Posted by: kerryl29 | August 31, 2020

Smell the Roses

A recent e-mail conversation with blog reader and friend EllenK included a discussion of the virtues of taking one’s time when in the field engaged in landscape photography, which directly led to this post.

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When photographing landscapes, I don’t think there’s anything I dislike more than feeling rushed.  For me, landscape photography is a deliberate, contemplative exercise; this is an integral part of the reason why I enjoy it so much.

Make no mistake:  much of the time, when engaged in photographing landscapes, a slow pace is contraindicated.  A classic example of this sort of thing is the photographing of sunrises and sunsets.  With the light constantly changing, photographic deliberation is rarely, if ever, a part of the equation.  And, of course, there are plenty of other situations that make proceeding with circumspection a non-starter.

Foggy Morning, Swift Creek Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

But there are many landscape photography situations where speed isn’t requisite, and on those occasions I think it’s essentially axiomatic that taking one’s time usually leads to a more satisfying result.  Why is this so?

Ganoga Falls, Ganoga Glen, Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

For one thing, a slower pace allows the photographer to catch errors and flaws that he/she might otherwise overlook.  For instance, taking the time to carefully examine the viewfinder (or LCD screen) may reveal an unwanted merger between two elements that can be easily corrected with a slight adjustment to the position of the camera.  Similarly an unwanted element may be noticed on the edge of a frame or a particularly near element may be revealed to be out of focus due to inadequate depth of field.  These are all things that can typically be corrected with minimal effort…but only if they’re noticed in the first place.  And discovering the flaw requires taking the time to look for it.  How many times have you returned from a photographic venture, downloaded your images and, in the process of reviewing them, said something to the effect of “if only I’d done that” or “if only I’d noticed that“?  Most of the time, what you’re really saying is “if only I’d taken the time” to look for this or that…

Battleship Rock, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

If you’re trying to work quickly, the chances of making a potentially “fatal” mistake rises, sometimes dramatically.  For instance, you might forget to reduce your ISO setting to the lowest possible level (from whatever you had it set before).  Or, you might neglect to polarize a scene that would really benefit from it.  You might not double check to make sure every element of a scene that you want in focus is.  You might even forget an entire piece of equipment that, it turns out, you want or need.  Whatever the specifics, working quickly inflates the chances of goofing up in some manner.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Another main benefit to moving at a deliberate pace is that it naturally provides you with the opportunity to think about something other than whatever your primary focus might be.  This can cover an almost infinite number of possibilities.  You might consider a different subject altogether; you might ponder a different perspective on the subject of choice; you might try an utterly different field of view.  These are just a few examples.  The point is that not feeling rushed begets the opportunity to get creative in your thinking and regard different possibilities.  This is almost always a positive thing.

Cataract Covered Bridge, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

Are there any ways to improve your chances of deliberation while photographing landscapes?  I believe there are, and here are a few of them.

Autumn Color, Crawford Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Arrive Early

This is particularly relevant when photographing an event that depends on specific or approximate timing, such as sunrise/sunset, high/low tide, moonrise/moonset, the eruption of Old Faithful, etc.  The absolute last thing you want to do is find yourself scrambling around, trying to set up and looking for a strong composition while an event is unfolding.  (Don’t ask how I know this.)  Showing up early (sometimes that means, at least in part, scouting the location in advance–earlier the same day or even a day or days before) allows for the opportunity to explore different options, identify desirable and undesirable elements and run though the (formal or informal) photographic checklist that just about everyone has.  Once you’ve taken care of the necessary things, you can turn your mind over to creative exploration.

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington

Don’t Take Non-photographers on Photographic Endeavors

I’ve discussed this point before.  I find it nearly impossible to truly take my time when I’m out in the field with non-photographers, even if they tell me–sincerely–not to worry and take all the time I need.  I just can’t do it; I’m hyper-conscious of the fact that someone not engaged in the practice is waiting for me.  When that happens I find myself thinking about that fact rather than what I’m doing and things fall apart quickly.  The only thing worse than this is when someone’s along for the ride and I know, in no uncertain terms, that they aren’t patiently waiting things out.  I’ve known of a few people who’ve been able to make this work, but I know of far more individuals who haven’t.  (I’ve known a few photographers over the years who’ve seen relationships fall apart following a poorly thought-out photo trip with a significant other.)  I recommend avoiding this situation like the proverbial plague.

Atlantic Afternoon, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Plan Ahead

It helps to have a sense of what to expect at the places you visit.  Having a known starting point can reduce the amount of chaos present upon arrival which can free up time that can be spent investigating options and fine-tuning.  So, plan ahead.  But…

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Don’t Overplan

I think this is worse than simply winging it.  If you build a strict itinerary you’re going to likely miss the opportunity to discover the unexpected and let a particular location reveal itself to you in its entirety.  Creating a hard list of things you’re going to do can be incredibly limiting, much like having “the shot” mentality.  If you’re only looking for one thing you’re relatively unlikely to find anything else.  If you’ve budgeted only an hour for a specific location so you can move on to the next spot (and the next, etc.), you’ve placed an artificial limit on yourself.  This doesn’t play well with the notion of slowing down and taking your time.  Now, you may decide that you don’t want to spend more than an hour at a particular location, but not wanting to and not allowing yourself to do so are very different things.

Lake Falls Black & White, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Be Properly Equipped and Know How Your Gear Works

If you take what you may need–in terms of clothing, gear and other accessories–you maximize your chances of taking your time and playing around with a variety of options.  If you’re able to remain comfortable and have the gear you need to indulge your whims, you’ll be far less likely to rush.  And if you know how what your equipment can do and how to implement its features you’re also more likely to explore your options.

White Domes Slot Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Use a Tripod

Long-time readers of this blog will not be surprised that I’ve invoked the beloved, iconic tripod.  But seriously, it’s not nearly as gratuitous a reference as it might appear.  One of the many, many benefits to using a tripod for landscape photography is….it all but forces you to slow down, and make the process more deliberate.  In fact, if you’re not already using a tripod (I will resist the urge to shame), I doubt there’s any single thing you could change that would have a more pointed positive impact on your landscape photography than to begin using one.

Evans Brook, Evans Notch, White Mountain National Forest, Maine

So, whenever possible, take your time.  You may be surprised at just how much you like the results that stem from having done so.


Responses

  1. What a wonderful posting, Kerry. You’re obviously put a lot of thought into coming up with your list of recommendations. Most importantly, you have explained why those considerations matter. I tend to shoot wildlife mostly, so often I am reacting to a situation. However, it is amazing how often most of your suggestions still apply. Thanks for such a thoughtful posting–your photos are amazing and your prose is engaging.

    • Thanks very much, Mike!

  2. Kerry, a couple random thoughts: When I saw the heading, “Arrive Early,” I immediatley thought of a corrollary: “Stay Late.” So many times I see shooters photograph the spectacular sunset and fold up and leave. Often enough, they miss the real photo! Also, I think the old saying: “wait for it,” hits home here. Sometimes even when it doesn’t seem lime an image is going to happen, a little patience rewards. Otherwise, all you have said here resonates. 😊

  3. This is exactly what I need…a roadmap for slowing down and why each step is beneficial. Thanks.

  4. Excellent points, all. I have experienced all of them, even recently when I arrived early for a sunset, but not early enough and and I was scrambling to extend my tripod legs, the kind that unscrew and partially missed the shot I wanted. Luckily the post sunset was phenomenal! I have experienced what “Lightcentric” stated about leaving too early. Our group is still talking about it years later. Ha ha, so I guess you have learned not to have a photo date with your spouse. that has been a bone of contention between a couple of partners and friends You tell us over and over again to slow down and look for alternative scenes and i keep needing to hear that. Your writing is engaging and so is your photography. I really appreciate your wisdom.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      My wife has actually been extremely patient–she’s never rushed me–when she’s come along on my photo outings, but I’m aware of the fact that she’s waiting for me and that makes me operate in an entirely different manner than I would otherwise. It’s just not a recipe for a good experience for anyone, IMO.

  5. Some very good tips here, thanks for sharing. And that Hiawatha National Forest picture is incredible, as are they all!

    • Thanks very much!

  6. The advice to slow down and pay relaxed attention cannot be repeated too many times. I am still haunted by glimpses of images that I’ve seen but had not taken the time to have a closer look. The one that I most regret was during a drive through Yellowstone shortly after the big fire (in 1991-92?) with so many blackened trees and new growth flourishing among them. Lovely post.

    • Thanks, Gary!

      I remember the Yellowstone fires very well. The huge one was in 1988 (I remember this specifically because I was there the following year and the evidence was still very fresh–almost no new growth yet. I really need to get back to the Yellowstone/Tetons area again one of these days. So many places, so little time/opportunity…

  7. You are, of course, so right. I have recently re-read Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and was again captivated by his accounting of the immense caldera that lies beneath and supplies the unfathomable energy to Yellowstone’s geothermal activities. I’d love to get back there too, before it’s too late.


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