Working the Scene to Find Your Voice

Photographer at Rampart Ponds - Banff National APrk - Alberta

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

The great thing about photography (or any visual art) is that no two photographers see the world in exactly the same way; give ten photographers the same scene to photograph and you’ll most often get ten (or more) different results. Even a single photographer will produce multiple interpretations of the same scene. Often our subconscious notices the scene; there is something there that we like. If we respond with our cameras right away then often we capture that flash of subconscious interest and come away with a photo that honours what we feel about a subject. But just as often, our conscious brain kicks in and overrides our subconscious to make judgments, and to categorize and analyze what we see. The more we think, the further we get from what attracted us in the first place. However, we can often get back to our original ‘attraction’ if we let go of our noisy thoughts and begin to explore the subject more from the heart than the mind. Let’s look at both of these scenarios in turn.

©Darwin Wiggett - Do you just respond or do you think your way through a composition?

©Darwin Wiggett – Do you just respond or do you think your way through a composition?

Sometimes, your heart’s eye gets it right first thing and further explorations take you further from your visual truth. For example, this past October I went on an outing to the Cochrane Ranchehouse, a lovely natural area park near our home. There, while walking around, I found a curved aspen tree in full colour. I immediately stopped where I was, dug out my camera and because the tree was far away, I put on my 300mm lens and made this photo. In hindsight this image perfectly captures what attracted me to the tree in the first place. I like the bent shape and the contrast of bright yellow against a darker subdued backdrop.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

But then, of course, my brain kicked in. Stupid brain! What if I got closer and used a shorter lens? What if I tried different angles on the tree and different framing and aspect ratios? All of these ‘what ifs’ were intruding on the purity of my expression.

And so I worked the scene further to answer these conscious questions. All of these mental explorations took me further from what attracted me to the tree in the first place. Sure, the resulting photos (below) are still pleasing but none honoured my heart’s view of the tree like the initial image. I have learned that if I make a photo as soon as something stops me that often that image is the most ‘true’ to my original attraction.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Cochrane Ranchehouse scenic, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada ©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Cochrane Ranchehouse scenic, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada ©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

In the next example, I was driving in the country near Cochrane when I noticed a big snow drift over a grass seed head. I stopped the car, got dressed up and got out the camera gear. In the time it took me to prepare for the cold photography experience, I lost the germ of what attracted me to this scene. The first picture I made was more a document of the overall scene.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

I felt the image above was interesting but then I had leading lines of the snow drift and the fence that went nowhere so I zoomed out to take in more of the scene and to have the lines lead to a vanishing point.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Now the lines of the snowdrift and the fence all converge in the distance to take us visually to the part of the fence with the horizontal cross bar. I immediately realized that the fence was not the reason that I stopped the car so I should not include it in the photo.

In the next picture, below,  I concentrated only on the snow and the grass. I thought of the tenuous existence of the grass seed head under the big snow drift and I made the next image to tell that dramatic story.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

I like the image above a lot and it tells a story of tension but it’s not why I stopped the car. I finally realized that what grabbed me was pure graphic appeal of the lines of the grass and drift. My mind saw lines and that’s what it wanted to show in the final photograph.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

This image above is closer to the reason I initially stopped but as anyone who follows oopoomoo composition teachings will know, there are two areas where the line of the snowdrift is ruined from underlying ‘mergers’. A simple shift to a higher viewpoint and slight change in aspect ratio (slightly more panoramic) eliminated the merger problems and gave me the result I had intended from the beginning.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

This final image, above, honours what I initially saw in my flash of subconscious. I just needed to work the scene to get back to my original vision. I blame it all on the cold.

The value of working a scene can either confirm that you had your voice in the first place or that you needed to rediscover your voice. The creative process is exactly that, a process. Don’t be afraid to work it! Let us know what your creative process is and if you get what’s in your mind’s eye right away or if you have to work hard to get a result that is in line with your creative vision.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sam working a scene to get to her creative vision.

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam working a scene to get to her creative vision. Actually she is looking back at me asking if the coffee is still warm in the thermos!

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

6 Comments

  1. Jane Chesebrough
    December 2, 2015

    I like the image of the first capture-it is complete.You wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t explored.What about the same object over a period of time? I keep going back to one tree in particular all seasons of the year for a few years now-it is an obsession, yet I really have only shot from a few angles. The best compliment I got was a passer-by asked me what I was looking at.I explained about “the tree” and she replied “Wow. Thanks. I never noticed that before.” That’s what you and Sam have done for me, too.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      December 3, 2015

      Jane, you are right, without the further exploration you might not know that you had captured what you wanted in the first place. And it’s so neat you helped a passerby ‘learn to see’.

  2. Dave Benson
    December 2, 2015

    Perfect timing… this is pretty much the story of my day up on Lake Winnipeg and area today…

    Reply
  3. Diane Varner
    December 3, 2015

    Good article! Love the final snow scene.

    Reply
  4. Jens
    December 4, 2015

    Hi,

    Great explanation of your creative process when shooting the snow drift. Although the higher viewpoint was a simple shift, it created just the right perspective. It’s weird, but sometimes when I go out shooting images my last few images are my best. They are often the ones I have to work the hardest for and really push myself creatively. Looking forward to reading more blog posts like this in the future.

    Reply

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