Working a Scene

As I mentioned earlier this week, I just returned from a multi day shooting trip last week in Japer National Park. After 4 full days of shooting, I came away with quite a few images to process and have been working my way through them this week. Those of you following along on Google+ and Facebook (if you aren’t, why not?) have already seen a few of these as I’ve been posting them there over the last few days. Wayne has been sharing some great stuff as well (follow him of Facebook and Google+ too) and also on his blog so be sure to check that out. I thought I’d share some of those images here along with a few new ones and take a minute to talk about working a scene.

As you may have noticed, most of these images appear to have some of the same mountains, river, and other features in them. That’s because they do! Of the 4 mornings we were out shooting at sunrise, we spent 3 of them at the same place. After our first morning at this spot where we really didn’t have very good conditions at all, we realized there was a lot of potential there and figured it was worth coming back to. The following morning we had uniquely different conditions from the first morning with some broken clouds and colour in the sky, and then on the last morning things were different yet again and we had perfectly clear skies. As the conditions changed, so did our images. Even those that were composed very similarly have a completely different feel and look to them. A good lesson here is that it pays to repeat a visit to a promising location, especially as you build familiarity with the area and know what you have to work with.

Another thing to mention is that it pays to really look around and explore the area. So often I see photographers pull up to a scene and unload their gear, only to set up their tripod at eye level right next to the car and then just stay in that one spot as the light changes. Now, I understand that in some (rare) cases, maybe that is the shot, or the one most worth taking, but most of the time it’s far from it. Taking the time to have a good look around before you start shooting, and continuing to explore as you work, is a great way to get beyond the obvious shots and really find the gems of a scene.

In the case of these images, we walked about 100 meters down towards the river from the roadside turnout (where most people stop to take the “tourist shot”), and then explored up and down the shoreline. All of these were taken within just a couple hundred meters of each other over the course of two mornings of shooting for a couple hours each day. By moving ourselves around, up, down, looking different directions, changing focal lengths, mixing up horizontal and vertical orientations, over or under exposing for mood, changing shutter speed for the effects on the water, using filters, etc. we were able to create quite a variety of images in just a short time. Even with that said, all of these images are still just basically wide angle landscapes and were shot with the same lens. There’s even more that could have been done by switching up to a longer telephoto or macro lens for example.

So, do I consider all of these to be 5 star images that will end up in my portfolio? Probably not. But there are definitely a few I like in there and a couple I’m actually pretty proud of. Others may be more suited to stock sales, advertising, instructional material, etc. The point is that by exploring and working the scene, I was able to bring home a nicely varied collection of images that will serve a few different purposes for me.

There’s still more to come from the trip, so stay tuned!

The Right Tool For The Job

After posting this image on Facebook a little while back, a comment left by my good friend Peter Carroll sparked an idea that I thought was worth exploring a little further. After I jokingly suggested that a certain piece of gear had come “to the rescue” on this shot, his comment suggested, in a very complimentary way, that instead I had wisely chosen that particular tool to create the image. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that great wisdom very often frequents my decision making process, every once in a while things do seem to come together for me, and I end up with a nice photo.

I find it’s often a challenging process of trial and error (believe me, lots of error most days!) to really capture the scene and tell the story I’m looking for. That’s where Peter’s comment about tool choices comes into play. With all the different tools we have available to us in our camera bags these days, it can sometimes be overwhelming just knowing where to start. That’s where knowing your gear, what it can do, and how to use it becomes so important. Even more importantly to the process however, is the concept of visualizing what it is you’re trying to capture to begin with. Putting these things together well, is what takes you from just making random snap shots and hoping for something to work, to actually making intelligent and intentional choices behind the camera and creating your own images.

In the case of this image, after trying a few other wide angle compositional ideas on this scene (which I’ll share in a future post), I made the decision to try something more minimal and simplistic. I noticed this group of rocks that were separated from the rest of the shore line and set up this composition. This shot below is pretty much how it would have looked if you had been standing there with me. I was shooting with my 24-70mm lens set at 58mm giving this a pretty normal perspective. My polarizing filter was already in place to cut the reflections on the surface of the water and, if memory serves me correctly, I believe I was using a 2 stop hard edge graduated filter as well.

This wasn’t the shot I had in mind yet, though. I wanted to create something a little more abstract looking as opposed to this very literal interpretation. I was going to use a long exposure to smooth out the surface of the water to help isolate the rocks even further, and show the motion of the quickly moving clouds. To accomplish this, I used my 10 stop solid nd filter (Lee Big Stopper) to allow me to lengthen my exposure time to 1 minute. Over the course of those 60 seconds, the motion of the water was recorded as a beautiful blur and I got some nice streaking clouds in the sky. In short, the result was pretty much exactly what I had hoped to capture.

Going back to the Facebook conversation that started this whole thing, the Big Stopper was the piece of gear we were talking about. This filter was what made it possible to capture the image I had in mind. Without it, I couldn’t have made this shot. But what’s important to note is that it was not luck or chance circumstance that put the filter on the front of my lens that morning. It was a series of calculated decisions that were made with the clear intention of creating this final image. Whether you want to call it wisdom as Peter so kindly did, or not (I’d lean more towards not if I were you) is up to you. I’d say I just got lucky with a good idea and happened to have to tools I needed to pull it off.

There’s something extremely satisfying about the process of seeing an image (or the potential for an image) in your mind and then being able to put all the right tools in place and watch it come together in front of you. It certainly doesn’t always work out for me, but it’s sure nice when it does!

A Different Take

Here are a couple new images from my trip to Kauai back in February. I thought these might be a good example of how it pays to find different ways to shoot the same scene. So often I see photographers set up to “get the shot” only to pack up and leave to another location to do the same thing all over again. I honestly believe those photographers are truly missing out on so many potentially great images and what’s more, the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from working a scene and really looking for images.

This shot was taken just a few steps away and within minutes of this image . You can actually see the same group of rocks that were used in the foreground of that shot in the middle left of the image above. By using a different combination of lens, filters, processing, and most importantly, vision I was able to come away with two uniquely different takes on the same scene.

This one is another example of the same idea. After I made my first image from this scene, I moved in much closer for this more intimate view.


As always, thanks for stopping in!