Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Pilot

The Pilot
The Pilot

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Strategic vs Tactical - A Photographic Process

The lack of a strategic and/or tactical plan in your photography can often lead to disappointing results.  Some years ago I made my first serious attempt at photographing Oklahoma’s Tallgrass Prairie.  How difficult could that be…it’s a beautiful location…lot’s of photo ops…great place to spend a day.  Thusly equipped, I arrived an hour or so after sunup and began photographing this wonderful landscape.  That evening after I downloaded all the day’s images I began to realize that I had made a serious mistake…all of my images basically looked the same…few of them actually captured the essence of this amazing location…they were…well, snapshots, and not very good ones at that.

As I pondered on what happened I began to realize my mistake.  My strategic approach to photographing this location was flawed…I had no strategy…and my tactical battle plan, or lack thereof, failed as a result.  What I failed to do was to understand what my opponent was in this adventure.  My lack of planning all but wasted a great opportunity.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I have learned over the years that great photographs don’t always just happen regardless of the location.  It takes planning and preparation.  When I made that adventure on the prairie, I just assumed the location by itself would provide those great photographic moments.  Granted, indeed there were some spectacular opportunities…it’s just that my timing was wrong…the light was wrong…I didn’t think thru the photographic process…and I didn’t visualize what I wanted to accomplish. I simply had relied too much on random chance and that randomness just did not work on that day.


Consistently great scenic or nature photography does require an element of strategy and effective tactical application.  On subsequent attempts to photograph Oklahoma’s prairie, I used this approach and the results improved significantly.  I studied the life history of the prairie…when do the spring flowers bloom, where do the buffalo herds spend most of their time, where are the best vantage points…some of the answers required spending time in the field…hiking across the rolling landscape…arriving way early and staying way late.

Before long, I was able to develop a more effective strategic approach to photographing this amazing landscape.  But, it required more than that…it required being able to identify specific photographic techniques to capture the essence of what is there.  Simply standing on the side of the gravel road and firing off a few snapshots won’t work.  I would use binoculars or even my large telephoto lens to locate specific locations at a distance, then hike over to them and physically check them out.  That’s how I found ‘Coneflower Hill’…a wonderfull knoll with a rocky outcropping on top whose western flanks were covered in acres of coneflowers and various other prairie blooms.

I found a location deep inside the preserve that few if any people ever visit that is characterized by a rocky canyon arroyo covered in spring blooms.  I’ve spent an entire afternoon in that arroyo on several trips.  It’s also a great location to greet the first light of day.  The idea here is to find locations that have a measured potential, then plan your approach to take advantage of that potential.  It may require getting up at 4:00am to be on location an hour or so before daylight to capture the subtle nature of the predawn light.  It may require waiting for a stormy day to take advantage of cloud formations and dramatic lighting.  As always, great scenic photographs depend on great dramatic light…what’s hard is timing your arrival to correspond with that great light.  On a place like the Tallgrass Prairie, it’s important to have specific locations identified to take advantage of those great moments of light.  That’s where the strategic application of tactical photographic skills comes into play.

Strategic vs Tactical…both are critical to successfully photographing great scenic locations.

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