Leave No Stone Unturned

(© Ian Plant) During my ten years as a pro photographer, I’ve seen one curious behavior over and over again when I meet others shooters in the field: a photographer will show up to a location, take out their camera, and shoot the scene without ever moving from that first initial spot. They then pack up and leave without changing position even once.

Compositions don’t just fall from the sky; you need to move your feet and check out different angles, seeing how visual elements align as you move back and forth, left and right, and even up and down. Even if you think you have found “the spot,” it makes sense to look around and explore as much as possible, and to try as many different variations on a composition as is reasonable. A little bit of curiosity goes a long way—if you aren’t asking yourself questions like “I wonder what the view would look like from that small hill over there,” then you are limiting yourself to only the most obvious shots, which are also the most likely to have been shot over and over again by other photographers. Thoroughly exploring a scene is the best way to ensure that you find something fresh and original.

On a recent trip to the Scottish coast, I came upon a dramatic sea arch that really grabbed my attention. During my two weeks there, I returned a dozen times in an effort to make something special, despite relentlessly bad weather. My first attempts photographing the arch were from what I consider an “obvious” viewpoint, and I felt that I wasn’t really realizing the full potential of the scene. Although I liked the image, I knew I needed to explore more to make sure I wasn’t missing something even better. So I tried every reasonable angle I could, walking along the edge of a high cliff looking for something less than obvious that would take the scene to the next level.

It was on a separate section of cliff, farther back than my first shot in an area that I had initially scouted and rejected, that I found what I was looking for. A pile of deeply striated boulders caught my eye, their dark lines and curves creating interesting shapes. I set my camera up and experimented with several different angles and compositions, working my way through the scene, trying different combinations of position, camera orientation, and focal length until I began to fully realize the scene’s potential. Finally, it all came together: a vertical image using a progression of lines in the rock, leading the eye deep into the scene. Then all I had to do was wait for the right conditions to bring the scene to life—which, on the Scottish coast, notorious for its fickle weather, meant waiting for almost two weeks before I got an acceptable combination of clouds and color.

If I hadn’t moved my feet and exhaustively explored the area, I would have never found this composition. By leaving no stone unturned, you greatly enhance your ability to walk away from a location with a unique and compelling image.

You can see more of my images from Scotland on the Recent Work page of my website.

P.S. Join my monthly email mailing list for photo tips and exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox!