I love sweeping panoramas, but when I’m alone I often gravitate to the intimate locations that make nature so personal. In Yosemite’s dark corners, places like Bridalveil Creek beneath Bridalveil Fall, and the dense mix of evergreen and deciduous trees lining Merced River near Fern Spring and the Pohono Bridge, I scour the trees and forest floor for subjects to isolate from their surroundings.
Helping your subjects stand out is often the key to a successful image. Sometimes subject isolation is a simple matter of finding something that stands out from its surroundings, an object that’s physically separated far from other distractions. But more often than not, effective isolation requires a little help from your camera settings, using contrast, focus, and/or motion to distinguish it from nearby distractions.
A disorganized tangle of weeds or branches can become a soft blur of color when you narrow your depth of field with a large aperture, close focus point, and/or long focal length. Likewise with motion, where a long shutter speed can smooth a rushing creek into a silky white ribbon. And a camera’s inherently limited dynamic range can render shadows black, and highlights white, creating a perfect background for your subject.
After finding these dangling leaves, just across the road and a little downriver from Fern Spring in Yosemite Valley, I juxtaposed them against the vertical trunks of background maples and evergreens. Zooming to 200mm reduced my depth of field, separating the sharp leaves from the soft background of trunks and branches. A large aperture further blurred the background to a simple, complementary canvas of color and shape. Slight underexposure and a polarizer (to remove glare) helped the color pop.