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February 22, 2019

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Landscape photographer Jeff Mitchum: Compose your own Mona Lisa — in nature

Jeff Mitchum-

Third Day” by Jeff Mitchum.

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Photographer Jeff Mitchum.

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"Pirouettes" by Jeff Mitchum.

Editor’s Note: While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. We continue today with Jeff Mitchum, an international landscape photographer who has been sharing his award-winning images at his Bellagio gallery and opened his second Las Vegas gallery at MGM Grand on July 4. Self-taught, Mitchum is known for capturing nature and landscapes through natural light. Jeff shares his tips with new photographers on how to create their own Mona Lisa in nature.

Composing a scene with a camera is a meticulous process. The pace is slow unless there is a fast-moving scene that requires quick instincts. However, for the majority of landscape works, an extensive visualization is required ahead of time. Arriving at the right hour, well in advance, is crucial to capturing the golden moment.

One of the many reasons I still enjoy shooting film is that the medium demands a mastery of the scene and choosing subject matter with care before pushing the cable release. There might be a tremendous desire for new photographers to receive instant feedback through digital means. But if the mind is trained to visualize the final scene without use of technology, the body of work will be greatly enhanced.

By depending on the mind instead of technology, photographers can learn to master the scene internally rather than through external media. This process will help develop more natural instincts and a disciplined way of working. By doing this, the violin of casualness will be eliminated.

Another way to think about composition is “arrangement.” A trained eye can find elements in the scene that need to be placed in their proper spaces. Balancing these elements in perspective to one another is crucial to a successfully executed print.

Also, think red carpet! You don't want to be on Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Dressed List because you stood at a stunning entrance only to put on the wrong clothes for the world to see.

Landscape photography is the same; in addition to beautiful forms and balanced lines, nature also has chaos that needs to be organized. Essentially, we’re trying to organize and arrange chaos into a Mona Lisa. Where the camera is placed will determine how many distracting elements are eliminated.

Don’t forget timing when planning a great print. This might come as a surprise, but, on many occasions, I have walked past potential images because an element is out of place or a desired extra layer is not in place. Whether the image needs to be a little higher up or to the side, or closer to the ground, I look for a balanced scene that allows the eyes to move smoothly through the image to the most interesting part of the arrangement.

As for equipment, a tripod is a must for two reasons. Not only does it force you to go slow and be methodical, but it also frees you from holding a camera. This way, you can walk through the scene with freedom until you find the right spot.

Secondly, the blur in your images will be eliminated. It’s impossible to shoot successful landscape photography consistently with a shaking camera. So, set your camera on a solid tripod and go slow.

Lastly, pick three or four locations that you like, revisit each of these places and begin to eliminate the least interesting elements until you settle on the one with the best balance and uniqueness. However, don't be disappointed if the film comes back from the laboratory and you failed. Learn from the misplaced elements and reshoot.

Walk and hike well,


Check out our other guest columns today from hypnotist Marc Savard and Sugar Factory sweetheart Charissa Davidovici and Thursday “Million Dollar Quartet” stars Marc Donovan and Robert Britton Lyons and Comme Ca executive chef David Myers.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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