Developing an approach
Thus far, we have journeyed through some of my early photography, how my interest got rekindled and blossomed through lots of learning methods and activities. In this final episode, as promised, I’ll go over some of my approaches and methods for getting the images that I do.
The first item I want to clarify is that everything I do to get an enticing image can be learned and practiced until it becomes second nature. There is no denying that some people will learn quicker and develop their abilities faster, which is often referred to as talent. However, talent alone is not enough to produce great results in any field. There is no substitute for making bad photos and learning from your mistakes.
So what are the not-so-magical steps to my process for getting the images that I want? No surprise, but they are pretty straightforward:
- Find something that is interesting to photograph
- Have an idea of how you want to portray what you have found
- Decide what steps in execution get you that result
Like I said: it’s pretty simple, when you break it down this way. So let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail.
It is pretty self-evident that without finding something interesting to photograph, there is no photo. While this may be obvious, how often do you drive or walk by some place without noticing that there is a photo there? Of course, all of us know how to recognize lots of photogenic subjects, such as El Capitan, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramid, or the leaning tower of Pisa and the list goes on and on. However, most of us don’t live right by these locations or have the budget to go travel to these places on a whim; so what to do?
A significant amount of my landscape photography is done during my commute to and from work. As I look to vary my route, so that I don’t get into the same rut day upon day, there are a number of spots along the drive that have become some of my favorites to photograph. The key to finding those special locations is awareness of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid to stop on your way and check things out!
Another key item in finding that interesting shot is that sometimes your best shot is behind you rather than in front; such was the case for Blue Pond, which you see to the right. I stopped to photograph the marsh and passing train, which didn’t really impress me, so I turned around and noticed how I could get the sky to play off the pond; a much more pleasing shot!
The skill needed to find images everywhere can be developed through exercises that challenge your vision to explore scenes in new ways. Always look for more!
Now that you have found that really cool subject that you can’t help, but photograph, it is time to decide how you want to show it to your audience. It is all too easy to shoot a beautiful subject in a way that detracts from its brilliance; I’m sure you have seen snapshots from friends of that amazing waterfall that is so poorly composed that it’s lost its power.
So how do you go about ensuring that your shot doesn’t suffer the same fate? The first step is to frame a picture in your mind that brings out the exact sense of beauty that you feel from what you see. Look through your lens to see what it shows you; if it is a zoom lens, see what zooming in or out presents to you. Change your perspective by moving around or lowering your vantage point (this can be particularly effective when looking at a reflection).
The image of Bath Harbor Light demonstrates this principle. If you have ever been to Acadia in Maine, you may have vistied this sight and you’ll see lots of photos of this particular lighthouse. Most of these photos do not show it from this angle, but rather from a vantage point that eliminates the trees. The rocks were filled with photographers looking for exactly that angle (it’s a ways to the left and lower, if you ever want to find it). As the light was not ideal on this day, I decided that framing the lighthouse between the trees provided context and more visual interest.
Again, this is a skill that can be gained through ample practice!
Naturally, all your work to this point should not be allowed to go to waste with a poorly exposed image. Therefore, the final step is to decide how you want your camera to read the light (assuming you’re not going 100% manual), the depth of field that gives the right feel, what shutter speed might work best.
Even if you use a 100% automatic, such as an iPhone, which I often do, there are still ways to control exposure; good material for future posts, maybe.
In your visualization, you may have given thought to what parts of the image should be sharp, while other parts should blur somewhat. Think about what F-stop will give you what you’re looking to portray.
If your camera is even in partially automatic mode, you will want to make sure that your exposure reading is not fooled by bright white or very dark colors. Learn to adapt for that by using pre-exposure compensation (DSLRs will have this, but not all point-and-shoots do).
When this all comes together, you get to express your vision and amaze your friends (no guarantee of that!).
Where to go next
Development and continuous improvement are a never-ending mantra for anything, about which you are truly passionate; once the bug bites you, you’ll spend countless hours improving.
There are two things that you should never stop doing in your photography:
- Study, not just books, but learn from every photo that you like by determining what you like about it and why it works.
- Stay inspired, both by what others do and what you do!
This is the last in this series, but I think there may be some follow-on posts from this. Of course, I love to find out what you like to read more about.
P.S. yes, I left out post-processing… I will do some posts on how I like to tackle that.