Clive Booth: Using portrait lenses to capture landscapes

Land grab

Photography doesn’t have to be complicated or technical. Clive Booth’s guerrilla approach to landscapes draws from his experience of the commercial world of fashion, beauty and portrait. Here he tells us his secret to using portrait lenses to capture creative landscapes.

As a photographer, what you are trying to do all the time is stamp your own DNA into the photographs. I am trying to record the way I see the world, and this is very important to me. For this personal landscape project, I chose to apply the same approach I have to my fashion work, which is to shoot a lot of pictures around the subject. I might get down on the floor or I might climb a tree, but I won’t spend all day there. If I see it, I’ll record it; it’s a guerrilla-style approach. I also wanted to shoot with the aperture wide open from F1.2 down to F4 to achieve a narrow band of focus to add depth to the images and give them the ephemeral feel I want, and I looked for things in the landscape that enabled me to do just that. Because of my fast F1.2 lens, I can shoot handheld.

There is an optimum time of day and type of light — I like diffused light. If it’s a clear blue sky I will look for places where the light is reflected or where light is falling through a wood or a forest. A favourite sort of day is when it’s overcast with thinning cloud and the sun shining through. If it is sunny, I like to shoot into the sun, but you have to be careful doing this with wide apertures because you get refractions of light and have to keep stopping the lens down.

Equally important is composition, but what really makes these images interesting is depth — how the lens records the depth through the narrow band of focus gives the pictures additional atmosphere. So I look for elements within the composition that will enhance the selective focus. I’ll look for an interesting foreground and background and then something mid-picture that I can then draw the viewer’s attention to. My landscape work is often bleak, which is in stark contrast to my fashion and beauty work.

Top tips

  • Keep your kit simple otherwise it can become unwieldy or cumbersome
  • Use fast lenses
  • The lower the ISO, the better
  • Especially important if you want to make large prints of your work.
  • Just shoot what you see
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Double the focal length
  • Doubling the focal length and ensuring you don’t shoot below that speed will eliminate camera shake. So, for an 85mm lens, you should shoot at a speed of around 1/60 second.

I studied graphic design and photography, but began my career as a graphic designer, a field I worked in for 20 years. During this time, I worked with great photographers, I art directed photo shoots and commissioned photography, all the while shooting my own images. About five years ago, fashion photographer Nick Knight spotted my work and helped launch my career as a photographer. Today I often say I am a designer with a camera. When I look at a picture, I am looking at the way in which it might be used in design, and this informs my composition. Sometimes this may look strange, but I quite like that. Photography for me is a creative process that is intensely selfish. When I shoot, I please myself first and hope the idea will please others. In the edit, this creative process kicks in again and in post production once more. To all photographers I would say be utterly selfish and ruthless in shooting what you want to. Shoot from your heart. When you have done that, keep taking photographs because that’s how you learn. Shoot all the time, it’s like any other skill, you have to practise to hone your skills and test your equipment. If you start to take pictures to please others, you are in trouble. Do what you want to do; that way you are going to enjoy it.

I vignette, sometimes a gamma, but mostly an exposure vignette to add further shade to the image to bring out that central point of interest. I might de-saturate and sharpen, but it depends on how I want the final image to look. Some images I will dodge and burn.

What’s in your kit bag?

The comparison I would make here is to a fly fisherman, who has just a rod and a bag. He pitches up, casts whatever fly he’s using for that day, waits, and occasionally catches what he wants. For me, all I have is my ND filter on my belt, my Canon 1Ds MkIII on a shoulder strap and my 85mm lens (I find this focal length is just a great lens on a full-frame sensor). If I’m carrying my entire kit bag, it will contain:

Canon 5D MkII (without battery pack)
85mm F1.2 (favourite lens)
ND filters (these enable me to shoot in bright light wide open)
Canon 50mm 1.2 lens
Canon 14mm F2 lens
Canon 24mm F1.4 lens
Canon Macro 180mm lens
Thermarest and Paclite Gore-Tex
All carried in a LowePro Primus Minimus AV rucksack

Biography: Clive Booth
Clive Booth shoots fashion, cosmetics and hair campaigns the world over. His clients include MAC Cosmetics NY, L'Oréal and Wella and he has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and You magazine. He lives in Derbyshire. www.clivebooth.co.uk/landscape 

This feature is from the March 2010 issue
Back issues can be ordered by calling 01858 438840 or by sending an email to photographymonthly@subscription.co.uk

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  1. Clive might be great at "fashion, beauty, and portrait" but frankly, the three shots to illustrate his article on landscapes left me cold. I would have binned them had they been mine. Picture one has a most distracting foreground due to the clutter of branches and bushes. In picture 2, the only thing in focus is a tattered screen. What is with the out of focus cows and dull sky? Pass. Number 3 is darkly vignetted and framed with foiage to show us what? A mud puddle! Sorry, Clive, in my opinion, the "king

    Comment made by: FForbes
    15.04.10 03:34:07

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