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!