So as many of you know, I embarked on a nature and travel photography trip this past Spring to the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve shared all those pictures here and all my social outlets. This so happened to be my first photo trip in which I left the DSLR behind and employed mirrorless cameras exclusively, namely, the Samsung NX30. While this post will forgo all the reasons behind that (click here if you want to see those posts of that journey), now that the dust has settled and some time has passed, I’ve been able to reflect a bit on the incredible experience, which has proven to be a personal milestone in many ways in my photographic journey. So I figured I’d take this opportunity to share with you a few of the lessons I learned on that trip:
1. Make A List - It always seems like a good idea to make a list of the shots and images you’d like to come back with. When you’re planning for a trip, especially if it’s somewhere you’ve never been, it would do you good to do a bit of research, whether you Google the location, or visit sites like 500px and Google Plus to search for images from that location. It’ll give you a great idea of what to expect, what to look for, how the weather can alter the look of the images, what you like, what you don't.
2. Throw That List Out - The main reason for me making that list was basically to get it out of my system. It’s almost like pre-visualizing a conversation with someone - it’s impossible, and more often than not, it doesn’t go at ALL the way you had it in your head. It’s great to have the ideas and a foundation in your head to work from, but once you’re on location, your eye is going to dart around and see things you never planned for. And this is a good thing. I mean, do you really want to return with the same images you already saw all over those sites? Really?
3. Work It - Never EVER settle on the first shot or angle. In other words, yes, trust your eye in the sense that something made you stop and look. Something was behind whatever it was that caught your attention. And sure, stop, set up, take the shot. Indulge. But no joke, every time I found myself in front of something that caught my attention for whatever reason, it was NEVER the first shot that I took that ended up being my favorite. I ducked, dodged, leaned in, got on the ground, climbed a tree, switched positions, got behind bushes, wrestled with spider webs, balanced on an unbalanced rock, everything I could to make whatever it was that caught my eye even more attention grabbing. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of time on your side, but in most cases, if you can find time to snap one shot, you can usually find time to try at least try 2 or 3 different angles or approaches. If you’re with people that get annoyed by your practicing your ‘art,' surprise them later with a beer at dinner. You’ll see how quickly they get over it.
4. Marinate - Let the images come to you. Just because I’m somewhere with a camera does not mean I need to make a picture. As a matter of fact, it was when I just sat back and soaked in my environments that I was truly able to get the best feel for the location we were in. Sure, I’ll usually spend the first few minutes antsier than a flock of fleas, but once that part passes, you almost get into a meditative, relaxed state in which your mind goes out of its way to tell you ‘it’s ok.’ And you can’t help but agree. It is OK. The tree canopy above ended up being one of my favorite images from the entire trip and this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take a break, put down my camera, and take a mini-catnap on a picnic bench in the middle of the forest.
5. Have Fun! - Don’t forget why you’re doing this to begin with - fun. Don’t lose sight of that. You’ll get caught up in it and at times frustration will set in and it’ll feel like the world revolves around that very shot or not getting it right or why can’t I get this? Well, it doesn’t. The world truly doesn’t give a hot nor a cold damn. It’s just you. Only you. No one else but you. After all, no one, other than yourself, even knows that image doesn’t exist yet because, well, it doesn’t! So you’re literally stressing out over nothing. Literally. Stop, breath, meditate on the mantra ‘have fun’ for a few minutes. After all, who the hell wants to work?
6. Details! Don’t forget the details! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by big scenes and subjects, especially if it’s your first time around them. Instinct seems to dictate to try to capture on your sensor as much of that scenes as possible. I want the river with the trees with the mountains with the rock with the acorns with the elk with the other tree and oh…oh…oh…that barn! Oh that barn!! Well, that’s all fine and dandy, and, as expressed in tip #3, shoot it! But don’t settle on that. Now that you got that off your shoulders, get creative. Move in, focus just on the details. If I got that shot as described above, chances are high that once you (or someone else) viewed the image, you wouldn’t know where to rest your eyes. If you just get the elk next to the barn, or the river with the tree, or the hinges on the barn door, the focal points become much clearer, providing a much more pleasant, and imagination-inducing viewing experience. A great example is the fern in the image above. It was surrounded by a picture perfect waterfall and a cave and a cliff and gorgeous moss-covered trees, but once it came down to it, it was the fern that really had my attention, so once I focused solely on that, I was happy with the shot. The rest of it came in a different shot, the one on the right, which, again, focused on the detail of the moss covered tree and the waterfall behind it.
So I hope you were able to get something out of this. It all might seem like common sense, but once you’re out in the field, especially in unfamiliar locations, every single one of your six senses (yup, six, I’m one of those guys) hits overdrive and all common sense is typically thrown out the window bit by byte. But if you just focus on these six things, Make A List, Throw That List Out, Work It, Relax, Have Fun, and Details, you’re bound to come back with several keepers that you’ll be proud to share.
Feel free to share your experiences below and what works for you and what doesn’t.