesting scene.

“Into the Light” Colorado


Play around with ICM (Intentional Camera Movement)


            Adding intentional movement with our cameras sounds pretty frightening to a photographer. After all, the result of photography is an excellent looking, sharp photo, right?  Well, if you're playing with ICM, then you'll end up with a great creative photo, but it won't be sharp...and that's perfectly okay! ICM is when you purposely move the camera while exposing a subject or a scene. This technique is practiced with a slower shutter speed while moving the camera horizontally or vertically as you click the shutter. The difference between this and long exposures is long exposures intentionally blur an already moving subject. With ICM, you are creating motion blur with your camera on a fixed subject. Experimenting with this technique can be a liberating experience for your creativity. The result of ICM is a unique take on an ordinary subject, and it creates very painterly looking images, almost mimicking abstract paintings.  Tree trunks, especially aspen trees, make for perfect subjects to experiment with. Wildflowers, the ocean coastline, and trees are fun to try this technique with.


Here, ICM creates a very painterly and dreamy look with aspen trunks.

“Aspen Trunks” Colorado


“Painted trees” Colorado



Get Abstract!


            Photographing natural abstracts open the mind to an assortment of creative opportunities. They can be a challenge for even the advanced photographer, and they can be fun to photograph for the beginner alike.  They can fuel your imagination with creative energy, and looking for these opportunities is a treasure hunt for an open mind. The hallmark of a great abstract image is one that makes the viewer ask, "What is this?" The viewer's interpretations are just part of the fun of photographing abstractly. Abstracts can be a close up of a particular subject, the result of motion blur or they can be created with a telephoto lens (all techniques I've mentioned above!)  Nature provides us with limitless encounters with the abstract, as long as you're willing to take the time to "see" them. Abstracts can take a lot of practice for some, and it can take some training to see them in nature. Natural patterns and textures are a perfect place to start, and I find it fun to photograph things that are reminiscent of everyday objects. Below are some examples of nature abstracts.


These sand dunes were photographed with a telephoto lens from quite a distance. They reminded me of whipped meringue on top of a tart.

“Twilight Dunes” Death Valley National Park, California



This is an abstract from a thermal feature in Yellowstone that was reminiscent of graffiti on a wall.

“Graffiti” Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


Sand patterns on a beach after a retreating wave created this natural abstract. The design left behind reminded me of apparitions floating around.

“Apparitions” California Coast



            Experimenting and using these techniques will help you to think outside the box with your own photography. Next time you're out in the field, and looking for something creative to do, try some long exposures. Use your telephoto lens to isolate a subject and tell a story. Perhaps try ICM to create painterly images, or find some neat textures and patterns to try photographing abstractly. Practicing these will help make you a more well-rounded photographer and be beneficial for cultivating your creativity. It will open your eyes to new opportunities in the field and help take your nature photography to another level.


See More Of  Jennifer's Work!