Creative Nature Photography: The art of seeing differently.
Creative photography is the art of seeing nature differently. In general, most nature photographers try to capture moments in nature as accurately and sharply as possible. Much effort is spent in getting things in the frame, getting them sharp, avoiding motion blur, preventing backlight, and so on. But creative photography is all about creating the mood, its about looking at nature through a different light or from a different perspective. So creative nature photographers usually do the exact opposite, they don’t follow rules of composition, the introduce motion blur, they show things from different perspectives, they produce backlight, they zoom in and show only an aspect of the whole. In short, they break all the rules as thoroughly as possible. The aim of the photographer must be to highlight a particular aspect of the object and highlight only that, to the exclusion of everything else or to present a unique perspevtive.
There is unfortunately no standard definition of creativity. It is completely open to interpretation. What I may consider as a painstakingly created light effect may be translated as a mistake or fluke by someone else. So let me just go through some of the images that I consider to be creative, let me explain the technique and thought process behind it and I leave it to the readers to decide whether these are creative or not. This might serve as a guide to the various techniques that may be used to create what I consider are creative photos.
Lighting effects: Use of external light and exposure control to achieve various effects
One good place to start with whilst venturing on the path of creative photography is to play with lighting. This is often easy to achieve and can produce some interestingeffects.
Ant in Leaf
Whilst photographing in my garden, I saw an ant wander into a leaf.
After a while, a ray of light fell squarely on the leaf and it looked interesting. So I started thinking, what would the ant see from within the leaf. I pulled out my external flash, came as close as possible and got the image below. This shows the texture of the leaf as highlighted by light and produces very interesting colors and textures. An accurate exposure and flash power was necessary to achieve this image. This is one of the images I use in my exhibitions and as yet, no one has een able to decipher that the green part is a leaf. Many people assume that its graphics.
Other use of lighting could be to either under-expose or to over-expose the image. Colors, especially in flowers, are heavily dependant on exposure. So its possible to change colors by changing and managing the exposure to get a desired output.
Over-exposing a purple flower usually pushes it into pink shades. This is a karvi flower whose original color is as below
However, by over-exposing significantly, you can introduce pastel effects and colors and give the flower a dreamy, water-color look. My goal was to show this flower in a softer, gentler way.
In this case, you can use exposure control to bring about color change and changes in texture. When doing flower photography, its a good idea to use various exposure values to bring about subtle changes in texture and color.
Red colors are extremely prone to overexposure which completely destroys the color depth. Reds usually have to be significantly under-exposed to bring out the tonalities. Because of the amount of under-exposure usually required, it leads to very contrasty and interesting images as below. This flower has an unusually deep red color and I tried to showcase the color depth in this image.
Details as an anchor point
Sometimes, it is interesting to showcase a particular part of the whole and create a frame that has interesting characteristics. This usually involves super macro to capture only a certain part of the image.
Flowers lend themselves very well to this technique. Flowers have layers of petals, sepals, stamens etc which you can carefully analyse and choose to create interesting images.
The below image is the center part of the flower. The angle and composition in this image was selected to showcase the delicacy and color of the flower. The major challenge in this type of photography is to get the perfect frame and the perfect depth of field. Because of the extreme close-up, its often very difficult to get the right frame with the proper depth of field because the various elements of the flower are often in different planes so maneuvering yourself is crucial to achieve the desired result: a well composed, sharp image.
Not only flowers, but the stems can also give interesting contrasts and color features. Once again the trick is to isolate the section which lends itself to the proper frame and depth of field.
Sometimes, its actually not a challenge photographically to get interesting compositions. The challenge often times is in the ability to “see” frames in the wild which are unusual and interesting. There is no real guide for this. In the below image, an insect had eaten a part of the leaf causing it to discolor in an interesting manner. It was a simple matter to frame it properly.
Other aspects that can be interestingly highlighted are things like textures. The below image is from yeoor. I had spotted a pair of much wrinkled leaves and I thought they were texturally interesting. The only challenge was to maneuver in such a way that I got a dark background and the correct angle and plane.
A really good way to get creative images is to look at things from a different angle or perspective. Often when we change our position or height, we can see things in a totally different light.
I was at Kas plateau and it ws the year when the “Topli Karvi” was in full bloom. The whole field was covered with the toplis. Unfortunately, it was very windy and rainy and I couldn’t get a shot of the field because of the mist.
While trying to figure out the correct angle, I went down to the level of the flowers and noticed water drops suspended under the flowers. The field behind was refracted in those tiny droplet and I was able to take this image. This shows the field of Karvi Flowers from the perspective of a tiny drop of water. This is one of my favorite images.
One of the easiest subject to shoot in a creative manner is actually water droplets and I thinik this would be a great place to start for those who are looking to get a feel for creative photography. I will take you through 4 images that have water as the subject but it has a different character in each image.
This was one of my earlier droplet image. This was taken very early in the morning. It’s a spider web that was very close to the ground. As I was walking in the area, I had noticed that in a particular angle, the web was lighting up due to the extremely low angle of the sun, which was providing a nice backlight. So I quickly setup the camera and explored the various angles and go this shot. The only challenge in this was to get the right angle and right exposure. Shots like these have a pretty small window of opportunity as once the sun rises a little more, different parts of the web may light up and it may not be the frame you want. So it’s necessary to be vigilant and take the opportunity when you get it.
Another interesting shot was this “string of pearls”. This had an oblique almost overhead lighting angle. All the lighting was actually provided by the background objects. The trick was to adjust the depth of field so that the background objects are just seen, but not decipherable.
This one is from yeoor. I had seen this droplet when I was photographing another image. The droplet itself was not interesting but the background was interesting. So the idea was to actually show the background and use the droplet and the stem as a sort of disjointed object of interest using rules of composition to balance the image. I had to use a flash to get the right exposure for the background and just enough depth of field to get the proper amount of details that I wanted in the background.
I was actually photographing this image below. I had noticed this drop of water hanging off the grass but I thought it was a bit boring. So I thought it might be interesting to see if we can see the sun through the drop. So I maneuvered till the sun was shining through the drop and produced this star-like pattern.
As you can see from the above images, there are no real rules in creative photography. Indeed, what may seem creative to me, may seem like junk to someone else. This genre of photography is actually a bit more difficult. In normal nature photography, the photographer is trying to simply record natural phenomena, usually in as faithful and accurate a manner as possible. In that case, the artist is nature and we are only recording the natural artistry. In creative nature photography however, the photographer is trying to impose his or her mood in the frame by using natural objects and interpreting them in his or her own vision. Nature does not lend herself so easily to alternate interpretation and you need to know with a fair bit of clarity about what is the desired output.
Some people accuse creative photographers of creating a parody of nature but it is my belief that it is actually a celebration and honoring of nature because you are seeing the natural world through a different perspective and bringing forth other, as yet unseen aspects of nature which tends to highlight the many dimensional aspects of nature.
So my advice to nature photographers who want to think creatively is to select and object (its may be a stone, flower or whatever) and first observe it thoroughly and then proceed to shoot it from at least 5 different angles, focal lengths and lighting conditions. Its really an eye-opener and can often reveal many startling and interesting things.
Or more inputs, you can look at http://creativenaturephotography.net/ and follow the works of Ganesh H Shankar (www.naturelyrics.com) who is probably one of the best proponents of creative nature photography in India.