Posted by: kerryl29 | September 6, 2021

Working With What You Have

I know that many people think that a successful artist needs to demonstrate a given style, and perhaps that’s true, but in the world of nature photography I feel that if you must reveal a style (and I’m not at all sure that you do, but that’s a topic for another day), it’s important to do so within the confines of the setting. That is to say, a successful nature image should let the scene reveal itself through the style and technique of the photographer. It is, then, a symbiotic relationship; it’s not about imposing oneself on the natural world, literally or figuratively.

Allow me to illustrate my meaning through an image that was made during a trip to the Canadian Rockies several years ago.

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I was in Mistaya Canyon, in Banff National Park, and was a bit frustrated. I like to shoot in settings like this one—a fairly deep canyon, with a rushing river running through it—in even light. But, for a variety of reasons which are ultimately beside the point, I found myself there mid-afternoon on a mostly sunny day. I kept seeing pleasing compositions that just happened to be poorly suited for the lighting conditions that were present because there were distracting hot spots all over the place.

The ideal solution to the problem would have been to return at a time when the light was better suited to my intentions, but that wasn’t possible—it was my last day in the area and I had several other locations I wanted to visit before the end of the day. So rather than cursing the darkness (or in this case, the light), I decided to light a candle: I turned my attention to intimate scenes that were lying entirely in shade. While this eliminated a good number of compositions from consideration, it ratcheted down the frustration level because I turned my attention to something that I could accomplish—even if it wasn’t necessarily my first choice in an ideal world.

I identified such a shot that I found pleasing but it had its own problem—insufficient depth of field. The shot you see above was taken at a focal length of 66 mm and it originally contained an exposed rock in the foreground and another in the mid-ground; even with an aperture of f/16 there was no way to obtain a sharp image from front to back. Going wider—thereby increasing the depth of field—significantly changed the composition, introducing elements that I wanted to exclude and also returned me to the mixed light problem. It was only with a very tight shot that I was able to work with even light.

What to do? I kept the tight shot but altered the composition modestly by eliminating the rocks in the fore- and mid-ground, and placing the plane of focus on the exposed rocks in the background. The foreground and mid-ground would appear soft, but in this instance that was fine, since those areas were made up entirely of textured, blurred water.

So, instead of “imposing” myself on the scene, I worked with it…and still had the opportunity to reveal my style, such as it is, in the process. Symbiosis at its best.



  1. Agree wholeheartedly! The photographer must adapt to current conditions and look for comps that work under those conditions. Sometimes it’s possible to return for different conditions, but not always. Good that you were able to find some pleasing comps in this case. In either case, I make a note about best timing for optimal conditions and add it to my “next time” list.

    • Thanks, Steve. I’ve found that it’s usually–not not always–possible to find something worthwhile to photograph at a given location, even when conditions are less than ideal.

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