There’s nothing less interesting than an empty expanse of space in an image. Sure, empty space can be an effective tool to use as an artist, to frame or set off a specific subject, but to just sit there in a composition and really provide no help at all – well that quickly becomes a dull scene and viewer pass by quickly.
The horizontal nature of the Plains can present such challenges but surprising so can other areas expected to be photogenic. For a few days at Lake Tahoe I struggled with a clear, blue, empty sky. For just about any shot pointing downward this is a great thing to have – a bright, even illumination. For landscapes looking out over the distance, however, it’s dull. Doubly dull when the bottom of the composition is a brilliant blue lake that is also pretty empty of subjects. And the lake being so large means the mountains that rim it show up way off in the distance, not contributing much to the overall scene even though they are snow-capped.
Unlike the abstract painters with their single little colored dot on a white canvas, I really need some subjects in my compositions, at ground level and up in the atmosphere. Fortunately, one afternoon presented all the subjects I could want as a storm rolled across the mountains and into my neighborhood.
Now there’s action above and below, the clouds roiling through myriad shapes as the front twists them to wring out their moisture and the lake rippling in the wind, the waves offering multiple surfaces to reflect the changing light overhead.
Periodically the sun would struggle through a break, sending narrow shafts of light across the water to impinge on the clouds being forced up by the mountains. Fire in the sky as the clouds duplicate the form of the ground below.
Finally the back of the storm reached the western slopes, letting more sun across the lake to display the complex shapes in the sky as the clouds adjusted to the winds and mountains.
More sunlight escaped the clouds to the west, pouring onto the lake and shining in the trees growing among the shallows. The storm gradually moved eastward, the last moisture being thrust upward by the highest mountains to end the show over the lake.
It was a great display, offering many unique views of how wind, water and stone interact while the light changes their appearance constantly. And it made the sky interesting, an active character in the scene rather than a backdrop. The advantage of living at a place or spending significant time there is you learn these meteorological moods and can anticipate compositions that capitalize on them. A temporary visitor? Well, we have to hope for the best and be ready when it happens.