A Diffuse Light

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

Conservationist photographer Jim Rathert remembers the morning he hurried to find the perfect place to photograph fast-moving storm clouds above stark, treeless hills at Bilby Ranch Conservation Area.

And Mark Pelton, a Conservation Department resource forester whose photos are featured in the Natural Events Calendar, recalls arriving at Greer Spring just before a summer dawn to photograph the stream cloaked in magical fog.

On a winter canoe trip on the Current River, Jim Grace awoke to a spectacular sight. "Frost on the trees, fog over the river, icicles hanging from limestone bluffs. It was beautiful photography," he said.

Grace, a Conservation Department resource technician whose photos have appeared in the Conservationist and the calendar, says, "It wasn't a case of having a fancy camera; it was being outdoors at the right time and being prepared to record what was happening."

Missouri is full of places that cast a lure and reel us in, so to speak. They challenge landscape photographers and all of us who carry both a camera and the hope we'll bring home exact images of sights that stopped us in our tracks.

Well, it isn't that easy, as you well know if you've ever tried to snap a breathtaking view. Often as not, your photo will show a blank sky above hills that resemble dark, fuzzy bedroom slippers.

If you are yearning to improve your landscape photography, you can learn a great deal from professionals like Rathert, Pelton and Grace. To get more tips, I also interviewed St. Louis photographer David Burt; Charles Gurche, who grew up near Kansas City and now lives in Spokane, Wash.; my photographer-husband, Jim Mueller; and Frank Oberle of St. Charles.

All were generous with ideas about equipment, technique and philosophy, and they agreed on most points, including the importance of understanding how your equipment works and of being persistent. Capturing beautiful landscapes on film is seldom an accident, they say, and they offered the following tips for those who would like to improve their outdoor photography.

Camera as Cyclops:

What you see may not be exactly what your camera gets. Two-eyed humans perceive more depth than a one-eyed camera can record. Also, your eyes keep adjusting to see detail in light and dark areas, but in a camera, all parts of a scene are exposed through a set aperture for the same amount of time. If the camera exposes for detail in shadow, detail in the brightest areas may be lost,

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