Sunday 17 May 2020

Waterfalls and Wildflowers - The Power of Separation

It won't come as a surprise to some of you to know that our medium-term plan is to up-roots here in Bavaria and settle in Austria. The intention is to semi-retire, earning a little bit on the side with photo safaris and workshops in the border area between Lienz and Cortina d'Ampezzo, between the main chain of the Alps and the majestic Dolomites. I've been working on my photography a lot over the last 18 months. I've come a long way in that time. I still have a way to go, but if I review my photos of the last few years, I can see definite progress. The Mike of 18 months ago would have a lot to learn from the Mike of now. I know that I've still got a ways to go, but in the near future I hope to start offering tuition on a 1:1 or 1:2 basis. The tuition can be in English or German, though preferably not both in the same session.

After the Rain || Olympus f4.5, 1/160 s, ISO 200

This won't be on a monetary basis, which doesn't mean the tuition will be free. Instead of remuneration, I will be asking for detailed feedback from you in order that I can hone my skills as an instructor. So, if you're in the Munich area and find yourself looking at my photos and saying "Wow, I wish I could take photos like that!", get in touch and we'll see what we can work out.

It would be useful for me to understand a bit about your current level of expertise as well as your aspirations before we start out so that I don't end up boring you with stuff you already know and so that I can plan the excursion to give you a chance of learning what you want to learn.

Dewy Needles || Olympus f6.3, 1/200, ISO 1600

Unless you have a specific plan in mind, my recommendation would be that we head down to the mountains to somewhere like Hinterstein here and simply head up the trail. Tuition would involve a whole day spent in the wilds, so you'll need to be at least a little bit fit, though we will be stopping regularly for photos. Rather than classroom tuition, it will all be out in the field (or forest😉) showing you optimal camera settings as we go for the compositions as we find them. We'll discuss what makes good photos, what constitutes good and bad lighting (and why bright sunlight isn't always the best), how to separate subject matter from its environment to draw the viewer's eye to where you want it and how to use lines in a photo to do the same.

Zipfelsbach Waterfall || Olympus f22, 1/2 s, ISO 125

One of the first compositions on this particular tour, for example, is the Zipflesbach waterfall, where we could play with how the exposure time affects the appearance of the water and how to convey a sense of motion through slow shutter speeds. A tripod is a must for such shots on most cameras, and a neutral density (ND) filter can be very helpful to prevent over-exposure. At the very least, a variable ND filter, with two layered polarising filters that can be twisted independently in order to adjust how much you decrease the amount of light hitting the lens. Professional photographers frown on them because they can cause unsightly patterns on plain subjects such as the sky, but they're great on waterfalls. There are several schools of thought - or preference - concerning the optimal exposure time for moving water, varying from about 1/5 s, enough to convey a sense of movement without overdoing it, to 2 s for that real silky motion. Personally, I like the effect that can be obtained with a 1/2 s exposure, though I have been known to go to as long as 10 s for some of my shots of the Stuiben Falls and Pöllat Gorge.

Alpine forests are a treasure-trove of wild flowers in early summer (and mushrooms in the autumn if it hasn't been too dry), and there would be plenty of time to get up close and personal with orchids, wolfsbane and the like. Early summer is also great for fresh pine growth, which traps dew-drops and rain-drops beautifully. 

Fresh Pine Growth || Olympus f11, 1/60 s, ISO 1600

Wolfsbane (German: Arnika) presents a great object lesson on how to photograph flowers with a little bit of imagination. There's a temptation to simply shoot flowers from head height - in my opinion, one of the worst perspectives to shoot from. It can work if done well, but it rarely has real impact. Get down low for a more oblique angle. In steep woodland it's relatively easy to get this sort of angle without breaking your back, it's common that plants are at waist height on the uphill side. 

Top Down || Olympus f4, 1/400 ISO 200
Classical Aspect || Olympus f4, 1/200, ISO 200

Here I took the spontaneous decision to take the unusual side-on shot. Depth of field is always a consideration for shots like these, you want it to be shallow enough to isolate the flower from the background without making the focal plane so narrow that virtually nothing is in focus. I got away with f4 here, though in retrospect I should have gone for a smaller aperture to get more of the flower head in focus. I'm still learning too.

Wolfsbane, Side On || Olympus f4, 1/250, ISO 200

Above the tree-line there are more wild flowers to be had and maybe even some bona fide landscapes. We were stunned by the number of wild gentians growing as we left the forest, together with marsh marigolds (a challenge for any camera due to the intensity of the yellow) and oxslips. Focus isn't the only way to get separation on subject matter, here I used light. With the sun shining on the pale yellow flowers it wasn't difficult to set the exposure so that they were well lit whilst the shadowy stream behind them was almost completely black. 

Oxslip || Olympus f5,6, 1/250 s, ISO 200

Electric-blue Gentians || Olympus f11, 1/80 s, ISO 640

The Zipfelsbach Alm has a small alpinarium with a lovely variety of mountain flowers including perennial cornflowers amongst others.

Perennial Cornflower || Olympus f13, 1/125, ISO 1600

The path back down from the Alm follows the Zipfelsbach over a series of small falls before the trail drops back into the forest and then down along the side of the high waterfalls. There are multiple opportunities to stop and shoot the upper falls on the way down.

Zipfelsbach || Olympus f22, 1/2 s, ISO 80

Interested? Drop me an email via the About Me at the bottom of the column to the right. Think I'm overstepping the mark and offering my services too soon? Let me know in the comments below.

Down the throat of a giant yellow gentian || Olympus, f13, 1/80 s, ISO 1600

Getting up-close and personal with a Burgundy Snail || Olympus f16, 1/60 s, ISO 1600

Trumpet Gentians || Olympus f13, 1/200 s, ISO 1600

Best Conditions Early summer for the wild flowers, best early in the morning to avoid the crowds and catch the dew
Challenges Steep trek up to the Zipfelsalpe
Parking €4 at Parkplatz "Festhalle" just behind the church
Where to Stop Zipfelsalpe from June to October
Links Zipfelsalpe (German)

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