Today we have with us an awesome landscape photographer Sankar Salvady. I have been following his work for a long time now. He captures the beauty of nature through wonderful composition and techniques. This is not just an interview. Here, he shares some practical tips which will dramatically improve your landscape photography. After reading this interview, please check out his work. I am sure that it will leave you speechless.
About Sankar Salvady
Sankar Salvady is an avid travel photographer based in California. He is passionate about capturing candid moments in people’s lives, landscapes, weddings, and wildlife. He was raised in a small town in the foothills of Western Ghats in South India in a landscape dotted with lush green farmlands, perennial rivers, tropical forests, green attired mountains ranges, and copious waterfalls, and here is where his first love for nature, and photography started. The journey has taken him close to nature, close to humanity, and even more so close to himself !
How long have you been doing photography?
I bought my first Point and shoot camera in 1999, and my first SLR in 2001. But I had to wait until 2010 for my interest to become a passion, and 2011 for it to become an obsession.
Did you start photography as a landscape photographer, or you later changed into one?
No, I have never restricted myself to landscapes; I love travelling and try to record anything of interest from the places I travel to. At this point I am travelling to a few places in the US whose landscapes appeal a lot to me. So you might find more landscapes than others among my recent work. But when I travel in India, I shoot a lot of environmental portraits, street life and some documentary work. These genres appeal a lot to me as well.
What inspires you to take landscape photography?
An unbounded love for Mother Nature, complemented by a passion to travel. There are few moments in life where you would feel so enraptured about being in a moment and place that nothing else in life matters – watching the orange ball of sun tear the veil of darkness and rise up the horizon, Alpen glow over snow-capped mountains, chirping of birds waking up in their nests, first drop of rain in my face, laying on the ground and gazing at the mysterious night sky dotted with countless stars – these and many more.
How do you prepare before going for a shoot?
- Check weather forecasts.
- A detailed look of the location in Google maps to get a broader idea of the location.
- Check for inspiring images from the location taken by other photographers.
- Check Sunrise and sunset times, road conditions etc.
- Prepare camera gear the previous night.
- Pray for dramatic weather.
How do you know you got the shot you wanted?
It’s hard, in fact it’s one of the biggest challenges I face. But on the flip side , because of this I end up trying a lot of compositions and after coming home, the picture I thought was the best while shooting might turn out mediocre and vice versa.
What is the most important advice you would like to give others for making a good landscape photographs?
Look beyond Facebook for feedback. Facebook is a network of friends and well-wishers, who mostly have only good things to say about your pictures, and this can easily lead to complacency. Spend time studying good pictures of others. Try to understand what makes it stand apart from many other images that you have seen of the same place.
What is your favourite place for landscape photography, and why? Where do you like to go next?
Western Ghats, India. Apart from the beautiful place that it is, it’s partly because I grew up in her arms and I feel a connection with nature and divine there far more than elsewhere. Alaska and Montana are my other favourite places. Himalayas and north-eastern India are two regions I have been longing to explore. I hold a strong belief that these regions have a lot more to offer than the world knows of.
Please share 5 quick practical tips for landscape photography?
- Patience pays, sometimes a lot.
- Learn to differentiate good light from bad light.
- Reach a location early to scout around to find a good location. More often than not, the best locations are not always the most easily accessible locations.
- There are bad days in every job; same goes with landscape photography. Don’t let a bad day or a few bad ones affect your motivation.
- Don’t photograph a place because others photograph it, do it because you love it. Your photo conveys your love for a place more than you think it does.
People get awed by seeing your photographs because of its vibrant colours, lights etc. What is the prime factor that helps you in making those images?
Thank you so much. To avoid repeating myself, each of the pointers (1) to (5) above has a role to play for that.
From a landscape photographer’s point of view, can you tell us what differentiates a photographer from an artist?
A photographer composes with his eyes, an artist with his heart.
Some people might think that landscape photography is boring or repetitive. What is your opinion on that?
I am not into landscape photography for that long to comment on that. But occasionally I have seen it happen to me when I travel to the same location multiple times – boredom kicks in once the excitement and the mystery associated with the location is gone. But I get it all back when I travel to a new location, or when the conditions are dramatically different from what I have seen of the location I have visited.
This might also occur if your biggest motivation to shoot landscapes is not the love for your subject but the technical challenges associated with it, because you will master the techniques sooner or later, and you might find landscapes boring after that.
Is there any challenges you face in making landscape photographs, and what are they?
Impossibility to always plan your travel based on weather, physical fitness required to hike long distances and tough terrains lugging your entire gear with you, motivating yourself to wake up at 3AM when it’s still dark and freezing outside, are a few. While overcoming the above are beyond your photography skills, challenges like — (a) obtaining a good and unique composition (b) taming the dynamic range (DR) can be overcome by good techniques and practise.
For example in the picture below, shot in Santa Cruz CA, I faced both comp and DR issues. The arch shaped rock in the picture and the rock to its left were in shadow, so it would be rendered dark if I expose the picture for the sky. Also being a popular location this picture has been clicked so much that finding a unique composition was a challenge. To tame the dynamic range, in this particular case, I had to apply a +1 EV of exposure compensation so that the shadows don’t go dark, and at the same time the sky doesn’t get burnt out. Later in post processing, I worked with the exposure of the sky and the rocks in shadow so that they all looked as they did to my eyes. If the sky were a couple of stops brighter than this, this technique might not have worked. I might have resorted to HDRs which are very common in landscape photography.
Regarding composition, getting a good one in this location was not difficult as it’s a popular spot, but getting a unique composition was. I had to scout the location a bit and try different compositions, when I found these sea weeds deposited in the shore by high tides and ended up with this picture.
What equipment do you use now? And what did you start with? How did change in equipment help you in your photography?
I am using Canon EOS 5d Mark III now. I started my foray in digital with Canon 30D. Compared to 30D, features like Live view, histogram, improved weather-sealing capabilities, electronic level indicator, improved dynamic range etc. in recent DSLRs are a boon to photographers shooting landscapes.
As a photographer, where do you see yourself in five years?
Build a portfolio which is 10% as good as Steve Mc Curry. He has been my biggest inspiration in photography.
You must have come across or asked to review hundreds of photographs. What is the biggest mistake, you think, others make in landscape photographs?
Shooting in bad light. Avoid the temptation to shoot a picture just because you are in a beautiful spot. If the light is not right, the picture would not do justice to the beauty of the location. So, wait until the light becomes good. If not, come again another day if that’s feasible.
Please explain your post processing workflow? Do you have any special workflow you would like to share with us?
I shoot only in RAW format, import the pictures using Lightroom 4, where I primarily do lens correction (like Chromatic aberration, distortion correction) and Camera Calibration. For images taken at high ISO, I sometimes start my workflow with Digital Photo Professional instead of Lightroom, for its impressive noise reduction capabilities. Then I export the RAW files as TIFF and proceed with the rest of post-processing in Photoshop. My workflow in Photoshop has not matured yet to follow a specific pattern as yet. While each picture dictates a different workflow, recently I find myself using the custom actions using Luminosity masks developed by Tony Kyuper, a lot. I highly recommend other landscape photographers check it out as well.
How far do you go in post-production? How important post processing is in making a landscape photograph?
At this point, not a lot; as most of my photos are displayed only in the web. Post processing is absolutely essential in landscape photography and if you are not doing it, you are forgoing one of the most important advantages that digital offers you.
Thank you so much for giving us this interview. Anything else you would like to share with us?
Go out and take photos. No amount of reading or discussing photography in forums help as much as taking photos. And, thank you so much for this opportunity, Shutterstoppers. Wishing you all at Shutterstoppers, all the best.
Find Sankar Salvady on the web