Work the Scene

(© Ian Plant) It is a myth that a photography master can simply walk up to a given scene and instantly recognize the single best shot available, and achieve perfection with only one try. As the legendary George Stocking once told me, “one shot leads to the next.” Photography is an iterative process, and if you don’t take the time to work a scene and try different angles, chances are you’ll miss the best it has to offer.

Trying different angles will help you find the best a scene has to offer.

Trying different angles will help you find the best a scene has to offer.

Whenever I approach a given scene, I like to look around as much as possible before settling on a location to set up my tripod, just to get a feel for the possibilities. Then I get to work. Sometimes, the first spot I have chosen happens to be the one that works best, but more often than not I find that I need to engage in the creative process, starting with a few test shots that I critically review, then making adjustments to my camera angle and position as necessary. Sometimes I’ll even completely abandon my initial spot for another if I don’t think it is living up to the potential I hoped it had. If time and light permits, I leave no stone unturned in my quest to find the best angle or position; there’s nothing worse than leaving a location, only to realize as you study your images carefully later on your computer, that you missed a critical angle and that you have to return to start over again.

For the scene above from Zion National Park, I tried several different angles until I got what I wanted. Each time I took a shot, I realized I needed to get lower. Eventually, I got low enough so that the foreground leaves were inches away from my wide-angle lens. It was then that I knew I had the perspective I was after, but I wouldn’t have gotten there if I had stopped with the first shot. Each iteration led me to the next. Although sometimes the process can lead you astray, I believe that more often than not, your work will improve if you take the time to explore the possibilities.

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