Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. 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 of photography 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.

F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom

Monday, March 11, 2013

Finding the Shot

I’ve known many photographers over the years. Some of them very good…some…well. . . maybe they are still works-in-progress. Actually, I'm still a work-in-progress as I am continually learning new techniques and obtaining new insights from other photographers. That WIP phase never really ends as I desire to improve my ability to find the shot because ninety percent of photography consists of exactly that.

Photographs created from a technical aspect may be mechanically correct, but art is not created mechanically, it comes from the heart. Knowing all the tech stuff by itself will not, except in rare instances, create a photograph with impact. 

So how do you find the shot? If I could truly answer that question and bottle it, let’s just say I could afford to purchase any camera make or model I wanted as a result. The problem with defining that answer is that everyone is different. Our world views are developed through our personal experiences and how we perceive what defines art comes from how we look at the world. What stirs one person may not affect another.

Most of us can appreciate great art. It’s one of those things where you know it when you see it, but creating it is much more difficult. Fortunately, nature has already done most of the work and provides a wonderful pallet where as photographers all we have to do is capture what she already provides. We don’t have to create anything, we just need to be able to see it and then apply enough technical skill to the process to capture it.

How to see photographically is the theme of a workshop I teach from time to time. I must admit that even though the concepts are sound, many who attend the workshop struggle to understand how to apply those concepts to their photographic endeavors. As stated previously, photography is ninety percent seeing and ten percent photographing. Unfortunately, most people get hung up on the ten percent and never truly expand outside that confined aspect. For some reason, they are continuously searching for that magic formula that is mysteriously hidden inside their high dollar camera. What they expect is for the camera to create that great image, and ignore the importance of exploring the other creative ninety percent that dwells within themselves.

Space does not allow for an in depth analysis of how to find the shot, but I would like to share with you the top three aspects I use.

1.       What do I look for?
I look for situations that generate mood and mood is generated by the quality of the light. One of the most powerful concepts I try to convey when working with novice photographers is the idea that photography is all about light and has less to do with what you photograph. Obviously we do photograph things, but the objects we photograph, by themselves do not always make great photographs. It is how we use light to capture the emotion of the moment that matters most. Simply taking a picture of a field of wildflowers in the middle of the day more than likely will lack emotional content. But isolate one plant against a sunrise or sunset to give it context changes the dynamics of the photographic equation. Look for mood generating light and define your subject within its realm.

2.       Create Order from Chaos.
Nature is full of wonderful photographic opportunities. It is also filled with a chaotic complexity that can confuse the seeing ability of even the most advanced photographer. Finding order means to eliminate what doesn’t need to be there. Isolate what is important and let the rest go. Simplify your composition where all the elements that appear are there for a reason and nothing is left that interferes with your visual story.

3.       Use Symphonic Melody (SM).
Symphonic Melody? You won’t find this terminology in any text book or photography instructional book. But, it is a concept I apply consistently when I am in the field. Simply defined, Symphonic Melody is the visual music that defines your image. Think of it like this. Most movie soundtracks carry a basic overall theme through the entire movie. There may be variations of that theme presented, but the basic musical melody is applied across the full spectrum of the musical score (remember Dances With Wolves – great musical score! ). SM as applied to a photograph creates a consistent visual effect using color, contrast, and composition where the overall color theme is carried across the image with enough variation to give it character and definition. More often than not, your main subject sits in contrast to that scheme and stands apart. SM may not apply to every situation, but it does provide a visual impact that will capture the eye of anyone who views your work.

Okay, I could provide a number of other ways I use to find the shot, but these three are instrumental in their impact to any given photo opportunity.


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