View Full Version : Documenting the landscape on a small scale with a large camera---any ideas?

John Kasaian
16-Jan-2004, 13:05
My Bride has found a piece of property we'll probably buy---the financing has already been approved anyway---and its a rather unique piece of ground 15 minutes away in driving time but 100 years away from the city: no gas or electric, no trees, no well, no cc&rs, on a dirt road. Five acres. It is a north facing hillside facing the sierra nevadas, on range land where cows and coyotes have the run of the land. It is not native range, as there is evidence that it was once dryfarmed, maybe 50-60 years ago. To get there you cross a cattle ranch, go through two gates, and cross a creek over a bridge made from a railroad flatbed car. From the top of the hill, looking towards the west, south and east, you can see houses and farms in the distance.

Sounds idyllic---except the cash flow situation will severely limit my aerial photography project (for this season, anyway) but it poses a new opportunity: to document this piece of land with my LF camera! Development will be minimal: a fence and well, a garden, barn and small house is what is being planned.

"So get to the point!" OK! Can anyone provide any thoughts on how to best document this? Do I mark a place and take photos periodically from the same vantage point? Perhaps there is a more creative approach I'm unaware of. I'd be grateful for any thoughts(no, were're not getting buffalo---never did find out the fate of that texan on photo.net!)--------Cheers!

16-Jan-2004, 13:18
No problem. Subdivide into five-one acre lots, and use the money on something really important, like your photography project. Since there is no sewer sevrice, I recommend that you take the lot at the top of the hill.

16-Jan-2004, 13:25
Take aerials.

John Kasaian
16-Jan-2004, 13:28

I've got an aerial---circa 1950's courtesy of the UC Agricultural Extension Soil Survey. Thats how I found out that it was once dry farmed.

Tim Curry
16-Jan-2004, 13:30
Find a location to shoot after you have done a plot plan. Previsualization of the land with buildings and the correct perspective will give an interesting progression of shots as you grow on the land. It may help with design. Congratulations on your own pesonal kingdom, best of luck.

16-Jan-2004, 13:37
I assume you have a permanant right of passage or right of way on the road to this place. I know someone whose property was blocked off by a rancher who he pissed off. Took years to get that settled.

As to the project. I have been doing this on my parent's place over the last few years. Whenever my wife and I go up there are three places I photograph from. SOme people are anal about marking the spot but I figure I know where I am going. I do this maybe 4-5 times a year unless the weather is real dramatic. My Idea was to document the building of the house they worked most of their lives to attain. They are on a slight incline so I shoot above the living area, below and I shoot past the house towards their favorite view to document the change in that as well. It is documentation so I am not trying to be artsy about it. I got the construction of the house of course.

good luck. Sounds like an adventure.

James Venis
16-Jan-2004, 13:55
John, I had a commercial client that hired me to do "before" photographs of an 18-acre industrial site then scheduled for demolition and redevelopment. (Aerial photos had already been done; my work was to be from the ground.)

There were many concerns, including the impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods and transit corridors. Beyond the usual documentation needs, my client needed to have some backup in case, for instance, a homeowner later sued for blocking his view of the sky--some of the structures knocked down were taller than the buildings planned to replace them. The point is that the horizon line was expected to change so much that accurate before-and-after views would be difficult to create.

I created a database for information about each of my "before" shots. For each view, I recorded a GPS reading, took a compass bearing for the direction in which the lens was pointing, measured the height of the lens center above ground, and text notes describing the spot I was standing on. This, of course, was in addition to the equipment and exposure notes on lens focal length, use of camera movements, date and time, and so on. Where possible, I included features in the scenes that were not expected to change--a notable building, a water tower, the alignment of a street or power line--but I'm not relying on these features. After all, new building may easily block those features from view.

These are just a few thoughts that may lead you in useful directions. You may want to check with your state or other historical societies for tips on how to document historic sites photographically.

16-Jan-2004, 14:58
hi john:

from a historic preservation / lanscape preservation perspective ... you might consider documenting the notable features on the property. both lanscape ( lay of the land - like they did in yosemite in the 1800s ) & information from the aerials you have ... as well as the man made features like the gate, rail car &c ... their relationship to the "big picture" - abutting property & distant property ..

as you build on the property keep the features & survey images in mind that you already took in "phase 1" and keep the new structures "newly made" context in mind.

sounds like a lot of fun :)


ps. you could also just do random photography in a not so random way :)

tim o'brien
16-Jan-2004, 16:04
I might try a 360 degree pinhole camera setup, with a permanent mounting point (and removeable camera) to continually shoot the progress on a month to month basis. After you have all the negatives for several years, I would import them into the digital world and get a morphing program to build you a 4 dimensional (x,y,z, and t) image of the homestead birthing. A couple of lasers and you would have the ability to transform this into holograms.

Of course, I would never do such a thing, but it is a neat idear.

Congrats on being able to get a little further out of the rat race...

tim in san jose

Rob Tucher
16-Jan-2004, 16:25
Hi John, I've been commissioned to photograph a 1760s farm just over the border in Pennsylvania. I am going to take a freewheeling approach overall, but will pick a number of views that really intrique me. Once photographed, I will mark the center point of the tripod legs (with a big nail in the soil) and note down, direction, lens, exposure info., etc. so it can be recreated exactly (with the help of the previous shot in hand too). Then I will go back in varying light, seasons, weather, etc. and even whenever the mood just strikes me. Lots of my photos will be just what struck me at the moment but I will also have this growing archive of visual transformation. Rob

David Richhart
16-Jan-2004, 17:48
Here is the link to my piece of the world... 7 acres with the 1 acre pond that I had excavated. The pond is that dogbone shape about 2 inches to the left of the red thumbtack. Its a 10 year old satellite photo so the new darkroom with attached living quarters are still merely a latent dream.


If you have the geographic coordinates, or a street address, you can find yours...

John Bailey
16-Jan-2004, 17:52

I might suggest you leaf through a copy of Paula Chamlee's "High Plains Farm"...a most important documentary look at her family's farm. Perhaps, you will find some thoughts through that wonderful book. It should be a must for anyone's library.


John Bailey

Ed Eubanks
16-Jan-2004, 21:52
I knew a guy who spent a year on sabbatical in a cabin he owned on the side of a mountain. He loved the view from the back of his cabin, especially as it changed from season to season, so he decided to document it with one photograph at the same time every day for the year. Here is what he did: he took a piece of iron pipe, cut it to the height off the ground that he wanted his camera to be + 3 feet extra in length and had a fitting attached to the to so that it would screw into the threads on the bottom of a basic tripod head, which he mounted to his camera. Then he took another piece of pipe-- this one just large enough for the first piece to fit inside of-- and cut it 3 feet long, attached a cap on one end, and drove it straight down into the ground. Every day, he would simply face directly away from the house and slide the camera-mounted pipe down into the fixed pipe. I believe he locked the tripod head in a fixed position, so it never changed. (In the end, he made a flip-book out of all of the prints-- it was amazing.)
Maybe something like this would work for your project. It would certainly give you continuity of perspective. Just a thought.

Robert A. Zeichner
17-Jan-2004, 07:32
Perhaps you could set up several vantage points at which, after carefully aiming your camera, you could construct, from cheap materials like cinder block, pipe and a little marine grade plywood some semi permanent platforms to take the place of a tripod. You could possibly fashion these platforms to have a depression the exact size of the base of your camera, so you could simply drop it into place anytime you wish. Neutralize all the movements (marking any which you absolutely need) and just note what lens you use in each position. There will no doubt be seasonal discepencies in your camera position, but unless the ground really heaves or someone (wild beast) moves them, your platforms could survive considerable time in the elements. With several positions, you might get a fascinating study of how it all develops and you will ensure getting at least one or two pretty consistent series of images.

David Richhart
17-Jan-2004, 14:37
You may also want to consider a method to automatically trigger your camera so that you can occasionally document yourself within the landscape... after 35 years of photography I have many memorable locations and events recorded, including family and friends. Like most photographers, I forgot to include myself...

John Kasaian
19-Jan-2004, 21:43
Thanks for all the great ideas! We went out this morning to have a well "witched"---what an interesting couple of hours that turned out to be. Finding the locations to drill was one thing, but then being told the depth of the various strata that might contain water was pretty amazing. We also saw an egret and a coyote on the place. Maybe I should grow a beard and learn to play the violin like Pa Ingalls? Nahh, too painful if I get my beard caught in the bow--I'll stick with the alto sax. Thanks!