Working the Scene
Like most aspiring photographers, I am heavily influenced by those photographers I admire and respect. Photographers like Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, as well as contemporary up and coming masters like Marc Adamus, Art Wolfe, Ian Plant and Miles Morgan… We each have our own list, and we fill it with artist who influence us in our own work. Inspiration is important, but it can be dangerous to your own creativity. If you’re anything like me, when you are moved by an image, you study it to try and figure out how it was created. I will research where a photo was taken, what time of day, what season, sometimes down to where I think the photographer was standing. I will study the photography feverishly. What direction was the light coming from? What settings to I think the artist used? Was there wind? Does the shot depend on weather or seasonal things like snow, wildflowers, position of the sun, etc? I deconstruct the image and then, if it’s location I want to add to my own portfolio, I’ll set out to capture it.
Inspiration used as motivation to get out and shoot is, in itself, a wonderful thing. The danger however comes when we get so hung up in getting “that shot” that we all end up with the same shot. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t do that. I will follow in the footsteps of those who came before me. I will attempt, if I can, to build off of it. How many shots in your portfolio look like one of Galen’s? How many thousands of people line up in Yosemite each year during the 2nd-3rd week of February to try and grab a snap of “Firefalls”? Raise your hand if you’d like a shot of calla lilies in Big Sur. *raises hand*. Enough said.
The challenge then is once you get “the shot” that you stick around for a while and “work the scene”. I’ve never been a grab and goer. When I get to a spot, whether it’s a pull of in Big Sur, or an all day hike, I like to stick around. My first inclination is to pull out the camera and start shooting as fast as I can, but when I do my best work is when I take the time to wander around. I’ll hike up, hike down, climb on things, crouch down and bear crawl. I’ll do everything I can with the time I have to see what, I feel, leads to the best representation of the natural scene before me. I strive for balance more than anything. Does the visual weight of the components of the scene balance within my composition. If not, even if it’s an iconic shot, I’ll move around until it does. Once I feel I have balance, I’ll look for flow, especially if there’s water involved. Can my eye wander around the composition without getting stuck somewhere? Am I drawn in, especially from the corner of the scene? If not, again, I move. The goal, in my mind, after the inspiration has gotten you out the door and into nature, is to enjoy the outdoors and if taking a shot, to try and put your own spin on it. To do this, a photographer must spend some time to get to know an area and to explore all possible views of it.
The last thing that I’ll say, is to be safe, especially if you’re like me and tend to travel and shoot alone. Sometimes the shots from a particular iconic location all looking the same is because there’s only one safe place to shoot from. More than once I have gotten myself into a hairy situation because I was trying a little too hard to find a unique perspective. Although I rarely use them, I always travel with a rope and harness, and if I’m about to do something that sends my spidey sense tingling, I will always shoot off a text or a phone call letting someone know where I’m at and what I’m doing, just in case…
Moral of the story, get inspired, by artists you respect, get out and shoot, grab that “must have” shot, and then stick around for a while and enjoy the fact that you’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by such amazing scenery. Happy shooting, and cheers.