In whatever section he may afterwards specialise, the beginner should always pass through a course in landscape work. The incidental difficulties are few and arise in so regular a succession, that a result worthy of being shown to critical friends may often be achieved after a few lessons.
Having arrived at the scene of action, the lens is opened by removing the cap. If it is fitted with an automatic shutter the indicator must be turned to "time," and the lever pressed once. Then, with the aid of a focussing cloth of some opaque material, such as black cotton velvet, we examine the image thrown on the focussing screen, racking the front backwards and forwards till it appears fairly sharp. (The iris diaphragm of the lens must be at its widest, f/8 or f/6.5, in order that this can be satisfactorily done.) If we only want practice in development it would suffice at this point to stop down the lens to, say, f/11, reset the shutter, place the dark slide in the camera and expose the plate. But if a picture of technical value is desired, there are a number of further details deserving of consideration.
It is presumed that we have some purpose in our mind which impels us to choose this particular spot. The scene before us either contains something worthy of record, or possesses qualities that appeal to us as beautiful or educative. In other words, we intend the future print to convey some definite idea.
(1) What is the essential feature in our picture? - e.g. a tree, a cottage, a river bank, or a water mill within reasonable distance. This must be settled, and then (still with the lens aperture at its widest) this feature must be brought into sharpest focus. We endeavour with the lens to follow the natural instinct of the observer who will unconsciously focus his eyes on this same object.
(2) Is the foreground necessary? If it is, the stop in the lens must be reduced or the focussing adjusted until it appears reasonably sharp. The contributor of "In a Green Valley," has boldly ignored his foreground and focussed for the middle distance with a large stop. His picture would have gained, we think, by racking out till the leaves on the hedge had become crisp and bright. If the foreground is uninteresting we may avoid it by raising the front until the lens soars above it, or by so moving the camera as to cut off a hedge, fence, or tree trunk, that would otherwise obtrude into the scene. Fences and hedges are sometimes distorted into absurd proportions if too near the lens.
If the chief feature of the picture is a long way off, and no intermediate objects deserve attention or force themselves into the line of vision, the front combination of an RR lens may be unscrewed and the camera racked out to the necessary double extension, the exposure, of course, being increased proportionally. A smaller stop will be necessary with the single lens than with the doublet.
On the contrary, if a view is taken from the top of a hill over the valley beneath, or of distant mountains, all idea of scale and proportion will be lost unless some object in the foreground is shown in focus. Without some such standard of comparison (serving also to indicate clearly the position of the observer) the slopes of the hillside will have become unaccountably flattened out in the print; very often the effect conveyed will be that of an immense plain.
The subject of pictorial composition in landscape is dealt with in another chapter, but one or two common faults may be mentioned here. Roads, small rivers, etc., are often taken "broadside" in such a way that the resulting picture is divided off from end to end by horizontal streaks of light colour. The edges of the picture, right and left, always deserve careful examination in the focussing screen to see that no detail exciting curiosity is abruptly cut off. Beware of waste paper, old tin cans, and other rubbish in the foreground. The camera will invariably record such articles with hideous fidelity. If figures are introduced, they must not be so near the camera as to divert attention from the essential elements of the composition, nor, on the other hand, so far off as to appear insignificant dots. Well-chosen figures in the right position and in good focus give scale and interest to the composition. Otherwise they are a source of confusion.
In A Green Valley.
Know also that the camera, trim and dainty though it may look in its brass fittings and polished rosewood, is destitute of brain power; and that the most expensive lens is only a glass eye capable of a meaningless stare. Any expression of intelligence must come from the man behind it. It is worth while for the beginner to spend hours in studying landscape as interpreted on the focussing screen. He will acquire by this method a knowledge of the limitations of his instrument, and also a habit of close observation which is even more valuable. Masses of light and shade, well disposed, are of more importance than small objects, and in judging this general effect of light and shade it is a benefit in disguise that the picture on the focussing screen appears upside down.
Except for certain architectural subjects, minute definition of detail all over the print is not often desirable. In ordinary landscape the lens should not be stopped down below f/16, and flu is generally better than f/16 with the doublet lens.
Nearly all landscapes containing a wide expanse of sky require mitigation by the printing in of clouds, and a stock of cloud negatives to serve on various occasions is part of the work of the landscape artist. Contrary to general opinion, we do not advise that such clouds should be taken from near the sun. It is true that these are often extremely picturesque and brightly coloured, but they give an unreal effect when introduced into the average landscape taken by an operator with his back to the sun. The best clouds are found in the afternoon and low down in the sky, near the horizon. Cirrus and fleecy clouds floating on a blue sky demand the yellow screen (q.v.) or must be snapped very quickly on a slow-process plate. For grey masses of cloud the screen should be dispensed with, and a fast exposure be made with a small stop.