Monthly Archives: June 2013

Working the Scene

Black Trees No. 4

Here’s a story about the different ways in which photographers work.  Shooting in Rocky Mountain National Park one night, I set up my camera and tripod at the location known as Rock Cut with the idea of photographing the sunset on Longs Peak, using the rock formations at Rock Cut to make interesting foreground elements.  Turns out it was a particularly memorable sunset, because there were layers and layers of fluffy white clouds drifting through the sky, catching the light in different ways as the sun went down.  For about 45 minutes or so, I was quite busy moving around as I changed my vantage point to create different compositions among the rocks, sky, and Longs Peak in the background.

As this was going on, a small group of 4 or 5 other photographers arrived at the location.  They planted their feet firmly at the spot they walked up to and, standing together as a group, proceeded to click away for about five minutes or so, hand-holding their cameras and congratulating themselves for being in the right place at the right time to capture the amazing scene.  No words were exchanged, but since they each were probably clicking the shutter ten times for every one of mine, I got the distinct impression they thought I was amateurish, unskilled, or that they were otherwise looking down on me.  When the sun dipped below the horizon, one of them declared that the light was “over,” and they promptly departed the scene, whereas I continued to photograph for another 20 minutes or so.

Now, I sincerely don’t mean to criticize anyone for their approach to photography.  I recognize that everyone works in different ways, and everyone should approach photography in the way that works the best for them.  It certainly could be that this was an experienced group of photographers, who perhaps knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it in the least possible amount of time.  Still, I can’t help but think that by standing in one spot and shooting for all of five minutes, they missed many wonderful compositions and much wonderful light that was available on that evening.

My approach is different.  I like to work the scene.  By working the scene, I simply mean visually exploring the scene with the camera to uncover as many different compositions as I can.  Working the scene involves getting close to the subject, backing away from the subject, shooting the subject from different angles and viewpoints, adding or removing things to and from the composition, using different focal lengths, and generally doing anything and everything I can think of to make as many interesting interpretations of the subject as I can.  Working the scene takes time, and often, especially at sunrise or sunset, the light will have changed over the course of doing the foregoing, such that I can start it all over again and try even more new interpretations.

The image in this post, “Black Trees No. 4,” is a result of this approach.  Those who saw the Black Trees images Nos. 1 through 3 may be interested to know that this image contains each of those trees.  Still, I think this is a worthwhile image in its own right, unique from the others in its composition and light.  I captured this image, and several more besides (that may yet come in future posts) because I continued to work this scene.  And yes, this image was taken well after the sun had dropped below the horizon, making me feel a little better about staying out late after the other photographers have gone home!

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Always Bring Your Camera

Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexic

Here’s another fairly basic, but important, lesson of photography:  always have your camera with you.  You can’t capture an image if you don’t have a camera with which to photograph it.

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I really had not intended to do any photography.  But when I travel these days, I feel a little under-equipped if I don’t have a camera with me, so I threw my camera bag and tripod in the back of my car, figuring it would just take up space until I returned home.

Well, sure enough, while walking around Santa Fe and not thinking particularly about photography, I happened to walk by the Sanctuario de Guadalupe and was struck by this scene.  I couldn’t help but take in the texture of the adobe, the flowing lines of the alcove, and the serene expression on the statue, and think that it would make a good image.  So, I grabbed my camera out of my hotel room not too far away and was able to capture the image in this post, “Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe.”

I’ll admit, I don’t carry my camera gear with me everywhere I go.  But I’m getting better about taking it with me if there’s a possibility for photography, even if I think it’s unlikely.  Part of practicing photography is making the time and effort for it, and having your camera with you is a necessary and obvious prerequisite to making great images.

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Taking More Time to Do Less

Dusk in the Canyon of the Rio Grande, New Mexico

This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, many times.

One of the most difficult aspects of photography for me has nothing to do with cameras or darkrooms (be they the digital kind or otherwise).  Rather, it’s being in the right place at the right time.  This is especially true when traveling to a location I’ve not been to before or visited only infrequently.  I will do a fair amount of research on the area to create a list of locations that seem promising for photography.  This actually works pretty well, because when I arrive, I generally have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.  It actually may work too well, because on more than one occasion, I’ve passed up perfectly good photographic opportunities in order to get to the next location on my list.  Invariably, I end up not only missing the opportunity I passed up, but also the opportunity I was hoping to have, because by the time I arrive at my listed location, the light will have faded, I won’t see a good composition, or any other number of problems crop up.

Not this time.  The image in this post, “Dusk in the Canyon of the Rio Grande,” was made on my way from one location on my list to another.  I had been photographing the San Geronimo church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, for an idea I’m trying to put together, and was on my way to the San Jose de Gracia church in Las Trampas, New Mexico to continue the project.  Driving on the Low Road in the canyon of the Rio Grande, I noticed this glassy sheen on the river as the sun was setting, so beautiful!  Beautiful, but there was no way there would be enough time to stop to photograph it and still make it to Las Trampas before dark.

So, Las Trampas will have to wait until another day, because I stopped to explore the opportunities before me along the Rio Grande.  That’s the thing about landscape photography, you can’t rush it.  If you try to fit in too many locations in a given time, the odds are you’ll come away with nothing at all.  It’s better to take more time and do less.

Lesson learned!

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