This morning while gazing out the laundry room window as I folded towels, my eye was caught by the interesting shadows, reflections, and light patterns on the wet asphalt outside my home.
Folding abruptly stopped, camera was located, and the shooting commenced. This is how it typically happens for me. Some might call it opportunistic, which it clearly is, but I call it serendipity.
My advice is to always be on the lookout while in your home territory. I’ve had the experience of driving by a boarded up building for months, not noticing anything interesting about it until one day the light was just right, perhaps the subject was a bit wet, maybe something had been added to the scene, whatever – now it looked totally different, and photographically inviting. I stopped, spent 20 minutes or so shooting the scene and wound up with a series of images which still delight me. Within a few months, the building had been torn down. So shoot when you see it! Another time I overheard a hotel clerk say that the local boat basin was frozen over.
Within minutes I was in the car with my equipment! Frozen over indeed, with soft sunlight slightly melting the top layer of ice, creating a beautiful canvas for reflections. I spent a very happy hour or so walking along the boat docks, finding wonderful patterns & reflections to shoot.
The next day the ice was mostly melted and the fishing boats were able to leave the docks.
When actually planning a shoot, timing it with the weather forecast is crucial. The perfect weather for me is an overcast sky, something we experience frequently in the Pacific Northwest.
Also of interest is the possibility of stormy weather along the coast. To make the 7 hour drive to Bandon, Oregon (a favorite location) worthwhile I look for a combination of high surf advisory & high wind forecasts which will produce stunning waves, piles of sea foam, and blowing sand on the beach.
Even with a promising forecast at any location I still keep these things in mind: to avoid disappointment, I expect nothing; time will always be spent poking around for subject matter; and I won’t waste time taking meaningless photos in order to feel productive. Even if I end up with nary a good image, I will have learned something from the experience!
If possible, I’ll drive to almost any western US location. In fact, it’s my little secret that much of my landscape, or even in-town photography is shot from the driver’s seat of my car. There I’m always in the shade, or out of the rain and wind or freezing temps. No need for a tripod – although there’s always one in the car. If necessary, I brace my camera + lens on the opened window. As a woman, usually traveling alone to remote locations, I feel safer in my car. If someone stops to ask if I need help, I’m protected from further interference. I can move the car to improve the view, no one stops to ask what I’m photographing, and no one will be hovering their iPhone over my shoulder in a vain attempt to take the same shot I’ve lined up!
These things have all happened to me when I’ve been out of the car with my camera & tripod. I got so tired of the “what are you photographing?” question while in Arches NP (with all those beautiful red rock formations) that I replied “the ocean” to their inane questions. People tend to quickly sidle away when you give them an answer like that. However, I have been known to drive to a location and then hoof it around until I locate a subject. Out in the broader landscape areas I’m usually shooting from the car for comfort and security.
While on a shoot, I’m busy composing possible images in my head even before I pick up my camera. I look for unusual light and shadow in the landscape, or interesting lines, shapes, colors, or any number of abstract possibilities. Generally, I’ll take a couple of test shots to try to determine if I’m heading in the right direction or if a more complex idea is forming and needs a bit of time to percolate and resolve itself. If everything seems to be lining up, then the shooting begins….for awhile. I can and do quickly lose interest in a subject, which means that it’s time to move on. This is why shooting alone usually works best for me. Although, I occasionally find a shooting buddy with similar styles.
As far as camera equipment goes, I have a Canon 5D MarkII (yes, only a MarkII) and two lenses: one telephoto & one semi-wide angle…..that’s it…..that’s all I need or would ever use. I never carry around a tripod. I use a smallish lightweight, black waterproof roll-top backpack with no visible branding while traveling. New equipment really never even crosses my mind.
In addition, it’s my personal belief that I don’t need to photograph everything I see. Many beautiful scenes are meant to be kept in your memory, only in part because they may be difficult to capture with your camera. For example, from my oceanfront hotel room in Tofino, BC I noticed a huge bright red full moon which was perched directly on the horizon, with a calm blue-black ocean beneath and a stunning dark blue cloudless sky in the background. Simple, yet unbelievably beautiful! Now, I could have grabbed my camera and quickly shot a few frames, but I paused and let the beauty of that scene become indelibly imprinted in my mind where it still resides, easy to see whenever I like. To me, this is a true Zen experience, one that I hope to have again and again.
To sum it all up, my method is a combination of the following: I flit, I hover, I contemplate, I muse, I experiment, I observe, I ignore the obvious & and often the rules, I become calm and centered, I try not to worry about not finding a suitable subject, and I keep an open mind. All this may not be conventional, but it works for me, and more importantly, it’s the way I shoot. From photography I’ve learned patience & humility. I’ve also learned that I need to be creative to be truly happy.
You can find the other posts in this series here.
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