Tag Archives: working the scene

More Than One

The Church At Black Mesa (No. 2). Near San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, 2016.

My previous post was the Church at Black Mesa (No. 1), so this week I thought I would post the Church at Black Mesa (No. 2).

These two images were made the same day, from the same location (quite probably from the same tripod position), and likely within no more than about half an hour apart, if that.  While the subject is the same, and even the key compositional elements are the same (same sky, same mesa, same crosses), I think the two images actually communicate quite different impressions of the scene.

They also illustrate my approach to working the scene.  Rarely is the first composition I see the one for which I put the camera on a tripod and shoot.  Almost always I move around a bit and check out the subject from different angles and positions first.

But even after I shoot my first composition, I typically look for more.  Why would the first acceptable composition I found necessarily be the best one?  What else is there to shoot that I would not otherwise see but for having kept looking for it?  If time is not an issue, why not move the camera left or right?  Up or down?  Put on a telephoto or wide angle lens?  Switch between portrait and landscape orientation?

If it sounds arduous, it’s not.  The looking is fun, like solving little visual puzzles, and keeps me engaged with whatever it was that caught my attention about the scene in the first place.  The process of trying all the possibilities helps to uncover all the potential worthy images that can be found in the scene.  And yes, usually there’s more than one.

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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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