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Quick Tip: Explore Your Options

May 26, 2010

As nature photographers, we need tripods.  Shutter speeds during those few minutes of sweet light at sunrise and sunset are just too long to hand hold a bulky D-SLR camera and expect sharp results.  So, we’ve become accustomed to arriving at a location, setting up our tripod, mounting the camera to it and then getting to work.  But why must we be so confined?

When I arrive at a new location I’ll leave the tripod packed away and walk around for a few minutes exploring all the compositional opportunities through my camera’s viewfinder.  I’ll get down low to the ground, stand tall, move two steps to the right and one step back.  Maybe I’ll try using a foreground element or maybe I won’t.  Perhaps a vertical works better than a horizontal?  I find that leaving the camera off the tripod for a spell is very freeing.  I can wander around unencumbered.  Locking my camera on to the tripod feels sort of permanent.  Once I find the composition that best fits my vision for the scene I’ll bust out the tripod, secure my camera to my Acratech Ultimate Ballhead and get to work fine tuning a composition.

I made the image above earlier this week.  I liked the cracked rocks and knew I wanted to use them in the foreground but it wasn’t immediately apparent how best to place them.  I removed my camera from it’s home in my chest pack and walked around exploring my options before I finally settled on this.  I had to perch somewhat precariously on a rock just above and behind the foreground to achieve this composition.  Once I found what I wanted, I went to work figuring out how to best set up the tripod on the small pedestal.  Had I not wandered around without the tripod I likely wouldn’t have given this composition a chance due to the difficulty involved in setting up the tripod here.  Good thing I took my own advice!

Give it a try next time you head out for some photography.  I think you’ll like being free!

What do you think of this tip?  How do you go about finding the ultimate composition when you arrive at a location?  Let’s hear your routine!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2010 6:53 am

    Great post Bret. I regularly advise my workshop students NOT to take photos right away when they see something they like. I believe it is imperative to walk around with your camera and think about what it is that got you excited to take your camera out in the first place. By exploring ideas from different angles and lenses before locking into the tripod inevitably leads to better photos. Nice shot!

  2. May 27, 2010 7:15 am

    Excellent post Bret. I go about it the same way when I use a tripod. 🙂

  3. May 27, 2010 2:29 pm

    Good post, Bret. Each person’s specific method may differ a bit, but I think the key is to keep the eye (both physical and mental) open throughout, rather than getting locked too fast into a single image. Often first impressions are good, but then often they can be… well, I don’t want to say “shallow”. 🙂 Call it too immediate and too surface. Too obvious. Sometimes the really fulfilling compositions take awhile to sink in. By locking into shooting mode too quickly, the risk is not allowing enough time to really let perceptions of the location develop, and determine a more satisfying approach.

    Having said that, I do tend to set up my tripod pretty quickly, and may even start shooting quickly. But I’m very mobile about it. I often try a lot of things as you say — high, low, wide, tight, vertical, horizontal, different angles, intimate detail or grand view. I find for me, getting actively engaged in shooting — not just framing — helps get my creativity flowing… but I try to do it in a way that keeps my perceptions and responses pretty fluid as I work my way into the scene. Sort of a reconnaissance by fire method. 🙂

    And of course some people are just really quick on the creative uptake. I’ve marveled when shooting with a few folks, how they can dial in and nail really innovative takes that I’d never come up with in a million years… 🙂


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