Winning Digital Photo Contests Page 2

Simplifying is not just about fewer objects, either. Often you can simplify a scene by reducing the number of colors or tones. It’s interesting to note, for instance, that most formal Japanese gardens have few bright colors because tradition holds that color distracts from the tranquility and design of the garden as a whole. Look at how few tones photographer Marc Tkach included in his pastoral landscape—essentially just three horizontal stripes of saturated colors; yet each gains in strength precisely because of the limited palette.

Not all landscapes are meant to be composed in such a minimalist style, of course; but even when a scene requires more complexity, a “keep it simple” philosophy acts as a good clutter filter.

The Rural Landscape
Despite the fact that it’s disappearing so fast (or perhaps because of it), the rural landscape continually lures photographers to its forgotten byways. Even though most of us experience its charms only on vacations or weekend drives, there is something eternally calming and restful about scenic views of farms, small towns, and country roads. Just thinking of a covered bridge spanning a rambling river in Connecticut during your morning commute is enough to settle your blood pressure and send your daydreams to a sweeter, gentler place—if only until the guy behind you in the traffic jam honks his horn.

Photographs of rural landscapes make judges pause not only because of their idealized emotional simplicity, but also because of their honest, rustic beauty. There’s no denying the inherent photogenic attraction of a quaint farm, a field full of cows, or even just a row of wooden mailboxes next to a dirt crossroads. No one, especially not over-worked magazine editors or website contest judges, is immune to that kind of rose-tinted tranquilizer.

Title: Misty Morn
Contest: Photographic Society of America
© Neil Wetherbee, All Rights Reserved

The key to capturing winning photos of rural scenes is to spin them with as much Norman Rockwell-like purity as possible. In other words, remove all signs of the modern world and isolate the elements that magnify the scene’s simplicity. Photographer Neil Wetherbee found a superb perspective from which to capture this little hamlet in a single frame, and the trees of the foreground combine with the overall mist to abstract the subject as an island out of time.

Due to their romanticized nature, rural landscapes look best when further accented by the soft, slanting gold light that bathes the countryside early and late in the day. Try expanding the peaceful spaciousness by using a wide-angle lens set to a small aperture which will keep more detail in focus by expanding the depth of field. It helps to incorporate depth cues in the frame, such as the linear perspective of a rusted barbed-wire fence receding into the horizon.

Remember that everyone looking at your rural landscapes wants to believe in the myth that we still live in a simpler time, so sell that vision and you’ll have a winning landscape.

Jeff Wignall is a photographer and the author of many popular photo books, including “Exposure Photo Workshop” and the million-copy “Joy of Photography, 3rd edition.” He is a frequent contributor to many major photo magazines and a former “Camera” columnist for “The New York Times” and the former technical editor of “Photo District News.” His photos have appeared in hundreds of books, magazines, websites, and ads around the world. He is also a former online instructor with both and the Perfect Picture School of Photography.